I get it.  It’s hard to shop with kids.  I’ll be the first to admit I do a lot of my shopping at night and on weekends because I’ve discovered that taking three little boys with me takes about 30 extra minutes and costs about seven extra dollars.  But a trip to the grocery store can be such a rich experience to enjoy with your child. 

I recently made a trip to the grocery store with just one of my sons on an evening when we weren’t in a rush (two components that certainly add to your odds for success).  We had a really fun time being together, just the two of us, and I made a mental note of all the great experiences that were there for the taking:

  • Decision-making and the Opportunity Cost Principle: Early on, Will picked out a treat.  But of course there were several other treats calling his name on every aisle.  Each time he asked, “Can we get this?”  I let him choose.  Would he like to trade what he already had for something else? 
  • Counting: As we loaded up on produce, Will helped me count the right number of apples to put in the bag.
  • More Math: Will was excited to plop what we had onto the scale, but surprised me by also reading the weights and comparing them, pronouncing that the bag of apples and the bag of oranges weighed the same.  (What are the odds of that?) 
  • Reading:  Will pointed out several letters and words on labels he recognized.  The grocery store may be almost as print-rich as a library!
  • Health: Shopping together gave plenty of opportunities to talk about nutrition as we discussed why we would or wouldn’t buy certain items.  Likewise, letting Will pick which produce to buy made him so much more likely to eat it later!
  • Social: It’s tempting to avoid bringing kids to the store when you know it may lead to melt-downs and craziness.  We sometimes think to ourselves, “I’ll bring them when they’re older and know how to behave.”  But think about it.  Will they learn how to behave if they don’t get the practice?  It really stinks to have a child go on a full-scale meltdown over a strange candy shaped like a toilet that you refuse to buy (who came up with that little confection anyway?).  But it’s in those kinds of situations (contingent upon appropriate and consistent response, of course) that a child learns how to properly make requests, use common social etiquette, and deal with disappointment.  Additionally, these social experiences are easily and enthusiastically transferred to dramatic play, which is a valuable method for learning through play.
  • Language: Going to the store in a one-on-one situation was rich in conversation.  We talked about what we were buying and what we could make, created fanciful stories, and answered query after query (including whether or not clowns can take off their big red noses).

If you want to go the extra mile, you can even contact your local grocery store for a field trip.  I’ve been on several where they’ve shown the children around every department, giving them tours of the huge freezers in the back and handing out samples at the deli and bakery.  It’s a fun behind-the-scenes trip that can be a great activity to tie into a study of food, stores, or your neighborhood.

You may also want to check out the song, “We’re Going to the Store“.  It’s great for your child’s language and cognitive skills, and may actually help you remember everything on your list!

What do you do to give your child an active role at the grocery store?

Top photo by Murray Williams.



Leave a Reply