How to Use Grocery Shopping as a Learning Opportunity for Your Kids

Believe me, we’ve all been there. It’s 7:45 am. You just gave away the last fruit bar to your son, and the last breakfast cookie to your daughter. Upon opening your fridge, you discover shredded cheddar, ketchup, and some decrepit looking grapes. As much as you try to justify that ketchup does have tomatoes, which sort of makes it a vegetable, you realize there’s no way you can pull lunch and dinner together with your third-string ingredients. It has happened again. Those little people you live with, love on, and take care of, have ransacked the food. It’s time to go to the grocery store………

What if I told you that instead of sliding down against the fridge, with your head raised to the ceiling wailing, “WHY!?!” there is actually a happy ending to this story? In fact, this happy ending doesn’t involve a mad dash to get the essentials with two kids in tow. What if I told you that you could actually USE a trip to the grocery store as a way to sneak in some learning for your littles, and thus transform a dreaded chore into an educational opportunity? You can in fact buy your groceries and learn something too, and I’m going to give you five practical ways to do just that!

1. The Car Ride to and From the Store

As a State Certified Reading Specialist, I’m pretty sure I already know the eulogy my children will write for me. “Mom gave us lots of books, all the time, everywhere. EVERY. WHERE. She’s probably reading right now.” It’s true though, I do! Research is clear on this. Reading daily, and giving children access to high-interest books have extremely positive impacts on both a child’s future reading skills, and on their feelings toward reading.How to Use Grocery Shopping as a Learning Opportunity for Your Kids | Houston Moms Blog

Because of this, I always make sure to stock plenty of books for my kiddos to peruse in the car. Granted, I have a couple toys in there too, but when I load them into the car, my first question is, “Which book would you like to read on your way to the store?” They either point {in my one year old’s case} or tell me {in my three year old’s case} which one they’d like.

This may seem like a small amount of time to read. Although, when you think about it, 15 minutes to the store, and 15 minutes back is 30 minutes for ONE errand. That’s 30 minutes of practicing their understanding of holding books, constructing stories out of pictures, or starting to sound out letters. Talk about an easy multi-tasking win!How to Use Grocery Shopping as a Learning Opportunity for Your Kids | Houston Moms Blog

2. Colors in Floral

Upon entering the store, disinfecting the cart as if we were scrubbing in for surgery, and making  the obligatory trip to the free piece of fruit box, {believe me, nothing on our shopping trips gets accomplished until Thompson has his, “NANA!!”}, we swing back over to the floral section to practice our colors and build our vocabulary.

Right now, Thompson, my one year old, is busy learning his colors, {more specifically, learning not everything is blue or red!} Using the floral department is a perfect learning tool, because not only are there a variety of different colors, but also there are many different hues of the same color. This means he can learn that two different shades of pink can still be in the “pink” category. I point out flowers to him, and say, “Look Thompson, do you see the yellow flowers? Look this one’s yellow too! What about that flower, what color is it?”

Because my three year old, Charlotte, already knows her main colors, we talk about specific shades or the names of the flowers. “Look Charlotte do you see the Orchids? Can you smell them? Look on their petals! There’s some magenta on there isn’t there? Can you find the white Baby’s Breath?” We used to cruise right past floral, but once I realized what an abundant talking tool it is, we now “stop and smell the roses” every time we go to the grocery store. 

3. A Number for Every Aisle

I know this is strange to say, but Thompson is OBSESSED with numbers! That said, we love to work on his number recognition by pointing to the numbers on the aisle markers and asking, “Thompson, can you tell me that number?” He obliges ten times out of ten of course!

In Charlotte’s case, I have to point out more difficult numbers for her. To do this, I like to pick up items that have numbers in their prices that she would know, and ask her to read them for me. We are currently working on her number recognition fluency from 0-30. If I can’t find a number on a price that exactly matches, I’ll cover up the excess numbers in the price so only two digits show. Then, I’ll ask her to tell me those numbers. Please note, this is in no way a drill! All of these suggestions should be done in a game-like fashion. For example, “Charlotte, Mommy can’t remember how much this costs. Can you tell me how many cents it is?” As much as Thompson loves numbers, Charlotte despises them! Therefore, I have to make sure to be extra sneaky with her!

4. Shapes down the Snack AisleHow to Use Grocery Shopping as a Learning Opportunity for Your Kids | Houston Moms Blog

Another winning aisle for early education concepts is the snack aisle. Now granted, this aisle is only a positive one if your kiddos aren’t in the mood where they NEED to have every snack they see. So, if you find your kids in that mood, take some time in this aisle. When you look around, you’ll notice that there is actually an ABUNDANCE of shapes to practice. Circles for Oreos, squares for Cheez-its, and triangular shapes for Doritos, just to name a few, {aaannnnd now I’m hungry}. Thompson is still working on his basic shapes, so for him, I like to point out the different shapes, and see if he can find a matching one. “Look Thompson, those Oreo cookies are circles. Can you find another circle? Oh! The Chips Ahoy! Look they are circles too!”

With Charlotte, because she already has her basic shapes down, we get a bit more specific in describing the shapes. “Look Charlotte, the Cheez-its are squares! Can you count the sides? Let’s do it together. One. Two. Three. Four. Squares have four sides! Look! There are four corners too!” It may sound silly {and believe me, some people WILL look at you funny}, but the understanding of the features of a shape is actually a higher level concept of geometry. 

5. Letter/Sight Word Hunt in the Breakfast Aisle

Ah the breakfast aisle! This is the aisle where I usually do most of my impulse shopping! {I mean, c’mon MINIONS’ cereal!? How am I supposed to budget for that? I didn’t know it existed until two seconds ago, and now we need it!} Impulse shopping aside, it is actually a PERFECT aisle for going on letter and sight word hunts! Thompson loves to work on his letter recognition, so his favorite learning game is “I Spy.” While in front of the Corn Pops, I’ll say, “Oh Thompson, I spy the letter ‘O.’ Can you find the ‘O?’ Good job there is it! What’s an ‘O’ say?” When looking for letters, it’s always a great extension activity to reinforce those sounds too! Remember, vowels have multiple sounds {as do the letters ‘C’ and ‘G’}, so don’t be afraid to let your child know about all of those sounds!How to Use Grocery Shopping as a Learning Opportunity for Your Kids | Houston Moms Blog

For Charlotte, I like to challenge her with sight words as well. Sight words are basic words like “the,” “and,” and “is” that children should be able to recognize automatically. When kids learn sight words well, they are able to free up their brains to decode {or sound out} more challenging words in their reading. So for her, I might point out a sight word on a box and ask her to read it for me. “Charlotte, can you read this to me? Right that’s the word ‘of!’ Great reading!” By pointing out words on the box, you are also helping your child to see that the written word is ALL AROUND THEM, and they can understand messages by reading those words. This is known as the Alphabetic Principle, and it is also a very important concept for little learners!

“Checkout” all that you can do!

So there you have it, five ways to practice colors, vocabulary, shapes, numbers, letters, and sight words with your little ones during your grocery shopping trip. Please note that my little ones and I rarely hit all five of these areas in a single trip! If you’re first starting, concentrate on two areas that you feel comfortable practicing with your children. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your kids, because if you do that, it’s not fun, and if it’s not fun for you, it’s not fun for them. Keep it light, and keep that enthusiasm! By doing so, not only will they treasure the world of learning you’ll open up to them, but also they’ll treasure that special time with you!

So now you get to decide, which activities are you ready to put on your shopping list?

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