After a long work week, sometimes the last thing that sounds appealing is a trip to the store, especially if you have to cart along young children. In particular, if at least one child is prone to the occasional (or frequent) meltdown once you finally make it to the cash register, buying groceries can quickly become the worst part of the week.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The local market can actually serve as an extension of your quest to further develop the minds of your little ones. In fact, there are many reasons why children should accompany you on your shopping expeditions (tantrums and all). There is a lot to be said for the grocery store, beyond it being just a place to pick up your weekly food staples.
Pre-Grocery Store: The learning can start before you even hit the aisles. If you have time, you can have children help with meal planning for the week, and discuss healthy selections as well as treats. Click here for menus, recipes, and budgeting tips that use the same material your kids are getting in school. Save the weekly grocery ads, and you can help kids cut out pictures of their selections, then make a scavenger hunt for when you hit the store. Kids who are working on their letters can help write out grocery lists. Older kids can even help estimate meal plans using a budget, and see how close (or far off) they come once you have actual receipts in hand.
While at the Store: Once you enter the store, the learning continues. Younger children can work on picture or word recognition as they help find items that you are shopping for. Older ones can “help” read signs (“What does that sign say is on sale over there?”). Math skills are easy to address, as little ones count individual items (e.g. “Please grab me three apples”); and older kids are tasked with adding or subtracting dollar amounts. Children who are working on multiplication can calculate values such as which toilet paper is a better buy based on square counts.
A favorite game for many kids that can be played anywhere and helps keep children busy is “I Spy”, excellent for the grocery store. And don’t forget working on manners! Make sure you role model being polite to fellow shoppers, holding doors, letting others go first, even grabbing items that may be out-of-reach for other patrons.
Post-Grocery Store: Kids can work on social skills as they help carry food into the house and put it away. You can help work on categories as you talk about what needs to be frozen, what can be put into the fridge, and what can go into the pantry (and why). The enrichment can continue as you have kids help prepare the meals they selected. You can also discuss which meals were not only tasty, but which ones were good for nutrition as well. Here is a good site for learning about being active as well as eating healthy. Don’t forget to start working on plans for your next grocery list!