A Secret Message Grocery List

Keeping kids going on a trip to the grocery store can be a real challenge. In fact, this problem is what inspired me to create The Trip Clip in the first place! I found that planning ahead and working to actively engage my son at the store was the most effective way to get him to focus on shopping and not on creating his own entertainment/havoc. When he was 4, he was a fan of racing up and down the aisles, dodging around other shoppers to run in a circle around a set of shelves and return to me, and I often spent more time chasing him or trying to get him to stay near me than I did getting any shopping done.

A simple picture checklist was the first thing I used to get his attention. Since he couldn’t read yet, the picture list was perfect, and I was surprised by how effective it was in keeping him next to me and helping get the shopping done. He loved it so much, and he clearly felt really proud that he was doing an adult job. It didn’t hurt that other patrons and the checkers were always impressed when they saw him shopping with his own list and clipboard. The video below shows him at age 7, after 3 years of shopping with me using his own list. As you can, he was a pretty good shopper at this point, and he could even help his 4-year-old brother learn to do it too.

This method worked for many years, even though he eventually didn’t need the pictures. At first I put ‘easy’ items on his list that he could get all by himself, like easily recognizable items like apples, or canned soup that was on a low shelf he could reach on his own. As he got older, I added harder things to his list, including having him weigh produce, or find a new item (to him) like a certain brand of frozen peas. He especially liked it if he didn’t have to stay with me. I made separate lists for each of us, and let him wander the store on his own to retrieve his items. I put both of our lists in the same order (left to right through the store shelves) so that I was never very far away from him as I simultaneously did my own list. This meant way I could keep an eye on him, and I also had him come back to put each item in our shared cart as he went so he was checking in with me regularly. He loved the independence, and my shopping actually got done faster!

Although the picture list was generally all I needed for both of my kids (my younger son really loved using the grocery list on my phone until he was pretty old!), I did sometimes want other ways to keep the kids entertained at the store. They liked grocery bingo a fair amount, but they were probably too old by the time I introduced that to them.

They did, however, enjoy having to solve a puzzle to ‘discover’ the grocery list. I used The Trip Clip’s cryptogram activity to create a customized secret message puzzle for them to solve. Using a clipboard they would solve the puzzle on the car on the way to the store, and then use it to shop once we got there. The puzzle pictured below is the beginner version of a cryptogram that just required a simple translation of the letters using the key at the bottom. As they got older they were able to do harder cryptogram puzzles that only gave hints to a few of the letters and they had to figure out the rest of the key themselves.

This kind of puzzle is a great introduction to simple coding and computer science concepts. Cryptograms are wonderful and fun educational tools in many settings. Using them at the grocery store helped give my kids additional hints about what the words might be since they were clearly all food related, allowing them to solve harder cryptogram puzzles than they might have been able to solve otherwise. And it had the added benefit of continuing to keep them engaged and helpful at the grocery store.

The Trip Clip has a whole bunch of activities that can be fun (and educational!) for kids at the grocery store. You can try a number of them for free on The Trip Clip website, or purchase website access to make your own custom activities.

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