If you need ideas for things to do with your toddler, try grocery shopping. Seriously. It’s a wonderful way to keep your little ones busy and learning. And given enough time and patience, there’s a side benefit of eventually getting your grocery shopping done.
I don’t really like grocery shopping, but I’ve always kind of enjoyed it when I go with my kids. It was where I discovered the magic trick of getting my kids to behave better by slowing down, engaging them in what I was doing, and challenging them to try and learn new things. When my oldest was 4, I started making him is own picture grocery list because getting him involved in the shopping made our trips so much more manageable. It’s the reason I created The Trip Clip. Now that he’s 19, the grocery store is a place where he can continue to learn. He texted me the other day to ask if he should be asking the fish guy for the tail end or the shoulder end of the salmon because he didn’t know the difference. After all these years, the grocery store is still a place where my kids can learn new things. And I’m thrilled that my 19-year-old is comfortable enough at the grocery store and in the kitchen to be buying and cooking salmon while at college.
I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve done with my kids over the years at the grocery store to keep them engaged and learning. If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments!
The most critical thing you do is bring lots of patience. The journey is the important part. Let your kids take the time they need to explore and learn. Oh, and give them a snack before you go to the store.
- My kids loved the little kid carts at the grocery store. Helping them learn to push them and not run into things is great large motor dexterity practice as well as etiquette practice around other people.
- With a picture list, they can tell you what things to buy, and even get some things themselves. For really young kids, keep the list short and limit it to things they’re sure to recognize. I used to make a short list for my kids and then I had my own full list that I used at the same time. My kids really liked to put things on their list in their cart, and I could put stuff from my list in my big cart.
- The Trip Clip clipboard and pen are a great way to help kids manage their list at the store. They will love crossing things off as they go in the cart.
- Putting things in the cart is great counting practice. Have them count out loud with you as they put 3 apples (or whatever you need multiples of) in the cart.
- Talk about the color of the items going into the cart.
- If your kids are interested in letters, show them the A on the world Apple on their list, and the A on the sign below the apples.
- Let them weigh the produce on the scale. They’ll need you to do the actual weighing, but they’ll think the scale is neat, and you can teach them about scales.
- Let them get any items off the shelves or out of bins that they can reach themselves. They’ll feel so competent doing this grown up job themselves.
- They can help empty their cart onto the conveyor belt. My kids loved to show me how strong they were lifting heavy things even out of my cart.
- Many kids start to learn their letters around this time, so they can start matching the letters on their list to the letters on the signs. They can match the words on their list to the pictures. There are opportunities for letter recognition and practice sounding out words everywhere.
- As your kids get older and taller, there are more things that you can put on their short list. Try putting different things on their list each time you go so they learn about new parts of the store, new products, new letters, etc.
- In addition to recognizing letters, they’ll know some numbers too. Show them where the signs are for the cost of each thing they put in their cart. Talk about how much things cost.
- Around this time they’ll be old enough to start to learn how to pick good produce. Teach them about green vs yellow bananas, how to smell a cantaloupe, the feel of a ripe avocado, how to check the eggs to make sure none are broken, etc.
This feels like a good time to remind anyone who thinks this is too much for a 6-year-old that even though they can’t do all of this yet, and it’s a lot for such little kids, they are way more receptive to learning all of this than a 15-year-old will be. It won’t all stick yet, but it’s definitely the right time to start.
For a little inspiration, here are my kids shopping at ages 4 and 7:
How much and what you teach your kids at these ages will be super dependent on your actual kid. Here are my suggestions:
- Teach your kids about the produce scales, weight, and calculating prices – let them use the scale, and if they’re ready, calculate the cost of the produce your buying.
- Teach them about “Sell by” dates and why they matter
- Have them read ingredients lists and talk about eating healthily
- Teach them how to order items at the meat or deli counter. Show them how, and eventually have them do this themselves. Talking to adults is an important skill that can be hard for a lot of kids. This is excellent practice.
- Let your kids navigate the store and get items on their list alone as much as you and they are comfortable.
- Teach them about grocery store etiquette – how to not block other shoppers with their cart, waiting their turn when someone is looking at the same area of the shelves, helping the cashier and bagger, etc.
- Give them a budget and have them try to hit the budget with the items they purchase.
- Let them plan a meal to cook, put together their own grocery list, and buy all the items themselves. When my older son and his friend were in middle school and bored after school on a Friday, I gave them $20 and asked them figure out something they could cook for dinner and dropped them at the store. They bought steak, a cantaloupe, and some carrots, knowing we had macaroni and cheese in the cabinet already. They hadn’t used the grill on their own before so we showed them how to cook the steak, and we showed them some tricks for cutting up cantaloupe. They weren’t bored anymore – in fact they were pretty excited about the solo outing at the grocery store and getting to pick what we had for dinner!
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