By Jill Simeone -
Like everyone else, I've experienced nightmare grocery shopping trips with temper tantrums, projectile vomiting, and knocked over displays. I'm trying to forget them. But yesterday I went to the supermarket with my daughter and it hit me that we are past that stage. (HURRAH!) At three and five, my kids have finally reached the ages where they love going with me to the grocery store...and we don't leave a swath of destruction and tears in our wake.
What's so fun about a super market now, you ask? Well, plenty! Children like picking out fruit, rolling the cart, counting out cans of cat food, trying to read labels, stacking everything on the check out line conveyor belt and receiving a few coins of change....all of it. Why? Because little kids are thrilled to explore and learn about the world around them. For years, they have watched us shop for food, pay for food, pack and unpack food...and finally they are being invited into the game.
In an effort to encourage creative play at home (and because this was one of my all time favorite Christmas presents when I was a little girl), we have been helping our kids set up a pretend market at home. The biggest piece was a Melissa & Doug play farm stand (a gift from my folks), but over time we have added wooden food, a cash register, a scale and weights, and a lot more pretend food. The kiddos LOVE it.
At first, my girls were uncertain about how to play with the market. I told them that there wasn't one way to play, and we role played a few scenarios. What I've noticed is that their play takes different directions depending on what the child is learning and thinking about. For example, my five year old is very interested in pretending that she is shopping at the store, and picking out foods that make a meal (she is learning about nutrition in school). My three year old loves the cash register and asking the customer for money (she is starting to dig in to number recognition and counting). But really, the activities are endless.
Here are some fun supermarket games you can play with your kids:
Make your own market - If you aren't in the mood to purchase toy props you can easily make them: Save old food boxes, egg cartons and juice containers for your groceries. Use construction paper to make play money and put it in a little box. Use a basket for the shopping cart. Give the kids a calculator or adding machine to use as a cash register. You have a market!
Grocery store treasure hunt - This is one that we use when out shopping: As we walk through the shop, I ask the kids to find things in each aisle, such as a fruit that is yellow, something that comes from a cow, something that starts with a "T". If you have children different ages, you'll need to tailor the questions to the child. For example, to the 3 year old: "Can you find a green vegetable?" And for the 5 year old: "what food on this aisle rhymes with red and you use it to make a sandwich?"
Counting - Use the market game to teach counting: With younger kids, you can ask them to help you shop for 5 things. Have them help you pick out five food items. Count them off (one-to-one correspondence in counting is a hard skill!), and then count them again as you pack them into the bag. Unpack them and count again. Try it with a different number.
Talking about food groups - Children (especially as they approach five) are very interested in food, where it comes from, what is "healthy" what they like and don't like, and so on. Playing market is a good vehicle for talking about food and nutrition. You can play a game where you sort the food into food groups. Fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, etc. Do you have snack foods in the market? Where do they belong. This can lead to some great conversations.
And if all of this makes you hungry...head to the kitchen for a healthy snack! Nothing like raiding the fridge to wrap up some fun grocery store play.