Shopping with Kids? The idea strikes fear in parents who have had to drag tired, whining children around supermarkets, often an exhausting and unpleasant experience. It is not surprising, therefore, that those who have the chance, due to having a nanny at home, either leave the children with them or do the shopping in the hours when children are not around.
You may well think everyone benefits – no whingeing; you get around the shops much quicker; get a chance to read the small print on that icing canister undisturbed; the lack of the inevitable guilt at having given in to blackmail at the sweetie counter is bliss.
Yet the educational value of doing grocery shopping with mum or dad should not be over-looked. While doing it regularly may be unnecessary, the teaching and learning potential of a grocery shopping trip cannot be ignored. With a little extra time on your hands, you can turn this into a very valuable educational tool, well worth doing.
Children over the age of 5 are well able to find items for you. Keep to one item at a time and stay in the same aisle so that you can keep an eye on your child. Try to ask for items stored on lower shelves, so that reaching for and potentially knocking things down is kept to a minimum. Young children with enquiring minds will enjoy the adventure. Older ones may be less enthused, but will nevertheless come away with knowledge they did not have before.
1. Reading – the child has to read to find the item. A few may be recognised by appearance alone, but not all.
2. Show them similar items of different prices and get them to work out which is cheaper. Here you can talk about quality versus price/ Is it worth paying more for branded goods?
3. Look at the items and ask your child to tell you which country it is from. This is especially interesting when buying fruit and vegetables, though signs designating country of origin are often misspelt. When buying cheese, for example, allow them to try cheeses from different countries. When you get home look for the countries on a globe or map. Discuss why those countries grow particular fruits or why they produce cheese. Trace the route your chosen food item has travelled to get to you. Encourage them to try exotic fruits and vegetables. Buy one only, but encourage everyone to share a piece.
4. Discuss the reasons for buying organic, but also factor into the discussion the price difference. Whether you are interested in nutrition or not, older children need to be aware of the amount of chemical their apple may be coated in. Discuss the importance of washing fruit thoroughly.
5. Discuss weights and measures. How does this compare to your home country (if applicable)? You may want to talk about metric measures as compared to imperial. Which countries are these measures used in? You may also explain the historical reasons for which countries use which measures. How do they compare to each other? Which is bigger? How can you approximate when cooking, for example?
6. What measures are used for the different items and why? Look at washing powder versus liquid gels and gel capsules. How do they compare?
7. Capacity and mass. Children nowadays have very little idea what a litre of liquid or a kilogram of rice looks like. Give them a chance to handle a kg bag or rice or sugar, 200g of butter or 500mls of shampoo. Allow them to test the same weight of a variety of items. Do they compare? Being able to imagine quantities is a great help when cooking, for example.
8. This is a chance to talk about additives, colouring and added sugar, when you are in the cereal or juice section. You could talk about the commercial need for additives. You could discuss their effects without vilifying them. Allow your children to draw their own conclusions. This may become your most powerful anti coloured sweet move yet! Ask them to look for items with less sugar and explain to them why. Talk about sugar’s effect on teeth.
9. Look at spices. Where do they come from? Which countries do most of the spices come from? Look at dry herbs too. What are these used for, beyond cooking?
10. Talk to them about processed food. Ask them why people would want them and compare them in quality to meals produced from fresh ingredients. Discuss prices.
11. Spot local produce. Discuss what the benefits/ disadvantages of buying those are in terms of cost, freshness, pesticide usage etc
12. When buying items such as toilet paper, identify the factories. Discuss bulk buying versus individual; brand versus economy pack.
13. Orientation within the shop – where is what? For younger children use words like “left/right” as well as all the prepositions eg. “above/below/behind/near” etc.
14. In the bread section you may talk about the different grains used to produce bread, as well as about the health advantages of eating whole grain versus white bread. Again there might be some items specific to countries eg German Stollen, Italian Panettone or Danish rye bread
15. Younger children may not know the difference between notes in a currency. Show them the notes and explain their value. They may find it strange that they “get more money back” when they get coins back. Explain how many coins make up a note. Let them play with the coins at home. If you come from another country discuss that currency with them too. So many children arrive in school never having handled real coins before. By allowing yours to see and feel them, they will have a more realistic approach to money problems in a maths lesson.
16. When shopping for 10 items or less, get them to add up the prices of the items in your basket. Then tell them what note you are using to pay and get them to work out your change. You may also use this opportunity to explain about credit cards and how they work.
This is not an exhaustive list of the educational potential of humble grocery shopping. It is meant merely as a demonstration of the fact that much learning does not and cannot happen in schools. Many of the life skills imperative for adult independence are sown, usually by parents, during the course of performing the most mundane, everyday tasks. These lessons are just as, if not more, valuable, as those gleaned in school hours.
If you manage just two or three of the above points in each trip your child will become a much more aware shopper. Knowledge is power. It is shocking to see many children grow up completely unaware of where they would find items in shops, not looking at the price of an item because they have never had any responsibility for it, and generally ignorant of basic nutritional facts. If your children grow up knowing these things, you are giving them a head start in life. This puts a very positive spin on the potentially tedious hour spent in a supermarket, doesn’t it?
Far from being a bad mother when you drag them out shopping with you, you are actively enabling them to become more independent!
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children