Why Do I Love to Grocery Shop With My Children?


First of all let me say that I am not a shopper. The thought of going to a store without a list and an efficiency plan is incomprehensible to me. S goes to stores and wanders about looking for the most interesting pricing schemes and tries to figure out what marketers were thinking when they decided to offer a particular product at a certain price. I go to the store with a list, a budget and a time limit!

I have a friend who shops with me most weeks (with three preschoolers not having to bring everyone into the bathroom when someone needs to go is a big plus) but I enjoy shopping with the children even when she’s not along.

The thing is that the grocery store is a GREAT learning environment. The children ask and I answer questions almost the whole time. I have trained them to be quiet when I’m scanning shelves and not seeing the item I want, but otherwise we talk and talk.

We talk about what we’re buying and why…why we aren’t buying some things they or we want (“why aren’t you getting that, Mama?” “It’s not in the budget this week.” then when I put something in the cart “is that in the budget?”). They learn manners, and self-control, how to be helpful and a host of other things.

I get to take something that could be a chore and re-frame it as a teaching opportunity which makes me feel better about it.

Here are the Top Ten things to do to re-frame your shopping experience:

  1. Have a list and a plan. Children can be distracting. Someone can have carrying the list and marking things off as a job in the store.
  2. Most grocery stores follow a standard layout, organize your list according to your shopping patterns and store, so you won’t have to re-trace your steps too often. I usually start in produce and work my way around the store, up and down aisles before finishing with dairy and frozen vegetables.
  3. Have clear expectations of acceptable behavior and clear consequences and rewards. We usually shop in the late morning, so the children want a snack. String cheese or something similar is a good reward for them, and yes, they don’t always earn it.
  4. Discuss what you are doing. For the littlest I talk about colors and the names of what I’m buying.
  5. Ask questions for them to answer. What is this for? Do you see the kind of tea we buy?
  6. Let them get things off the shelf, arrange the stuff in the cart, and fetch plastic bags in the produce sections.
  7. Show them where to find the prices on things and explain “3 for $1 or oranges is a good deal. Get a bag and let’s get 12 oranges. I’ll hold the bag and you count.”
  8. Show them what to look for in the produce section. “Look these bananas are over ripe…those onions have a soft one that will spoil the bag..”
  9. Once they have started to recognize numbers (although I’m pretty sure I did this before they could too) show them how to find the unit price on the shelf sticker or sign.. This can pay off quickly..the other day F was able to tell me which diapers where the better deal after looking at the price on the shelf at Costco and looking at the number of diapers in the box! “Mama, the Costco diapers are cheaper but there aren’t as many in the box.”
  10. Most of all enjoy seeing what you and they can learn. You have to spend this time shopping, and they’ll have to shop themselves someday. Re-frame this time as education and time together and you too wil enjoy shopping with your children.

Here are our rules for in store behavior:

  • Keep your hands in the cart or by your sides unless I ask you to get something.
  • Speak up if someone speaks to you.
  • Be quiet if Mom says “hush”.
  • Stay in or on the cart.
  • No begging


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6 Responses to Why Do I Love to Grocery Shop With My Children?

  1. ememby says:

    Great ideas for shopping without stress (as possible as that can be with kids) – thanks for sharing! [hopped over from Oh Amanada!]

  2. I strongly dislike shopping, but I like your approach – viewing it as a teaching experience.

  3. K_Steinmann says:

    I find attitude makes a great deal of difference…and I try not to shop when the children are tired or hungry…as in most things it really helps to have the children feel they are contributing somehow…people generally want to be needed and children are people too. The trick is to find ways to include them that are actually contributive..they figure out busy work pretty quickly…K

  4. K_Steinmann says:

    Talking and talking means that running errands is also relationship building time. I think it is important as we think about what we accomplished in a day that we remember that many times we are “multi-tasking” in relationship building, spiritual formation and an example of grace. When we think of our lives this way we will be more inclined to spend our days well, and we will feel less discouraged about those days when we didn’t “accomplish much”…K

  5. Mary Beth says:

    I just clicked over from OhAmanda, and I love your list! As a math teacher, I think this is such a great way to teach number sense to children. I hope that one day when my husband and I have kids, that we’re just as good at taking advantage of teachable moments as you are!

  6. K_Steinmann says:

    Mary Beth, I was a math teacher for several years and I’ll say this – if you are the kind of classroom teacher who is always dragging life into your classroom, you’ll have no trouble dragging math (or any other subject) into life. It’s only when we think of learning as something that primarily happens in a classroom that we have trouble recognizing teaching moments…K

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