Real life experience is often the best teacher for toddlers. As parents our primary responsibility is to allow them to explore their world, while keeping their immediate environments as safe as reasonably possible. Many locations such as the park, zoo, aquarium, or children’s science museum are ideal places to let children discover and learn; however, not every family has a zoo right next door. Fortunately, several of the places we frequently visit as part of our daily lives offer fantastic real life opportunities.
All families need to acquire food. Most of us purchase our groceries from grocery stores or co-ops, although there are certainly those who farm or utilize other forms of community supported agriculture. Allowing children to participate in acquiring food for the family can quickly be made into a fun and rewarding learning experience. It also offers parents the chance to explain that food is procured or purchased using money, which can help children appreciate what they have and inspire gratitude, an attribute routinely linked to both manners and happiness.
Grocery stores, co-ops, and farmers’ markets are filled with varieties of food, plants, and other products. Simply taking children into these environments can result in a myriad of toddler questions and enthusiasm. Children learning their colors are surrounded by foods and packages of almost every possible color. Shapes of boxes, cans, grocery carts, etc. are also plentiful.
Possibly even more important than colors, shapes, and numbers, food markets also offer ample opportunity for children to observe human interaction. The simple act of saying excuse me when you pass someone in an aisle or please and thank you to the grocer and bag attendant when you pay offer solid examples of appropriate behavior. Other times behavior that is unacceptable for many families is also observed with other children or adults acting in ways not suitable for a public place. Those instances are also excellent opportunities to discuss the importance of behaving in a positive manner even when surrounded or tempted by others not doing the same. Food markets are truly small microcosms of the world that offer introductions to multiple cultures through exposure to different people, foods, and products.
Food markets also offer a fantastic chance for parents to discuss the origins of our food. As a veterinarian, I was routinely fascinated by the number of children who would venture through the veterinary school’s open house with no idea that meat products were animal based. I understand that large amounts of detail surrounding the procurement of food doesn’t need to be explained at too tender an age, but recognizing that pork, beef, and mutton are gleaned from animals is an important part of life.
Children are routinely offered prepared and cut food, but in the grocery store there is an opportunity to show the whole watermelon or pineapple before the peel and outer covering has been removed. Buying a complete vegetable or fruit as opposed to prepared and pre-cut food is also an exciting way for them to discover the parts of their food when it is prepared for consumption at home (peel, seed, etc.). Recognizing that carrots and potatoes don’t just come from the grocery store, but actually started as roots in a garden or farm is essential to understanding the world around them. It may also spur some enthusiasm for growing their own herbs or vegetables or visiting a farm: all excellent, character building learning experiences. Admittedly, taking your children to the grocery store can be stressful and I’ll certainly be the first to admit that the occasional run for milk after lights out by myself can seem like a mini-vacation, but including them on grocery outings can have such a strong, lasting educational impact!
Make sure to also check out the FREE grocery store lessons found HERE!
What are you favorite tips and tricks for keeping toddlers engaged and learning in the grocery store?