Milk’s all gone, bananas are reeking, and that fat bread loaf is down to crumbs. It’s time to drag the kids to the grocery store, and you can already hear them whining. Isn’t there some way to make this more fun?
Well, if you’ve got an emerging reader, you may be in luck. In addition to stocking more food than you can shake a stick at, grocery stores also happen to be what reading specialists call a “print-rich environment.” In other words, they’re a great opportunity for young learners.
What’s a “print-rich environment”? The term sounds fancy, but it’s actually quite simple. The next time you visit your child’s kindergarten classroom, take a look around. More likely than not, you’ll see a lot of labels – on everything from cubbies to crayon boxes. Many classrooms even have a whole “word wall,” which teachers point to daily.
Why? As children learn to read, they’re learning to connect tangible objects to abstract symbols – the words that represent them. When teachers and students label the room, they are exploring these connections in a natural, enjoyable way.
You don’t need a classroom to have a print-rich environment. In fact, printed words are virtually everywhere around us.
Which brings us back to your shopping – because few places are as dense with words as an ordinary grocery store. The next time you find yourself trolling the aisles with an impatient kid in tow, turn the trip on its head. Make it a reading adventure. Here are five ideas to get you started:
Scissors Ready! Grocery fun can start before you’ve even left your house. Let kindergarten kids cut out labels of their favorite foods, and keep a stack. When you’re ready to plan for a shopping trip, they can pull out their choices and discuss them with you.
Make a List, Check It Twice: Everyone has their favorite foods. But children rarely get a chance to vote for what lands on their plate. Invite your child to write something they love on the list. And talk to them about what else is on it, and why. Child not quite writing yet? No problem. He can write what's he's able to-- whether it's just the first letter, or some of the sounds. When you see "mlk" on the list, you'll know what it is, and can gracefully head to the dairy section. Be sure to keep it positive: at this point, kids aren't at all expected to be able to spell words properly. All in good time.
Make a Match: Using your list, have your child help you find the items, and cross them off together as you go. You can give clues, such as "I remember writing something on the list that starts with b. Can you find it?" Or you can point to a word on the list and give your child a challenge like, "What do you think this word says?"
Work the Alphabet: Look for foods that begin with letter sounds or combinations. In the produce aisle, for example, you won’t see as many brand names; but you can have a detective hunt for delicious “ch” foods like cherries, or bright green leafy ones that start with the letter “l.”
Round Them Up! When you’re almost done, and patience is wearing thin, ask your kids to group items that start with the same letter – bread with bananas, carrots with crackers and cauliflower. This is one more way to invite your children to stay amused and engaged.
The grocery store doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With the right games, your kindergarten kid might not even complain. In fact, she might even love it.