Keeping your preschooler happy and engaged at the supermarket

Shopping with a preschooler can be a challenge—there are so many things designed for them to want! But we can’t always leave them at home, and even if you can, why overlook this opportunity to use the supermarket’s educational potential?

With effective questions, parents can help their child practice academic skills, especially math-related ones. And, with effective modeling, parents can help their child learn how not to be overcome with desires for products that, one aisle over, they didn’t even know existed.

Here’s how to do it.

When playing with math with your child, the most important vocabulary words are set and just as many. In the produce section, write a numeral between one and nine on a piece of paper, and show it to your child. Hold open the bag, and ask him or her to put in “just as many apples as that”: the number you’ve written. Don’t say the number out loud, however. This adds a layer of challenge to the task—decoding the number without the verbal cue, which children usually know better. It also gives you a gift – information about what your child knows and doesn’t know.

Suppose you’ve written a 6, and your child puts in 9 apples. Guess how many apples you are buying today? That’s right . . . you are buying 9. And furthermore, you aren’t going to correct your child’s mistake—at least, not by saying anything more just now beyond “Look at you counting! Go, sweetheart, go!” This is because we want to stay playful and keep your child feeling successful. Adults need to always look for what the child is doing right, and emphasize that. If you say, even sweetly, “Oops, that was a six—let’s see how many apples got into the bag . . . seven, eight, nine . . . oops . . . too many!” this correction only shows them they did it wrong.

No fun.

Here’s how to re-introduce that 6 means six: In the next aisle, you take the turn. Write down 9, and have your child tell you to get “just as many.” Then count out loud as you select cheese sticks, or whatever.

You can also bring a bag with the magnetic numerals from your refrigerator, and pull them out. This is actually even better, because it’s more tactile.

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