One of the biggest secrets of stealthy teaching is discovering those perfect times in your day that you can easily enhance, without causing too much work for yourself. I find that when parents try too hard to “teach” during the day, they often end up with painful sessions, frustrated children, and burned out parents. That is the last thing we want!
I want to show you how teaching can not only fun, but EASY! One of the easiest (and my personal favorite) places to sneak in some learning, is the grocery store. The whole place is ripe with vocabulary, literacy, and math (if you can find it!). Not only that, but its a place where parents and children often spend a lot of time face to face. This is great fun for some, but can be pure torture for some families with kids who are less than eager shoppers.
The key to getting the most out of your educational shopping experience is to go armed. If you have a plan before you start shopping you will have a much smoother trip, and head off many problems before you start.
So, how do you go armed you ask? Pick a game, any game! I’ll give you a few ideas here, but the possibilities are endless. I find if you pump up your kids in the car before hand, you’ll have an even better time. Try filling them in before you even get to the door. “I have a really important job for you to do while we shop. Can you be my awesome helper today?” “I have a really great game for us to try, the winner gets to choose the fruit today!”
Little kids just love to be excited and buy into things, and you can always use that to your advantage. It also helps to get them focused before hand. If little Jimmy is already crying, he’s probably not going to play your game.
Ok, enough of that. On to the good stuff!
Level 1: Food Hunt!
This is a great game for beginners or very young children. Simply tell them what you’re looking for and let them find it! (Sounds a little too obvious, right? Or maybe just too simple…) This can actually be a good deal trickier than it sounds. When you’re first trying it out, pull up in front of the section and tell your child what to look for. “We need a tomato”.
Now comes the hard part– wait for him to find it! This can be really painful for some people, but it is great for building those visual discrimination skills (which are essential for telling letters and words apart as they learn to read). You’re also building vocabulary, color, and shape recognition, and you can always throw in some counting for good measure.
If he looks like he really can’t find that tomato (even though you’re standing right in front of it and you’ve been burning a whole in that darn tomato with your laser vision for the last three minutes) try pointing in the general direction and coaching a little. “Try looking on this side”, or “They are right next to the onions”, or “Tomatoes are the round red ones. Do you see something red?” And if all else fails, poke it with your finger until he finds it.
Phew…. that was a lot of work…. Lol. I promise, after a couple of visits, your budding grocer will be leading you through the store and telling which tomatoes are the juiciest. Not only that, but he is gaining tons of pre-literacy skills, and building his confidence as he proves to you, and himself, that he can navigate that store successfully.
Level 2: Food Riddles!
This game is very similar in nature, but significantly more complex than the first game. It is great for kids who have mastered the food hunt. Instead of merely telling little Sally what you’re looking for, give her some clues and let her figure it out! (And then once she knows what it is, she can help you find it).
Start your clues simply. You want your child to be successful. This is also a good time to think about what skills you’d like to focus on. Your clues can be mainly about the colors or shapes, or you could try some phonics skills and give the letter or sound the item starts with. Just to bump it up a notch, I like to add in a little extra information for my kiddo. You just have to use your best judgement.
“We are looking for a fruit. It is long and yellow and has a thick skin. It grows in bunches.”
“We are looking for a fruit. It is round and yellow and has a thick skin. It is very sour.”
“We are looking for a vegetable that starts with ‘buh’. It is green and shaped like a tree.”
“We are looking for a liquid to drink. It is white and comes in a carton. It comes from a cow.”
You get the idea. On top of all of the obvious skills you are addressing, you are also developing her logical reasoning and problem solving skills. These are amazing little skills that are incredibly important in higher level math, science, and reading skills, and will help her become a great critical thinker throughout life.
Level 3: Sounds Delicious!
Literacy is everywhere in a grocery store! It is just so easy to find literacy opportunities here that you’ll wonder how you ever missed them before.
A good place to start with this is by using the food riddles. If you use sounds and letters as one of several clues, it will get your child used to thinking about the sounds and recognizing them as part of the food names. In this way, the most obvious way to begin is with the first sound in the word. “Help me find some fruit. We need something that starts with ‘aaa’. Apples!” “Next we need to get a drink. It starts with ‘juh’. Juice!”
Now beginning sounds are important to learn, but are far from the end of the road. When children learn to read, they not only need to know what sounds the letters make (‘kuh’ ‘aaa’ ‘tuh’) but they need to be able to put those sounds together to actually turn them into a word (cat!). Without the ability to put the phonemes back together, a book is nothing but a lot of noise.
An easy way to start building these skills is by playing with words. Think about the different sounds and syllables in a word, and see if you can can break it apart a little and say it in different ways. You might want to try this on your own a little bit before you do it with your kid. Just to get the hang of it.
Once you can do this, give your child the name of an item, but say it this way and see if they can recognize the word. The first time you play you may really see them struggle, and you’ll recognize what a skill this really is. Most children under 5 or so really have a hard time with this at first. And remember, your goal to begin with is exposure. If you start this and your child stares at you like you’re speaking another language, don’t get frustrated, just put the word back together for them. “Ta. Co. Taco!” After a while they will start to join in and you’ll know they’re ready to do more.
Here are a few ways to start playing with your words:
By Syllable- “Po. Ta. To.” , “Tur. Key.”, “Cer. E. Al.”
Onset/Rime- “Mmm-ilk”, “Aaa-pple”, “Rrr-ice”
*Rhyming- “Hickles, Zickles, Pickles!”, “Larrot, Parrot, Carrot!”
*This one seems extra silly, but again, rhyming is a really important skill. To be a little less confusing as you introduce this game, you might want to hold up the food as you say the rhymes. And don’t worry if your rhymes are nonsense words, you’re practicing rhyming skills, not writing a dictionary.
Once your child really starts to get the hang of putting those silly words back together, invite them to try saying words in a silly way. Encourage any attempt they make, it’s all good practice!
Do you have any great activities you like to do while you’re shopping? As always, we love to share ideas, and love to hear new ones!