You’re lost in thought, trying to decide if the recipe on your phone really requires organic, GMO-free, free-range bananas, or if the regular old Chiquita kind will do just as well, when it happens.
Out of the corner of your eye, you see a flash of movement. There’s a rumble, like distant thunder. You lunge, trying to stop the impending avalanche.
You’re too late. You manage to grab one or two tomatoes as they cascade past, but the rest hit the floor and start rolling. You slip and fall. You’re buried under an avalanche of fruit and vegetables.
“Why do these things always happen to me?” You wonder. But deep down inside, you know. It’s your own fault. You brought a bored and energetic preschooler out in public, and now you will suffer.
But here’s the thing…
Going to the grocery store with your preschooler doesn’t have to be horrific. Contrary to what most parents think, it IS possible to transform your preschool grocery shopping buddy from an enraged T-rex into a pleasant companion… you just need to know how.
The key is distraction.
A distracted kid is a happy kid, and when you distract at the grocery store, you can even sneak in a little early reading action. Here are 10 quick and entertaining early reading games to help you make it through the store without a disaster.
1. ABC Food.
A is for Avocado. B is for? Can you and your child make it all the way through the alphabet using only items you can find in a grocery store?
The game helps build letter and phoneme awareness. It’s also gotten a lot easier since Quinoa has become a common grocery item. (Still no Zebra-burgers at most stores though, so good luck there….)
2. Rhyme Time Shopping.
Your preschooler wants to help you shop. You want to keep her on task and keep whining to a minimum. Instead of just telling her what to put in the cart, give her a rhyming word and have her figure it out. “I’m looking for something that rhymes with….legs.”
3. I Spy Words.
For an older preschooler or a Kindergartener, you can increase letter awareness by playing I spy with words instead of objects. “I am thinking of a grocery whose name starts with the letter P. Ok, the next letter is E, so PE…..”
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4. Memory List/ Reverse Memory List.
Building memory skills helps with reading comprehension. Give you child a portion of your grocery list to memorize, say “A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter” and have her pick out groceries from memory.
As she gets better at the game, make her lists longer, or have her pick out groceries in reverse order.
This is a simple game for younger children, but it teaches them to hear and understand spoken language, a must for future readers. “Please fetch me a can of peas. Ok, now please fetch me a jar of peanut butter.”
The plus is the game is easy for sleep deprived parents to remember, and it may wear your toddler out enough that you can take a nap when you get home.
6. Shopping Cart Stories.
Good story tellers are also better readers, and thinking about what’s in front of you helps you guess what will happen next. So make up stories about fellow shoppers.
Why does that woman have 15 loaves of bread? Is her son a football player? Is she feeding ducks in the park? Maybe she’s a sculptor, making a stale bread masterpiece. Be as silly as you like, and take turns with your child.
7. What Could We Make?
Sure, you probably cook the same 5 meals over and over (we all do), but what if you went wild and crazy and bought jicama or something? What would you make?
Help your child build vocabulary and background knowledge with this game. “Hey, what if I bought a can of jellyfish? What do you think we could make?” Warning: It may get silly. That’s OK. Silly is good.
8. Cultural Literacy.
The grocery store is a great time to introduce your child to history and culture, or to remind him of famous stories. So, for instance, in the breakfast cereal aisle, ask “Can you find something the Three Bears would eat for breakfast?”
In the vegetable aisle, “Find three ingredients that go in Stone Soup.” If your child can’t remember, retell the story and try again.
9. Alphabetical Conveyor Belt.
Older kids enjoy a challenge. As your child unloads the cart, have him place the items on the belt in alphabetical order: “Beans, Cantaloupe, and Milk!”
Older kids can alphabetize more at a time, or try to alphabetize within a letter. Pro Tip: Unless you have a very good grocery store, always put bread and eggs last, even if that’s not where they go.
10. 20 Questions about a Treat.
Do you bribe your kids for good grocery store behavior? If not, you’re making your life harder than it should be. Combine the bribe with a logic-building early reading game by playing 20 questions.
If they guess the treat you’re thinking of, they get it (or can choose a different one.) Make sure to drag the game out so you can finish all your grocery shopping before it ends.
If you choose a few of these games for every trip, you may make it through the store without disasters. If you get really good at them, you might avoid raising a Kindergarten failure. And if you become the spectacular super-mom of grocery store early reading games?
Maybe you’ll be that mom who breezes through the store effortlessly with smiling children. Maybe you’ll be able to coupon cheerfully as your loving kids helpfully find great deals. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start looking forward to going to the supermarket with preschoolers.
Well, no, not that last one. No one enjoys the supermarket with kids. But at least you’ll be able to make it through with a minimum of spills, tears, and melt-downs. And your kids will be happier too.