Whenever I go grocery shopping, I always see children in strollers with iPads, food or toys while their parents are zipping through the aisles, picking out the necessities and checking out as fast as possible. Their aim is to get in and get out before the children start acting up. I know what that feels like, because I’ve done it plenty of times myself in crowded grocery stores with unforgiving fellow shoppers. In those cases, I always wished I had kept the children at home or shopped online.
But if you’re lucky enough to have a grocery store nearby that doesn’t get too busy when you go – and you have a little bit of time to spare – then grocery shopping with them can be so much fun and educational. Having traveled from NYC, to Baltimore, to Denver, to Portland, to SF and to Taiwan, we’ve been to lots of grocery stores together. (New Seasons in Portland, OR is our favorite. The staff is extremely friendly and we always go during off-peak hours). What children can learn in a grocery store is endless: new vocabulary (Can you pick out the ‘turmeric,’ ‘chanterelle mushrooms’ and ‘fennel’?), counting and simple addition (“I need 8 mushrooms”), food culture (Is it local or organic?), sensorial exercise (How do you pick the juiciest grapefruit and the firmest onion?) grace and courtesy (What do you say when you bump into someone?) and so much more. But I think my favorite is self-control. How do you explain to children why we can’t buy down the whole chocolate aisle? (Try acknowledging their feeling, being firm and then redirecting: “I know you really want those cookies, but we are not buying those today. Hey, what’s over here? Look at these pretty flowers! Which ones should we buy to put on our dining room?” Or “We can’t buy those cookies today, but we can buy these!”)
We took this video when B and M were 3 years 4 months. Mackenzie has always been more interested in helping to get groceries, but Brooke will also help. As a general rule, after I given them a task that they want to do, I only help when I know something is outside of their ability, like something is too heavy for them to carry. But even then, I wait and observe. I make sure they really need help, because children will surprise you. My goal is to help just enough, never more. If you find me buried in my iPhone or drinking my coffee – I’m doing my best not to look at them while they’re working. This ensures that I’m not giving any unnecessary help. I think (and hope) they have a lot of confidence in their abilities. Aside from encouraging them to do things they are interested in, even if it seems outside of the norm for a 3-year-old, I also try to make sure the environment is set up in such a way that they will experience success. It takes a lot of quick thinking and ignoring stares from strangers, but watching their independence and confidence grow makes it worthwhile!