Hands-on Learning at the Grocery Store


I think the best opportunities for family rituals and hands-on learning occur in everyday activities.

This is supported by both Waldorf and Montessori principles, but sometimes it can be difficult to know how to incorporate these habits into our lives. I wanted to share with you how we incorporate learning and ritual into something as mundane as grocery shopping!

Family Rituals & Hands-on Learning at the Grocery Store

First, I would tend to schedule any semi-boring outings like grocery shopping for a “breathe in” period, preferably during a low-traffic shopping time, and not directly before meal-time.

1. Schedule Semi-Boring Outings for Low-Key Periods

Also known as “breathe in” or down periods, this should come after you’ve given your child an opportunity to have a bit of fun and loose structure with less rules and expectations on behaviour, and you’re ready for some calm, structured time. It’s easier to get kids to behave and focus after they’ve had a chance to run out their energy.

This time is also a great opportunity for connection.

Also, aim for low-traffic shopping times, and not directly before a meal or naptime, in case a delay causes you to go into that time.


2. Incorporate Your Child in the Week’s Meal Planning

Allowing a child to have a special meal that they design, or even just the freedom to choose their favourite vegetable at a designated meal, can make all of the week’s meals run smoother.

This is a great opportunity to discuss balance and nutrition with your older child. Since we are a theme-friendly family, we like to bring some elements of the week’s theme into our meals and snacks. Older children would have a lot of fun helping you brainstorm healthy “yellow” snacks, etc.

Kid-friendly grocery shopping list


To prepare a child-friendly grocery list for 24-48months, you can draw pictures, cut images out from flyers, or even collect some play-food. These items (save for the play-food) can be pasted onto a check-list for the child to be in charge of, or can be placed in a “busy bag” for the child or you to pull out, one at a time, and search for their real counterparts.

I prefer the checklist method, as it has less items to keep track of and also I can control the order of the food on the checklist (and design it to flow with our “path” in the grocery store), but the busy bag option might be more fun and can involve the option to guess the food based on feel, if using play-food!

Grocery Shop Printable

3. Food Scavenger Hunt!

You can do this in a few different ways – with a younger child, you can do this more as a game of “I Spy!” or allow them to guess which aisle might contain the food you are seeking, using the above ideas to guide their search.

With an older child, you can actually let them hunt the aisles or handle part of the list themselves.

4. Have “Outing” Rituals

As for ritual, this can be personalized to each family and the type of grocery shopping that they do. When we visit our local co-op, my daughter loves helping weigh our food, and walking up the ramp and down the stairs inside the store, counting her steps as she goes. When we visit our closest grocery store, we like to stop at the fish counter and watch the lobster tank and I tell some variation of Anne Sexton’s “Lobster,” describing something we’ve done recently, and always ending with:
This is the world the lobster knows not of.
He is the old hunting dog of the sea
who in the morning will rise from it
and be undrowned
and they will take his perfect green body
and paint it red.

Maybe for your family, the “ritual” will look like getting all the samples before you shop, or stopping for a hot chocolate on the way to the grocery store. Whatever it is, make it special and possibly only something associated with that outing.


5. Recite a Poem or Tell a Story

If my daughter is feeling a bit restless, I like to recite Lewis Carrol’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” which helps calm her down — partially because she knows that we will have left the store by the time the poem ends. I used to recite her favourite book (Madeline), but that would barely get us to the check-out line! (If you are intimidated by the thought of memorizing a poem, think of a song. Chances are that you can effortlessly recite a song in its entirety, and that works just as well!)

For your family, you could incorporate various poems, or you can even recall stories that are personal for your family, like the time that Grandma shucked an oyster and found a pearl (even if she never did). You can also encourage the older child to tell a story related to the food you are buying; younger children can also do this, but their stories tend to be much shorter. (My daughter’s favourite anecdote about oysters is: “[Anthony] Bourdain eat oysters, Ella eat oysters!” So it helps to have a back-up story.)


6. Pick a Special Treat

Assign a dollar amount or a item amount and allow your child to pick out a special treat while shopping. You can maybe present them with options, or allow them to choose at will while shopping.

(I share more about this family ritual here.)

I personally allow Ella to pick as many items as she is years old, and I think that is reasonable as she gets older and will be involved in more of her own food preparation, but there is that one time when she picked a 6 pound lobster as one of her items…

7. Let Them Pay!

After all food has been collected, older children can help “pay” for the items by helping you count out the appropriate amount of cash (or you can just have it prepared in a special coin purse), and might even have a special reusable tote bag that they like to pack their food in. If you have time, and can safely lift your child to the counter, s/he can help with the sorting and ordering aspect.


8. Complete the Task and Sort the Food

Once you get home, children can help sort food to be put away. This reinforces the concept of order in the environment, and will make it less likely that the child will disrupt the order of the cupboards or fridge after they have participated in their ordering.

Ella is also responsible for helping me prepare her snack basket. She helps pick out which items to include, and we prepare them together. For example, if she requests that we include a pear, we discuss if she would like it whole or cut up, and if she would like it cut up, we do so together and place it in an easy-to-open container.

How have you made grocery shopping easier and more fun?

For more hands-on learning and parenting inspiration, check out how to teach children to floss with play dough and our rainbow color-mixing lab.


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  1. Jen! I love this! I rarely shop with Leah because it is crazy BUT with market season I take her and we go at like 7am and it is pretty quiet.. I am going to make her a picture list this week so she can help me! She is going to love it! Thanks so much!

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