Parenting Tips

Mathematics at the Grocery Store

The grocery store is one of the best examples of a place where the ability to use mathematics is put to work in the “real world.” It’s a great place to practice measurement and estimation and to learn about volume and quantity and their relationships to the sizes and shapes of containers—geometry!

Here are some tips to make your grocery shopping a very interesting learning experience.

  • To help your child learn about collecting data, involve him in preparing the shopping list at home before going to the grocery store.
  • While at the grocery store, allow your child to find the items on the shopping list.
  • Give the child a pencil, and tell him to make a check mark next to each item you buy. If you need more than one piece of an item, such as cartons of ice cream, tell him how many checks to make beside that item.
  • Help him to compare prices for different brands of the same items to see which items are the best buys. Ask your child questions such as, “Which brand is cheaper?” Have him estimate.

Being able to recognize how different shapes are used in common settings helps children to understand geometric principles, such as shape and quantity, and the relationships among them.

  • At the store, ask your child questions to focus her attention on the shapes that you see. Ask her to find, for example, items that have circles or triangles on them or boxes that are in the form of a cube or a rectangular solid.
  • As you shop, point out shapes of products: rolls of paper towels, unusually shaped bottles, cookie boxes shaped like houses. Talk with your child about the shapes. Ask her why she thinks products, such as paper towels and packages of napkins, come in different shapes. Have her notice which shapes stack easily. Try to find a stack of products that looks like a pyramid.
  • Ask your child for reasons the shapes of products and packages are important to store owners. (Some shapes stack more easily than others and can save space.)

Putting away groceries helps children develop classifying and mathematical reasoning skills and the ability to analyze data.

  • When you go back home, make a game out of putting away groceries. As you empty the bags, group the items according to some common feature. You might, for example, put together all the items that go in the refrigerator or all the items in cans.
  • Tell your child that you’re going to play “Guess My Rule.” Explain that in this game, you sort the items and she has to guess what rule you used for grouping the items.
  • After your child catches on to the game, reverse roles and ask her to use another “rule” to group these same items. She might, for example, group the refrigerator items into those that are in glass bottles or jars and those in other kinds of packaging. She might group the cans into those with vegetables, those with fruit and those with soup. When she’s regrouped the items, guess what rule she used.

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