Handi-Skill Spotlight: Surviving the Grocery Store

Not sure what a Handi-Skill is? Perhaps a better name for this series would be Real World or Real Life Skills.

As we start out on our unschooling journey, I’ve had my eyes {and mind} open to finding unschool opportunities for those basic skills that I feel are necessary. I would say that Consumer Math is probably one of the most important to learn before going out on their own, and going to the grocery store has to be the most natural real world math experience there can be!

grocery shopping for learning consumer math - unschooling

I know it’s easier to go to the grocery store without the kids. Oh, boy do I know it! But, if they don’t go, they are missing out on a valuable learning opportunity. Or, maybe you always take your kids, and you are looking for ways to occupy their attention so that you can get the real work done. I want to suggest that perhaps they can be a bigger help than you realize – especially if they are school-age.

First, a couple of warnings:

  1. Do not attempt this when your kids are hungry, tired, or sick. You will both leave frustrated.
  2. Do not attempt this when YOU are hungry, tired, or sick.

In Christian Unschooling by Teri J Brown (p32), she shares how she encouraged her children to practice consumer math. She handed them each $10, and they were to buy their lunches for a week – and that they should be healthy. {I kind of forgot that last part – oops!} This could even be used with younger children – perhaps giving them $5 to choose their snacks for the week.

I’ll be honest, the idea of my kids holding up a line at the grocery store makes me VERY uncomfortable. I don’t like it. I want to take the money right out of their hands and do it for them. But… they won’t learn anything that way. So, I decided that this might be worth a try. {Plus, knowing that they really would only have one or two bills to work with on this first try made it a little easier to let go.}

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself. Jean Piaget

This might seem like a simple exercise, but let’s break down all of the thinking skills necessary to make this a successful outing.

Price Comparisons

We had a few instances where they had to decide which package was a better price – which meant dividing it out and determining how much it was per ounce {or per item}. Then, even if it was cheaper for the larger one, you have to determine if it is enough cheaper to warrant getting it. For example, Monkey decided to get Pork & Beans. She could get the larger can for about a penny less per ounce, but that was not enough of a savings to warrant having to open a large can when she only needed a small one.

In the breakfast aisle, there was a particularly unusual case. Due to an extra savings that we were eligible for, the larger box of Pop-tarts was actually cheaper than the clearanced smaller package. Four extra pop-tarts? Score!

Kid learn which is the better buy

Clearance normally indicates a rock bottom price, but you should always check.

Making Tough Choices

Monkey also wanted to get some frozen pizzas. So, we looked at one brand {which is not her favorite} and determined that 5 pizzas {with coupons} would be $4ish, and she divided it out to be 81 cents per pizza. Then we looked at the french bread pizzas {which she prefers}, and she determined that it came out to $1.75 per pizza. So, I asked her – does eating 1 french bread pizza fill you up twice as much as the other kind? She decided that it was not worth the extra cost.

Rex’s hardest decision was a little more cut and dry – logically, albeit not emotionally. He desperately wanted some powdered sugar donuts.

learning about tough choices - consumer math

But, at $3 a bag, that put him over the $10 budget. He immediately saw that it was not a good option to put back his corn dogs, but he wanted me to allow him to pull $1 from his own money. Let me tell you – he was so angry at me when I told him no – that the exercise was in making decisions and making the purchases fit inside the $10.

Working Together

They both wanted to get Pop-tarts, and the best choice was definitely the 12 count box. But, they both wanted to have more than one kind, so we suggested that they might want to work together and swap some packages when we got home.

This thought had never even occurred to them! But, once suggested, they eagerly agreed that made sense. {Although I do not hold any allusions that will last for an extended length of time.}

Planning Ahead

What they purchased had to last a week – a whole week. Now, yes, they know that mom and dad have back-up food {ie PB & J and Rice}, but they needed to plan out how long what they were purchasing would last them.

Rex knew that he needed to plan on 2 corn dogs for a meal because 1 just does not fill him up. So that had to be accounted for when he was deciding how much to get.

I anticipate being able to help them learn the coupon process in the future as well – that way they will be able to stretch their money even further.

Estimating

They kept a running total as they went to make sure that they didn’t go over their $10. They knew that we would make them put something back instead of rushing in to the rescue. {And, I am happy to say that they both came in under with a little bit of change left over.}

Working with Money

Not only did they need to have an idea of how much everything should cost {so that they knew if it all rang up correctly, they also needed to have an idea of how much their change should be – and count it to make sure that they got back the right amount.

By practicing {and Mom not stepping in}, they will get faster and less trepidation when trying to give the money to the cashier. This was probably the most stressful part of the trip for me.

People Skills

Oh, could this be where those social skills come in? We chose to go through a real lane instead of the self-checkout lane so that they could get practice handing the money to a person {ie not balled up in a bunch but lying flat and straight} and receiving change from a real person. This way human error was a possibility – necessitating counting the change. :)

For this to work, Mom {and Dad}, you have to be willing to let them make a mistake. You have to be willing to let them experience the consequences of their actions. Definitely guide, but it has to be their decision. For example, had Rex chosen to get the donuts, we were going to let him – then he would have been missing his “real food” in about two days. And, on the flip side, it also makes any successes their own!

I know that some of you are probably very nervous about handing over $10 to your kids. And, let’s be honest, $10 for a week of lunches at home, really is quite a lot. For us, our grocery budget {for 4} is $70 a week for food, so forking over $20 of that was a little stressful. But, I do think that the skills they will learn from this process is definitely worth the sacrifice. And,  on the plus side, no more complaints about there being nothing “good” to eat – it’s all in their hands.

For some further ideas on how to incorporate math into your unschooling life, I highly recommend Joyce’s article Unschooling Math found, coincidentally enough, on An Unschooling Life.

How have you incorporated math into your everyday life? Or does it just happen naturally? Please share your experiences in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I love this post, Gidget. This is really valuable information. Thanks for posting. Are you interested in completing the weekly feature, Who Home Schools? Email me if you are…I’d love to have you do it. -Savannah http://www.hammocktracks.com
    Savannah recently posted..Savannah’s Weekly Menu and New Food Blog Recommendations 9/17My Profile

  2. How very excellent! We try to incorporate real world learning as much as possible! The children are learning to cook there own meals. The next step is to make the shopping list and shop for the groceries! These real world lessons are much more valuable than memorizing facts. If children cannot apply math concepts there’s not much point to all of it, right!

    • Hey, Jeannine! Thanks for stopping by :-) That’s my next phase too I think – making the shopping list….wonder how many revisions it will have to go through lol

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