Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everyday Language Activities: Grocery Shopping With a Toddler

As with any other profession, the field of early intervention goes through periods of evolution. These days, we are talking a lot about the importance of weaving child skill development into the context of everyday experiences and activities.  It's something that Ellen over at Love That Max blogged about recently in her post Sneaking in therapy for kids with special needs.

In her post, Ellen explains that her son Max gets therapy sessions throughout his week but that "the sessions are only 45 minutes to an hour long and it's the ways we put those therapy techniques into practice that matter most."  She goes on to describe how attempting to accomplish therapy carryover at home used to be overwhelming and somewhat guilt-provoking, especially when therapists would leave long lists of tasks to be accomplished. Then, Ellen reflects on how she has learned to do only what she can and let the rest go (yay!) and, most importantly, how she has learned to integrate the things Max needs into fun family activities that they were doing anyway. Yes, I thought when I read her post. Yes. That's exactly what we are trying to encourage families to do when we work with them and their children as early intervention professionals.

With that in mind, I took my two-year old daughter grocery shopping.  I'm learning that much of life is to be found in the joy of daily activities, so I decided to slow the activity down-- to enjoy it and her along the way. As I did, I realized how much skill development was occurring right in the context of this simple and potentially mundane daily routine.
  • Two-year olds are developing and understanding of simple concepts, so we wove them into our trip. She put things "in" the cart and "under" it as well.  The cat litter was heavy (I let her drag it to the cart so she could experience what heavy meant) and the chips were light (as she threw them up and over the edge of the cart). The bread was soft (and a bit squished after we were done) and the cans were hard. The apples were big and the grapes were small. I paired actions with words as we compared and contrasted all these things, and by the end of the trip, she was starting to use some of the words on her own to describe what she was doing or what she felt. Even better, she had a blast helping gather the food, throwing thing into the cart, and just generally being involved in the experience.
  • Toddlers this age are also just starting to use simple grammar elements such as: plural -s (cans), possessive -s (daddy's), and -ing (pushing)  I used expansion and indirect correction to model her sentences back to her, a bit more correctly. If she said, "two apple," as we counted them and put them in the bag, I said "Yep, two apples!" When she commented that she was holding, "daddy plum"  I responded with, "These are daddy's plums!" And when she said "I push!" while pushing the cart down the aisle (and almost into the pickles), I replied that "Yes, you're pushing!"
  •  Two-year olds are also merging into the word of pretend play and we wove this into our trip as well. At one point, a jar of olives was a microphone and we were rock stars. People may have thought us a bit odd, but we were certainly having fun. 
The beautiful part of all of this is that it made the activity joyful for both of us. She was learning and I was shopping, but most of all, we were just being mother and daughter, loving up life. 

I must note, of course, that this won't work for everyone, in every activity. My daughter loves grocery shopping. My son? Hated it. With him, getting through grocery shopping was an exercise in survival; my sole focus was on keeping him contained long enough that we could get the groceries we needed. It wouldn't have worked to slow it down, even if I had tried to engage him more. It's just how he was as a toddler: full of boundless energy that was exceedingly hard to corral.  When he was little, it was much easier to weave learning into football than into grocery shopping. The activity has to fit the child, not the other way around.

And, there is also the danger of believing that every single activity throughout the day has to be a learning experience. It doesn't. Sometimes grocery shopping just needs to be grocery shopping, and that needs to be okay.  But when it doesn't, when time can slow down just a bit, when children can learn in the context of an activity that is truly a delight for everyone involved, that's the sweet spot for sure.


  1. I love this concept of weaving learning into the everyday activities. My daughter is 26 months, and she's doing exactly what you said here, so this was so interesting to read. I also do the repeat back to her what she said, but with the correct grammar.

  2. Great post! I too use shopping to work on language with my daughter ans son. :) I'm a fellow SLP and blogger and found your site a few days ago. Loving it! I look forward to follwoing along!

  3. Thanks so much for this - WONDERFUL and so helpful.

  4. Yeah, if you talk with your child about your daily routine in a simple language so they will try to understand you and try to reply you. It will definitely develop their communication skill.