Teach Kids Math at the Grocery Store

Got Kids? Put Math on Your Shopping List

Girl reaching for juice on shelf in market
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Some parents spend hundreds of dollars reinforcing their kids' math skills. But mathematics are part of everyday life, especially when shopping. Since you have to go to the grocery store anyway, why not make it a mathematical playground? There are a number of different skills to practice both before and during shopping. Begin by approximating a budget, get your kids' help to make a list, and you can take off from there.

Math Skills at Work: Grocery Shopping

Here are some ways to reinforce fundamental math concepts including operations, estimation, and working with currency. Don't try all of these activities on one shopping trip—you'll never get home! But one or two will add a dose of fun and learning to list.

Estimation:

  • Before shopping, have your child write down an estimate of the cost of each item on the grocery list.
  • Use the produce scale: Explain to her that each pound is divided into 16 ounces. Tell her how many pounds of fruit you wish to purchase, and estimate how many pieces of fruit you will need to bring it to the desired weight.
  • Let him hold different types of vegetables that weigh approximately the same amount (potatoes and onions work well). Have him put one in each hand and estimate which one is heavier, then use the scale to test his estimation.
  • Before you check out, let your child examine the full cart. Ask her to estimate how many bags it will take to pack away all of the items. She can also estimate the total cost of the cart.

    Addition/Subtraction:

    • Use the shopping list on which your child estimated the cost of the items. Have him add up his estimated total and subtract it from your budget. Is his estimation under budget? Use subtraction to see how much money you'll have left over. If it's over budget, have him help you figure out by how much and where you can cut that cost.
      • Ask her to determine the change you'll get from the cashier.

      Comparison:

      • Compare the costs of different brands of items, looking at the size of the package and deciding which is the better deal for the money. Older children (4th and 5th graders) should be able to do the actual calculations to decide the best deal. If you've never done this, divide the cost by the quantity to determine the unit price. For example: You can buy 2 pounds of grapes for $2.00 or 3 pounds of grapes for $3.50. $2.00/2= $1.00 per pound vs. $3.50/3=$1.16 per pound. Thus, the cost for 2 pounds is the better price.
      • Compare the actual cost of your groceries to your child's earlier estimation.
      • Compare the quality of items vs. the cost per unit and discuss whether quality makes a difference in terms of getting the best deal.

      Multiplication:

      • Take your child through the produce section and point out how the fruits and vegetables are priced (per pound or individually). Have her calculate how much it would cost to purchase three apples or four pounds of grapes. This lesson can be extended at home by using the sales flyer to calculate the sale price vs. the regular price.

        Money:

        • Sit down with your child and the sales flyer. Give him an assortment of coins and bills to work with. Then, pick a few items in the flyer and ask him to show you the money needed to purchase the items.
        • Provide older children with coupons, the sales flyer and a calculator. Ask them to figure out how much certain items would cost if you used the coupons. Extension questions: Is it worth it to buy the more expensive brand with the coupon or is the generic still cheaper? Does that change if the store has a double coupon policy?

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