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Working on Speech/Language at the grocery store...why not??


When my son was a baby, as a mother and a Speech Language Pathologist, it was always on my forefront to focus on ways I could manipulate real life situations to become a language building experience. One of the best opportunities I found for working on language skills was during grocery shopping. Personally, I strongly dislike grocery shopping. I find it boring and often want to get in the store and out as quickly as possible. With that said when my son was little I liked being out of the house with him, even if it was for such a mundane task. I would take our trips and try to make them entertaining for both of us. I quickly realized that the grocery store is a great place to build language skills.

I would always make sure my son was seated in the cart so I could establish eye contact. Before he was talking, I would work on modeling language. I would go through my list and tell him what we were buying and show him the items as a way to build vocabulary. Even though I was often times carrying on a conversation with a cooing baby the joint attention and back and forth of the interactions helped begin to model conversational turn taking. Yes, there were times people looked at my funny, but I knew my son was benefiting from it (and it was making shopping entertaining).

As my son became older, I would let him know what the item I needed was then have him help me find it as a means to build on concepts and directions. This could be as simple as asking did I pick up the right item or more difficult asking is it on the bottom shelf? I would also encourage him to use spatial concepts and other describing words to help locate the items.

I realized in addition to building vocabulary, I could target categories here. I would describe to him first we need to go to the fruits then the vegetables and last the bakery. This helped him to learn subcategories.

As my son grew, so did our grocery store exchanges and games. We would go through the market playing I spy, which to this day is still my go to language game for any location. I spy games encourage sentence formation, question formation, answering/understanding questions and so many concepts!

Now that my son is older I still have him help me with shopping. He helps by writing the items I need (and adding his own) on my shopping list. This is great for practicing spelling and writing. I like to keep my list easy to follow and organize it in categories meats, produce, frozen items, paper products etc which works on his categorization and organization. He can't always come with me but when he does he is usually in in charge of reading the list back and keeping track of the items we need. Also by helping with the shopping he is learning money concepts. We talk about making change and sneak some math problems into our talks.

My favorite part of grocery shopping now is that we come home and often cook together---which is another fun way to work on language skills. Following a recipe requires decoding words, reading comprehension, problem solving, planning and pragmatically working together.

Language can be targeted in so many ways and it's important to remember that we can help our children build their skills even while completing our every days activities.