One of the most effective ways to teach little kids is to make their learning a part of every day life. It can be as easy as talking to them about their surroundings and letting all that knowledge in your head pour out for your kids to feast on. This can happen when you’re at home, on a walk, at the park, at the grocery store, or anywhere you do life together.
I look for opportunities as they arise, and when I have a good one, I pounce on it! Most of the time it’s totally spontaneous. We look at the cricket Milo (our cat) captured in the yard and talk about its leaf-like wings. We talk about the clouds in the sky and the cicadas we hear singing in the treetops. We count the number of times we go back and forth on the swing, and when we get to 100, we stop and sing a silly song. We talk about east, west, north, and south as the sun is setting during a walk outside around the neighborhood.
If you look for the opportunities, you will find them all around you. Or more appropriately, they will find you.
The other day, I created a spontaneous game we took to the grocery store. I usually grocery shop with all three kids. I try to look at it as an adventure! (It’s all in your perspective, mama.) And this particular shopping trip, I took advantage of our time together to get in a little reading practice in for Lily.
I drew what looked like a tic-tac-toe board on a scrap of paper, grabbed some stickers, and explained it as we went on our way.
The grocery store is just full of letters and words! While at the grocery store, when Lily found a word and read it to me, she got to put a sticker on the board. Her goal was to fill up the board with stickers. She thought it was really fun, and that’s always a plus! She was practicing her reading skills and having fun at the same time. Win-win.
You can create your own grocery store game to practice reading skills or letter recognition. All you need is some paper and stickers (or a crayon).
OR you can use these free printables I made just for you! If you think our game sounds like fun and you want to try it, you can download and print your own Grocery Store Game boards to take on your next shopping trip. I made two versions of the game board:
You can use the blank board to…
1. Play the game like we did the first time! Have your beginning reader find words in the store that she can read to you. Each time she gets a word right, she gets a sticker! When the board is full, she wins!
Listed in order from the most basic skills to the most advanced, you can use the board with letters to play…
2. A letter recognition game with your young child. When your child sees one of the letters in the store, he gets a sticker on that space. When the board is full, he wins!
3. A lowercase letter recognition game. The board only has uppercase letters on it. Have your child find lowercase examples of the letters throughout the store. Each time she finds one, she gets a sticker on that space. When the board is full, she wins!
4. Find a word that starts with the letter ___. Each time your child finds a word that starts with a letter on the board, he gets a sticker on that space. (He doesn’t have to be able to read the word, just recognize the beginning letter.) When the board is full, he wins!
5. Find and read a word that starts with the letter ___. Each time your child finds and reads a word that starts with a letter on the board, she gets a sticker on that space. When the board is full, she wins!
6. Find and read a word that contains the letter ___. Each time your child finds and reads a word that contains a letter on the board, he gets a sticker on that space. When the board is full, he wins!
There are four different letter boards, so you can keep playing again and again. Or you can have multiple children playing at the same time, at their level of understanding. Just watch out for that competitive nature. You know your kids. You can make it a competition if that will be good for them, or if that will just make them argue and cry (um, that would be my kids) just make it about each child completing their own board.
They may need a little prompting to recognize the words and letters, and that’s okay. Just have fun with it! The point is to get them to notice the letters and words that are all around them! When they can connect the concepts they are learning to every day life experiences (like grocery shopping with mama), they will stick.
You are the most important teacher your child will ever learn from. While they are little, take advantage of every opportunity to give them a head start! You’ll be glad you did.
Here’s a little grace nugget for you: I do not do stuff like this every day. I am not super mom—I am just like you!
God’s grace is available to help each of us to do what we are called to do as moms. His grace actually propels us and gives us direction! I ask God for His grace to help me teach my children, and when I feel a “grace” for activities like this, that’s when I do them. You’ll recognize it because you will have a desire to do it and the ability to get it done. It will just feel right. There are some days I do good to just get to the grocery store. But there are other days when, in the midst of the beautiful chaos that is my life, I feel inspired and I go for it.
You can do this, mama! With God’s grace all around you, filling your home with goodness and love, you are enough. God knew you would be the best one for the job of raising your kids. That’s why He sent them to you.