Literacy at Home: Grocery List

Writing a grocery list with your child supports three of the five early literacy practices: talking, reading, and writing. If you include our bonus activity it can also incorporate playing!

What do you need?

  • Pen & paper (for you)
  • Marker/crayon/pencil crayon & paper (for your child)

Writing a grocery list is something that most of us do every week, which makes it really easy to incorporate this early literacy skill building activity into your life. The next time you sit down with a pen and paper to write your grocery list, grab a pen and paper for your child as well and get them to join in the fun.

How does this build literacy?


Have a conversation with your child through the process of writing down the list:

What do we need for groceries this week? We need to get some fruit. Should we get oranges or bananas?

This is going to help children build vocabulary, as well as demonstrate for them how conversations happen when we take turns speaking. Even if they can’t speak full sentences – or even words yet – give them the time to respond to you after you speak and then respond to them – regardless of if they’re saying words or not!

We’re going to have cereal for breakfast and we’re out of milk. So we need to add milk to our lists as well! M-i-l-k.

Talking your child through a process like this also helps them build what we call narrative skills. This means the understanding of how events take place one after the other. In this case, checking to see if you have milk goes before writing milk on the list. Writing milk on the list goes before going to the store and buying milk, etc.

Writing and Reading

Okay, so far on our list we have milk and bread and bananas. What else do we need to get? Peanut butter? Okay, let’s add it to our lists…

In this activity, reading and writing go hand in hand. The words your child writes on their paper don’t have to be spelled correctly – and may not even look like words – but the goal here is not to have them writing a perfect copy of your list. The goal is to build their early literacy skills. In this case they are learning that spoken language can be written down and that written language has meaning. It can be read and then spoken aloud. These are important things for them to understand! They’re also practicing the motions of writing, which is going to help their fine motor skills develop.

Bonus Activity: Playing

We’d normally have suggestions for how to extend this activity when you take your child to the grocery store, but as you may not be taking your child to the grocery store right now, here’s a way to adapt this activity to being at home.

Set up a grocery store for your child to play with!

This can be really simple and only have a few items. You can use play food items, canned goods, or maybe empty containers that you’ve washed to recycle. Sit down with your child and write labels for the different things in the store and the different store sections. Set these labels up with the items, and then play with your child in the grocery store! Have them take their list and go through it while they collect the items on their list. This reinforces all the great learning that happened while you wrote your lists, and gives your child an opportunity to try out a routine that they know adults do – which is one of the ways that children learn!

If you really want to dive in to this activity, you can search for examples of “grocery store dramatic play”. We’ve linked a few that we liked below. Keep in mind that most of these websites are aimed at preschool and kindergarten teachers though, and this doesn’t have to be a fancy activity. You can use your imagination and do it on a small scale at home. The most important parts are to label things, talk with your child about the process of grocery shopping, and have fun! Playing is learning after all.

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