How Getting Children to Make Grocery Lists and Set the Table Can Improve Vocabulary and Willingness to Learn

RReading, writing and math are often considered subjects that children learn in school. But as a psychologist studying how families can help support learning at home, I’ve found that children can learn these skills through daily chores and chores as well. One of those chores is preparing a meal – from groceries and cooking to table setting and enjoying a good appetite.

Our research shows this to be especially true for Latin American families living in the United States, many of whom are new to school systems in the United States, but for whom family dinners are a central part of the day.


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Our study included 248 Latino parents with kindergarten children. Some parents were given a series of tips – described below – on how to support children’s language, literacy and math at home when selecting, preparing and consuming food. Parents were encouraged to use these tips for at least a month. The other parents did not receive this advice.

Our study found that children whose parents received the advice had a larger vocabulary and more motivation to learn both a month after using the advice and even five months later. These children were also better storytellers and were better able to control their behavior and pay more attention than children whose parents did not receive this advice.

Busy parents in particular loved these tips because they were easy to follow and fit into their regular schedules and didn’t require extra work or special equipment.

1 Make grocery lists

Parents can ask their children to write down the grocery list before they go shopping. While older children can use letters and numbers – for example, “2 boxes of cereal, 10 bananas”, younger children can be encouraged to draw pictures of the items their parents want to buy or use a combination of. letters, numbers and pictures.

A 2017 study found that the more parents let their children try to write and read letters and numbers on their own while making shopping lists, the better children’s reading and math skills later on. .

Once back from the store, parents can ask children to use their shopping list to check if parents have purchased everything on the list. It’s a great way for kids to practice writing, reading, and math.

2 Cook and set the table

Gathering and mixing ingredients for cooking or setting the table are opportunities for children to practice math in a fun and familiar way. We have found that practicing math with children during these household chores can also increase children’s motivation to learn math.

Ask your child questions such as: Can you get five apples from the refrigerator? I added 4 cups of milk plus another – how many are in total? How many plates and forks do we need today?

3 Tell stories at mealtime

Parents can use family dinner and other meals to encourage children to tell stories about their day. Telling stories about past or future events is a great way to build skills such as vocabulary and understanding stories that are needed to read.

To get children to talk, parents have to use many questions that ask children to find their own answer rather than simply responding with a “yes” or “no”. For example: who came with you to the party? Where did you go with grandma? Why were you afraid?

Talking about topics of interest to the child can also help parents get children to talk. To keep the child engaged in the conversation, parents can ask follow-up questions such as “So what happened next?” They can also repeat what the child says. For example, if the child says “We went to the park”, the parent might respond “That’s right, we went to the park! And use phrases like “Uh-huh”, “Oh”, “I didn’t know” and “Really?” To continue the conversation.

4 Use the most comfortable language

Parents should feel free to speak in the language they know best. Many parents may feel pressured to speak only one language – such as English – at home because it is the language used at school. However, when parents speak in the language they know best, they are better able to express their thoughts and feelings while preserving their culture. Speaking a mother tongue at home does not interfere with children’s learning. When children have a solid foundation in a language – like Spanish – they can use that knowledge as a building block for learning a second language – like English.

Our research is mainly based on Latino families, who place particular importance on family meals. Latino families tend to eat together more often than families of other ethnicities. They are also more likely to cook at home and involve children in household chores.

However, these tips apply to all families who regularly cook, eat, and shop together. And they can help busy parents support their young children’s learning without too much of the burden or additional expense.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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