Oct 11, 2011 by Martha Burns, Ph.D
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Vocabulary development

There is no better time to teach your toddler the names of things than when you go out shopping together. The wonderful thing about shopping with your child at a grocery store or clothing store is that he can sit in a shopping cart and interact with you while pointing to all the interesting colors, shapes and objects around him.

Never mind that as he gets closer to two years old he may want you to focus on the candy aisle, or buy everything fuzzy or toy-like.  Use the time to provide names for all the wonderful objects you can see.

 “Wow!  Look at these oranges today—they are so big. They look like big balls don’t they?”

“Hey, those peppers are green and red and yellow, just like Christmas lights—what fun!”

“I see blue shirts and white shirts. What color do you like?”

As you talk about all the shapes and colors, your tot will begin to want you to tell him more names. If he can’t ask you “What is that?” yet, he will start to point to objects he wants you to name or let him touch. (Of course you don’t want him touching fresh food items or knocking down items on shelves, but there is no harm in letting him feel a soft cloth or looking more closely at the funny picture on a box of cereal.)

Here are some tips for making shopping both fun and educational for your child:

  • Color, shape, and size:Notice colors, shapes, and sizes as you shop the fruit and vegetable aisle with your toddler. Tell your child that bananas are “long and yellow,” and that oranges, apples, limes and lemons look like “orange, red, green and yellow balls.” At the clothing store, “big pants” may be for “big daddy” and tiny shoes may be “just the right size” for your child.
  • Texture and touch:  Clothing stores are all about touch. PJ’s are usually “soft,” and raincoats are “smooth and stiff,” while some coats may be “furry.” Your child will love feeling all the different textures.
  • Questions:Note that celery has “leaves” and broccoli has “flowers.” Ask questions, “Why do you think cauliflower is named that way?” Point out that potatoes have “eyes” and wonder aloud, “Why do they have so many and we have only two?”
  • My shopping cart:Some grocery stores have begun offering small grocery carts for young children to push around. You may want to wait until your tot is two or a little older, but it can be fun to let him choose apples, oranges or boxed cereals and push them in his own cart. At home you can use empty boxes to “play store” on a rainy day.

You might hear yourself saying, “not today” or “not now” as your child wants you to add everything to your basket (or his), but giving him the opportunity to explore the world around him is a valuable experience for both of you.  You get to cross a few items off your to-do list, while your toddler works on vocabulary development through conversation and play, with his favorite person—you.

Related Reading:

The Magical Combination of Love and Limits: Tips for Teaching Positive Behavior

Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes