Home | Health+Development | Pick up, early learning, aisle five: supermarket lessons

Pick up, early learning, aisle five: supermarket lessons

Bush kindy may be trending, but that doesn’t mean young kids need to be educationally limited to the great outdoors – nor to learning’s traditional realm, the classroom.

The humble supermarket is being touted as a potential early-education hub, and early research has proved its working.

The analysis, by academics from the Temple University Infant & Child Laboratory, took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the US. Signs were scattered throughout supermarket aisles, bearing questions such as, ‘Where does milk come from?’ and ‘What’s your favourite vegetable?’ Parents frequented the supermarket with kids in tow, and posed the suggested questions to their little ones.

It was found that this increased the amount of parent-child conversation by a third, though only in families from low-income areas. Fortuitously, though, this is where increased talk is needed the most. Children from lower-income families are 56 per cent more likely to know fewer words at the time of school entry.

Image: Temple University Infant & Child Laboratory

Image: Temple University Infant & Child Laboratory

Down under, it seems the supermarket pilot could be similarly useful. This is because, in studying parent engagement, researchers at Western Sydney University found that: “While parents and educators in low-SES communities believe parents should have a role in children’s learning, the data indicates that parents are not clear about what that role could be and feel inadequate to undertake this role.” The research further indicated that parents from non-English backgrounds focused almost entirely on school learning for their kids’ educational attainment.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Last year, Woolworths piloted an initiative similar to the Philadelphia supermarket study. It partnered with Jamie Oliver to provided fresh food stickers, to inform kids of the (literal and figurative) roots and fruits and veggies. This was in response to research that ascertained, amongst other things, 92 per cent of children didn’t know bananas grew on trees.

Margaret Somerville, director of the Centre for Educational Research at WSU, said the supermarket project in Philadelphia, which is already being trialled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US, and Johannesburg, South Africa, could be replicated in Australia, for instance, via Woolworths, though, she said: “We would need to engage in some actual research with Woolworths to be able to provide any robust evidence [that this increases parent-child conversation].”

Buying groceries isn’t the only non-school, learning-friendly activity. The researchers from the Philadelphia supermarket project have a new learning baby: Urban Thinkscape. It extends the notion of alternative learning spaces to the street, by placing interactive fixtures in otherwise vacant public spaces. Think a puzzle next to a bus stop, or a ‘hopscotch pathway’. It has even proposed the installation of a ‘laughometer’: a device for measuring laughter.

By measuring how many words are spoken at these sites, the researchers would hope to democratise fun, extra-classroom learning.

Privileged or not, every child deserves access to laughter.

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One comment

  1. Margaret Tavolaro

    We are an inner city child care centre and we have done the bush kinder, park kinder and are now running our “Market Kinder” project. This is where we take a small group of children each week to the Queen Victoria Market or the University of Melbourne Farmers market and purchase items requested by parents of the children. This way we are helping out the families also who may not have time to get fresh fruit and vegetables. Children are developing an understanding about planning, budgeting and also the nutritional value of eating fresh. Children are engaging with their families prior to the excursions to menu plan and make a shopping list. We talk to stall holders about various issues such as where the food has come from to how endangered bees need help to keep our crops fertilised. It has been a great learning experience for all involved.

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