Series: Ideas at Work

Putting Groceries Away is Hands-on Shape Activity for Young Children

Hands-on Shape Activity

Putting groceries away is necessary work for families. Sharing this work with our children turns an everyday task into a hands-on shape activity — if we slow down and let them figure things out for themselves!

Start by including children in the work in a meaningful way. You might say, “This a heavy bag of groceries! Let’s put the food away so we know where to find it when it’s time to cook.”

Unpacking the grocery bags

Children will begin to notice how some groceries are similar or different by categorizing food packages as they set them out on the kitchen counter or floor. Groceries come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Cans of soup or beans and jars of pickles or peanut butter can be grouped together; so can boxes of cereal, pasta, or crackers. Having a conversation about why cans go together and boxes might go together in another group brings math into this household work.

I notice you’re stacking the boxes flat, on top of each other. All four fit.

Hands-on Shape Activity 2

If we push the boxes over, the milk carton can stand up here.

Hands-on Shape Activity 1

Filling up the cabinet

The conversation you and your child have while placing items on the shelf or in the cabinet can be a way to discover shape characteristics. For example, stacking cans on the flat side versus the curved sides. Children can explore how many cans they can stack to fit inside the shelf; certain items may be too long or wide to fit.

Oh no, the cans are falling out!

If it stands up, then it won’t fall over.

Solving problems with spatial reasoning

When we offer children space and opportunity, we can observe their many attempts to fit items into the cabinet only to stop and restart. The work of trial and error is very beneficial to developing their understanding of the characteristics of shapes. We might watch before we support them with language such as “I notice that long can of Pringles doesn’t fit, it is taller than the cabinet space.”

Let me try the peanut butter jar. Nope it doesn’t fit.

This jar fits on top of the peanut butter.