A visit to the market—whether a supermarket, a local grocery store or a farmer’s market—fills the senses with sights, sounds and smells. The market is a place to build math, science and language skills. Looking carefully at and discussing the array of produce leads to interesting new words as well as discoveries about diversity and variation of plants. Comparing fresh herbs in the produce section with the same dried herbs in the spices aisle provides some experience with how plants change after they’ve been picked from the ground. Take these tips on your next shopping trip and try some market science with your little shopper.
Smells: The fresh food aisles of the market contain many new and exciting smells. And smell is an important tool for science. Spend a few moments near the apples and take a deep breath. “Do apples smell the same as melons? Let’s find out!”
Vegetables: As often as possible, share with your child which parts of the plant each item is. Roots such as carrots and beets often appear with their green leafy tops; point these parts out to your child, and when you return home with your purchase, you can investigate the vegetable further with questions like “Is there evidence that the root of the plant was once buried in the ground? How can you tell?” Garlic is a bulb. You can ask, “What do you think we’d find out by planting some of our garlic?” Visit www.kidsgardening.org for more information on planting with children.
Fruits: Supermarkets carry a wide range of fruits, but it is not obvious to young children that these are parts of plants. By definition, the fruit of a plant is the part which contains seeds. The word “vegetable” refers to all plants. So, the part of the green pepper we eat is both the fruit of the plant and a vegetable. We also eat stems (celery), seeds (peanuts) and roots (carrots). Ask your child if he can tell by looking whether or not a tomato or green pepper contains seeds. Follow up at home with the fruits you have purchased by looking together for the presence of seeds when you slice the tomato or green pepper. Consult books or the internet together to find out more about how the particular plant grows. This will help to make a connection between the fruit as it appears in the supermarket and how it grew and developed into this fruit.