Practical Math: playing supermarket

IMG_4552Here is a fun way to teach practical addition, subtraction and simple multiplication, and build familiarity with currency: making your own supermarket. It also makes for a fun evening activity as the kids are involved in making the props.

Set Up

The company “Learning Resources” sells this Canadian play currency set, which I’ve seen at local toy stores and we bought through a catalogue order at school for $10 CDN. Great value considering the number of notes  and coins you get, and all the frequently-used denominations in coins (nickels, dimes, quarters, are there).IMG_4555

The supermarket items were drawn with thin-tip markers on printer paper.  We made items from a bunch of categories including:

  • produce
  • dairy/meat
  • toiletries (toothbrush/diapers/toilet paper)
  • candy (of course)
  • pet food


(Top-left: Rice crispy squares; bottom-right: Diapers)

You can see the two-year old’s contribution on the right here:


The cost of items is somewhat arbitrary. I chose a mix of things that could be bought with single notes or coins ($1,$5,$10) and some that needed a combination ($8), but rounded to notes (e.g. $8 + $2 = $10).


One important point is to have dramatically different prices for items in the same category (e.g. chocolate pretzels were 50 cents each, but a Wonka bar was $5). This difference encourages the child to think about affordability (which would you get if you had $2 pocket change?).

The Game

The child is the shopper, and may be accompanied by a pet (baby brother). The game goes like so: Parent is “making pancakes” and needs the child to run out and get a few items. So she makes a list “dozen eggs, milk, 2 pints of strawberries”. She gives the child money. Child goes to shop (parent doubles as a shopkeeper) and picks out items. Child adds bill, gives money to shopkeeper. Child figures out how much change s/he should get back. Easy.

Increasing the challenge

Start out simple and work your way to harder options. Here are some ideas:

  1. Single item list, give kid exact change.
  2. Multi-item list which adds up to a denomination requiring no change. (e.g. adds up to $10).
  3. Multi-item, simple change (have $10, bill is $7)
  4. Multi-item, not having enough money on hand (have $10, bill is $13)
  5. Multi-item, with change in cents
  6. Multi-item, with multiples of some items (e.g. buy 3 packs of strawberries).
  7. Multi-item, with change that kid could use to buy treat. Now kid has to decide what she could buy with leftover money and if she has enough.
  8. Buying items that cost less than a dollar (how many pretzels can you buy for $3 if pretzels cost $0.50?)

This is a set you could make and keep to play on several different evenings. When an idea is hard, you could stop to work it out separately and then get back to the game. The idea though is to keep it as a game, rather than as a lesson. That really is what it is.

And of course you could always change up what the supermarket has on offer. Enjoy!