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8 Awesome Ideas for Playing Shop with Kids

There are few things cuter than watching children completely engaged in pretend play. Not only are they in their element and having fun, but they are also learning a whole host of skills.

Playing shop is a great activity for preschoolers and even older children enjoy setting up a play grocery store.

Pretend play is one of the crucial types of play in early childhood and pretend play shopping also encourages dress-up play and symbolic play (using items to represent other things).

Kids learn so many things when playing shop at home or school:

If you’re wondering how to make a pretend grocery store and how to play shop, here are a few crucial steps to include, to maximize the full potential of learning this activity provides.

This is an activity that can be simple and quick to prep or can turn into fun for days.

Kids playing shop. Text overlay reads "8 Steps to teach your child to play".

What is your role as a parent or teacher? 

Make materials accessible, guide when necessary and ask lots of questions to encourage thinking and planning. 

Above that, you don’t need to interfere much, unless you are requested to go shopping at a child’s store!

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Step 1: Plan Your Pretend Play Shop

The very first step is to plan what kind of shop you want to create. 

Younger preschoolers will probably skip past this stage and just find themselves playing and making things up as they go along. This is perfectly normal.

For older kids, take the opportunity to ask questions such as:

  • What kind of store would you like to make?
  • What will it sell? (food, cleaning supplies, medicine, clothing, etc.)
  • Will you accept cash and credit cards?
  • What equipment do you need? (cash register, credit card machine, etc.)
  • Will you have a basket or trolley?
  • What are you going to name the shop?
  • How will people carry their purchases home?

Planning is an important life skill to learn. Your children will also learn how to improvise and think of creative ways to use items in their homes. 

While there are some items you may want to purchase, such as a cute shopping cart and some food, try not to buy everything as it will teach kids to think creatively and solve problems such as:

  • How will I attach the sign?
  • What can I use as a pretend cash register?
  • What can I use as the shelves of the grocery store?

If you would like to purchase a shop, especially if it’ll be used in a school, then this Melissa and Doug grocery store is a great purchase:

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store - FSC Certified
  • Free-standing sturdy wooden grocery store for playful shopping; 32” x 35.5” x 25” assembled
  • Includes hand-cranked conveyor belt, beeping “scanner,” bagging area, card swipe machine, and cash drawer
Melissa & Doug Fill and Roll Grocery Basket Play Set With Play Food Boxes and Cans (11...
  • Several fun accessories: This play grocery set includes five colorfully labeled grocery boxes, three play food...
  • Multiple play opportunities: our fill & roll grocery basket play set provides children ages 3 and up with...

Step 2: Build the Store

Now it’s time to build the bones of the store.

To make shelves, use any of the following:

  • Chairs
  • A table
  • An empty bookshelf
  • Boxes stacked on their sides, on top of each other
  • Wooden planks laid over bricks or small boxes on either side to hold them up

You may need another table to use as the checkout point, to hold a cash register, make payments and pack the customers’ goods.

Ask children for ideas and see what they can think of to use for the structure of the shop.

Two kids pretend play shopping

Step 3: Stock the Shelves

Stock the shelves with goodies to sell, whether toy food and groceries or items you have in your cupboards at home or school.

If you are selling food and groceries, use empty cereal boxes, canned foods, fresh fruit, empty drink bottles, empty medicine boxes, pet food tins, etc.

There really is no limit to what you can come up with here. Take a walk around your house and find items that can be sold.

This can make a great sorting activity. Teach your kids to group the items on the shelves by category, such as fresh produce, tinned foods, medicines, etc.

Step 4: Make a Sign

Making a sign for the shop can become a fun art activity for your kids.

Choose a name, draw it in big letters and let your kids colour or paint the name. 

Decorate the sign any way you choose – potato printing, colouring, finger painting, drawing pictures of items that are sold in the shop, etc.

Remember to write the shop’s opening hours on the sign.

Step 5: Price the Items

Make labels with prices and stick them on each item. You could use plain stickers for this, or pieces of paper and tape.

The prices could just be the numerals 1 to 5 to start off, especially for preschoolers. This helps teach number recognition. Let kids price them as they want.

Young children cannot yet be expected to understand the value of items or what to price them, but it’s a good opportunity to discuss it and start teaching preschoolers about money.

Use statements like these:

  • Should we make a bottle of milk $1 (Pound, Rand, Euro, etc.)?
  • This medicine is expensive so it’ll cost $5.
  • How much will it cost if I buy 2 bananas?
  • What do you think this cereal is worth? A lot or a little?
  • Beans are cheaper than tuna. What should we price them?
Mom and son setting up a shopping activity

Step 6: Make Money and Credit Cards

Make your own paper money with the numbers 1 to 5 on them or use real money if you have enough paper money and coins. Turn this into an opportunity to practise cutting skills.

Monopoly money is great for playing shop.

Make some credit cards and store discount cards while you’re at it, or let kids play with real credit cards (they’ll prefer that).

Children live in a world that has multiple forms of money and they should be exposed to all of them, not just cash. They see their parents swiping magic credit cards all the time.

Perhaps schedule a trip to the pretend bank in the room next door to deposit some money into your bank account before using your credit card to purchase things at the shop.

Step 7: Gather Equipment

Now that you have a shop, some goods to sell and some money to buy items, the shop will need some equipment. 

You may want to find items to function as these if you don’t have play versions:

  • A cash register
  • A credit card machine
  • A scanner to scan the prices
  • Play shopping carts or baskets for customers to carry their items
  • Packets to take their purchases home in
Child playing with a toy cash register

Step 8: Role Play Shopping

It’s time to play shop!

Let children be the shopkeepers, grab a basket and go shopping at their shops. Or take turns doing the shopping. Invite other friends, classmates or members of the family to shop. 

Kids playing shop together

This is a good opportunity to teach kids about money and its many forms. Pay in different ways – with paper notes, coins and also debit/credit cards. Swipe your rewards cards to get points from the store.

For younger children, pay the exact amount in a matching coin or note. For older children make up the amount in smaller coins/notes, or pay with a higher denomination and ask for change. 

Don’t expect young kids to be calculating change. This is an advanced skill that primary/elementary kids still find challenging.

Let preschoolers pretend to give change with any amount. Or say “I need $3 change please” and accept any note or coins.

If your kids get into this, you may find yourself playing this repeatedly or keeping your store open for several days of fun.

Children playing shop is a great example of learning through play.

However you decide to do it, remember to find the hidden learning opportunities in this complex pretend game. These are just a few ideas to inspire you to get started.

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