Dramatic Play: Making A "Real" Classroom Grocery Store, for Free!

Have you ever been to one of those awesome children's museums that has a REAL grocery store inside it, just for kids? When I was a kid I loved going to museums like that because I loved pretending I was grocery shopping. Any parent will tell you that you can spend a ton of money on toy food, play money and toy cash registers, but your kids would probably rather go into your cupboards and play with your cans of soup. There's a great children's museum
near me called the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. Wegmans is our local grocery store chain and they are headquartered in Rochester, therefore Strong has an unbelievable Wegmans exhibit for kids to explore.

Last year when I was getting ready to teach my nutrition unit, I decided it would be fun to make a dramatic play center of a grocery store in our classroom that featured healthy foods. My students have never been very interested in my kitchen center because the play food is old and not very appealing. I started shopping online for new play food when I had the idea to start saving my old recyclables and make our very own Wegmans in the classroom (and for free!) I asked my aides to start saving containers that could be reused and looked real even if they were empty. Together we gathered a variety of empty food packages to stock our shelves.

Next, I visited my local Wegmans and asked the customer service desk if they did donations to schools. She said to visit the Wegmans website and that there was a form to fill out for a donation request. That night I filled out the request form and explained that I was a special education teacher and wanted to make a Wegmans in our classroom to complement my nutrition unit. The next morning I had a voicemail from the manager at my local Wegmans saying that I could come pick up my donation at any time. Those of you who are familiar with Wegmans are probably not surprised by the efficiency of their service- Wegmans is THE BEST when it comes to customer service! Wegmans graciously donated 2 shopping baskets, a bunch of reusable bags and a "Shopper's Club" card for each of my students.

I already had a play cash register, a set of toy produce and loads of play money. I cleared out our old kitchen set up and put together our very own Wegmans. I was nervous that my kids wouldn't think it's as cool as I did (I am a bit of a foodie, after all) but they LOVED it! Many of them chose to play with it over using the computer and running around in the gym for free time.

I learned quickly that although their play was spontaneous (as dramatic play should be), some of them were a little too dramatic with the center. A few of them have watched too many episodes of Supermarket Sweep and they would literally clear the shelves and leave nothing for the other shoppers. We had to come up with some rules for the center to make it more fun, for example:
  • 10 items or less per customer, per trip
  • Only 5 produce items per customer, per trip
  • You must return your shopping basket when you are done, you cannot take it home
  • You must pay for your food (no stealing allowed)
  • You must take turns being the cashier (we had a lot of cash register hogs)
Two years later, it is still a permanent play fixture in our classroom. Since the abilities of my students vary greatly from year to year, I am excited that I can use the center to teach different things. I can use it to teach money, nutrition, sorting, manners, social skills and more. 

The total price of our Wegmans play center: $0

Did you know Wegmans will also donate groceries and gift cards to supplement a nutrition unit in a school or teach a class on healthy eating!?

Even if you don't live near a Wegmans, you'd be surprised how many local stores want to give back to the community and support local schools. The only thing Wegmans wanted in exchange for their donation was a photo of the kids so they could hang it on the wall in the store. Pretty good deal for me!

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