By Sarah Pan and Michèle Mazzocco
This time of year is perfect for appreciating the warm sun and company that a farmers’ market can provide. In addition to a variety of fruits and vegetables, you can find many examples of early math at the farmers’ market. A visit to the local market might already be part of your family’s weekly routine. Like many everyday activities, shopping at the farmers’ market offers many opportunities to explore measurement, shapes, patterns, spatial relations, counting, and numbers.
In this blog, we offer ideas for exploring math before, during, and after a visit to the farmers’ market. By focusing on math at the market, children not only stay engaged during a fun outdoor experience, but also get to use their math skills in the real world. If you don’t have access to a farmers’ market, you can still practice many of these ideas at your local grocery store.
What will you buy, and how many bags or boxes will you need to carry everything back home? Make a list of things to find at the market and count out your supplies before leaving.
After spotting an interesting booth, browse what’s for sale. Here, children can learn about new kinds of patterns and shapes, notice how things are positioned (which is key to building spatial relations skills), and practice counting.
Ask children about shapes and sizes they recognize.
Investigate patterns among sets of things.
Consider where things are in relation to other things.
Once you have selected something to buy, have your children count the number of items.
Putting away and enjoying what you bought at the farmer's market also offers opportunities to build real-life math skills.
Conversation starters like these are designed to promote exploration. Children examine and describe what they see and how it relates to other things around them. “Math detective” skills—or the ability to find math hiding in the world—can be useful in many places. It’s all about keeping an eye out for opportunities to find and talk about early math. As children grow and explore the world around them, you can foster their natural curiosity. The farmers’ market is just one example of new and exciting opportunities to discuss math, but these openings are truly all around us!
Sarah Pan is a doctoral student of Developmental Psychology at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Michèle Mazzocco is Professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota and Director of the University of Minnesota’s Math and Numeracy Lab. The authors are members of the DREME Family Math and DREME Math+ projects.