Find tips & ideas to set up a fun grocery store dramatic play area. Get directions for food, props, printables, literacy & math elements for play-based learning through pretend play.
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Setting the Stage
Dramatic play provides an opportunity for young kids to learn through play. When kids play in a pretend grocery store, they can learn about people, jobs, and places in their community.
They can also learn about literacy and math concepts in a developmentally appropriate (DAP) way. I’m going to show you lots of ideas to set up a grocery store dramatic play area in your classroom or home.
The printables featured in this post are available in my store. I also added several Amazon links throughout this post. Use the links and ideas to help you shop for props to add to your center. There will be no additional cost to you when you purchase an item featured, but a small portion of your purchase will be used towards maintaining this website.
Grocery Store Props
If you are into it, you can create a massive set-up, but your kids will also have LOTS of fun with a “store” made from just a few props. Use your imagination and take your budget and space into consideration when transforming your dramatic play center.
Here are the basics that you probably need:
- a cash register – Use a toy cash register, make one by adding some buttons to a box, use a device or a printable
- food items
- grocery bags
- a place to store food – shelves or tables
Stocking the Shelves with Pretend Food
Why do you go to a grocery store? To get food, of course. So….you’re going to need some food. Here are some creative ways to stock your play store with food items for your kids to sell.
Where to Find Food
Most classrooms and toy rooms have a supply of plastic play food. Below are some affiliate links for some good options.
If you want to find more food, but it’s not in your budget….don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to find food to use without breaking the bank.
Check with your friends, neighbors, parents. Many people will happily donate plastic food when their kids finish playing with it. You can also find inexpensive supplies of pretend food by frequenting garage sales and thrift stores.
Recycle Food Containers
In addition to using toy food, you can also add real food containers to your pretend play center. Let friends, parents, and other teachers know that you need containers. Before you know it, you will have a pretty good supply. Please remember to take precautions for allergens that might cause a problem in your class.
Here are some things that you can ask parents and friends to save for you:
- empty pasta boxes
- empty frozen food containers
- plastic containers (yogurt, sour cream, milk)
- ice cream tubs
- empty cans
- empty frozen food bags
- clean foam meat trays
Tips & Tricks for Recycled Food Containers
Here is a trick to help you prepare empty cans for use. I have this great can-opener (I think that I picked it up at IKEA) that removes the top of a can without leaving sharp edges.
I removed the top, used the contents, cleaned out the can, and then hot glued the top back on. Tip: I had more success when I added glue to the inside rim of the can rather than to the lid
If you don’t have this type of can opener, you can hot-glue a circle of cardboard to the top of a cleaned out can. You can also use cans with open tops…..just make sure there are no sharp edges that will cut your kids.
Frozen Food Bags
Want to add some frozen veggies to your grocery store shelves? I cleaned out frozen food bags after using the contents. Then, I added packing peanuts to the bags to give them some bulk and TADA…..I had some frozen food.
You can also add crumbled up paper, cotton balls, or whatever you can find to the bags to make them feel more lifelike.
Create packages of meat by thoroughly cleaning a foam meat tray. Place yarn, pom-poms, shredded paper, strips of felt, etc. on the tray and then wrap it with plastic wrap…..TADA….your meat department is ready.
How to Make Food
If you are crafty, you can make food.
You can get all fancy and sew some DIY food from felt. Here are some adorable fruits and veggies from Apple Green Cottage
If you are not crafty, don’t worry. Kids have a pretty good imagination. You can use balls of colored paper, crumbled pipe cleaners, sponges, or colored blocks to represent food.
You can even get your kids to help you find ways to make food. They will enjoy creating with clay or painting rocks, etc.
As you set up a dramatic play area in a classroom setting, be sure to take the cultures of your children and community into consideration. Are there particular food items that you can add to represent the different cultures within your community? Consult your children and their families.
Are there any seasonal items that you can add to your store? If you are setting up your grocery store play area in the fall, you might want to include pumpkin items. I know that pumpkin and pumpkin-related foods are all over the grocery stores in my community in the fall.
Special clothing isn’t necessary for your grocery store set up, but kids sure do LOVE dressing up to get into their roles. Here are a few things that you can provide:
- aprons, vests, t-shirts, or polo shirts for employees
- purses, wallets, keys
- face masks – new reality at the post-Covid-19 grocery store
Here are some addition props that you can use as you create your market:
- baskets – shopping baskets and baskets to organize food
- shopping bags – paper, plastic, or reusable
- cars or wagons – for delivery services or curbside pickup
- grocery store ads and grocery promotional signs
- play grocery cart
- play money
- tongs – to pick up baker items
Areas to Set Up
Remember, you can make a grocery store as simple or complex as you like. Here are some ideas for areas or departments that you can include. Have conversations with your kids to see which areas they want in their store.
- Produce Department -Gather your fruits and vegetables together to create a produce department. Add a scale so that kids can weigh the items. Playing with healthy foods is also an easy way to start conversations about healthy foods with your kids.
- Bakery -My favorite area of the grocery store is the bakery area. Add bread, rolls, donuts, cakes, and fresh tortillas to your bakery area.
- Dairy & Meat – Include milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter containers in your dairy department.
- Frozen Food – A frozen food area can consist of a shelf filled with frozen food boxes and bags.
- Canned Food & Pantry Items
- Deli – Do you have pretend sandwich-making supplies? Your kids may want to add a deli area to your store.
- Floral – My grocery store has a floral department that I see when I enter. You can add flowers to your store too.
Create a checkout area with a cash register or a money box. Kids love stuffing their wallets with play money. Include some credit cards and loyalty cards too.
The self-checkout area is also an essential part of a modern store. You can create a touch screen by attaching food photos to a piece of cardboard or foam core…..or use a printable screen. A scanner is super easy to create. I created one by cutting a square piece of black construction paper and placing a smaller white square of paper in its center.
When my son was little, a curbside pickup area didn’t exist in stores. Today, every grocery store has a curbside pickup area. Kids can pretend to order food on their computers or phone so that instore shoppers can get it ready. Create a space where shoppers can pull up a wagon or car to get their food.
One of the best things about a dramatic play area is that you can use it to introduce literacy learning in a fun, play-based, developmentally appropriate way. Here are some ways to add literacy elements to your store. Also, note that you can add some of these elements into a writing center.
Label everything in the grocery store. Labeling is a great way to develop vocabulary and awareness of letters and sounds.
Labels also promote conversations about literacy concepts.
- “Look, Breonna, banana starts with a “b” just like your name!”
- “I see that carrots and cauliflower both start with a “c”. Can you hear the “c” sound?”
- “Do you see any more words that have a “c” in them?
Printable shopping lists
Before I go to the grocery store, I make a list. Provide some paper or printable shopping lists so that your kids can make lists too.
Gather some sale ads from your local grocery stores. Add them to the area so that kids can browse through them. They can use them as they shop, they can cut out the pictures and use them throughout their store (a great fine motor activity), and they can use the ads to help them create a shopping list.
Here are a few books that you can add to the area or in your class library to support the grocery store theme.
Let your kids get some practice with their scissor skills. Bring in pages of coupons and let your kids cut them out. My set of printables includes some full-color printable coupons plus some blank ones so that kids can create promotional materials.
Role tags/ name tags
Role name tags help kids get into their roles. They can encourage kids to talk about the different people who work at their store. If you need to limit the number of kids in your dramatic play area, you can create a schedule or sign-in sheet and use it as a waiting list (and it encourages name writing practice 😊)
If you talk to your local grocery store manager, you can probably get a few promotional signs from them before they throw them out. You can use print signs, buntings, or banners to use. Provide paper, and kids can make their own signs.
Math Elements in the Dramatic Play Area
In addition to literacy learning, you can also practice many early math concepts in a pretend store.
Use money in your dramatic play center. Kids can count and identify the numbers on the bills and coins.
Provide price tags or let kids create price tags for all of the food on the store shelves. The tags will help them identify numbers and count money.
Add scales so that kids can weigh produce and bulk items. They can also use them to compare weights of the items. Which is heavier…..1 apple or 2 bananas?
Counting & Numeracy
Just like a real grocery store, the opportunities for counting are ALL OVER a play grocery store. Kids can count things as they place them in their cart. They can count food as they check it out. Your kids can also count products and compare quantities of different products as they put them on the shelves. They can fill egg cartons with eggs.
Get the Printables
Are you ready to get the printables pictured in this article? Stop by my store and pick them up today.