Take Another Look At Your Block: The Bodega

With consistency and practice, parents can redefine the benefits of spaces they frequent with their children in urban areas.

Every day on my commute to work I can count on seeing throngs of people hustling down the subway entrance steps. Every morning, afternoon and evening I will see parents holding their children’s hands as they walk the mini ramp into our bodega. On the weekends, at the laundromat across the street, I’m certain to find at least two youngsters ignoring the plainly written “NO RUNNING” sign as they play with each other. And at all of these locations there are tons of parents with their young ones getting from one place to the next, usually in a rush.

When we see all these traveling families we cannot help but get excited at all the possibilities for rich and engaging parent-child interactions. We encourage our parents to take another look at their neighborhoods and help them reconfigure these spaces for their children’s development.

The Bodega

New Settlement afterschool program participants learn about the new fresh produce for sale at their local Bronx bodega.

Let’s be clear. Majority of the items sold for consumption at your typical NYC bodega aren’t the healthiest of options for young children, and we are not encouraging our parents to visit the bodega every day. That being said, during the summer you can expect to see more parents treating their kids to a sweet treat or a cool beverage from the store. So if you are going to frequent the bodega, why not make use of what it has to offer your child.

Take a moment to look around and notice all the colors, shapes, sizes and textures of the items. When your kid picks out their favorite fruit or snack, ask them what makes the snack their favorite. Have them describe the fruit/snack to you, the color of the packaging, its size and shape, how it feels, how it tastes and what it smells like. Using spatial words (square, triangle, rectangle, circle, etc.) and shape descriptors (tall, sharp, curvy, spiky, etc.) strengthens your toddler’s spatial reasoning skills as they age. The more you engage your child the more comfortable she becomes with oral language. Encouraging her to communicate with language more frequently will make learning that much easier. By tuning into your child’s snack choice — or whatever it is she is focused on at the moment — you are enhancing her brain development and showing her that you care and she is protected.

And don’t forget to point out all the numbers. Numbers are in mass abundance at the corner store. At your next visit, count with your child the number of bottles of their favorite drink as far as their eyes can see. Walk together down an aisle to count the number of shelves or simply count the total number of aisles inside the bodega. Counting aloud the numbers of individual items is a repeatedly simple way to teach your child the cardinal principle in math — numbers representing individual things in a particular set or group. The cardinal principle is absolutely essential to grasping higher order mathematical skills later in school and in life. As your child develops these skills, such as simple addition and subtraction, have them assist you with counting your purchase totals and expected change. The more you talk about numbers and use math with your child in everyday life is very much predictive of their math ability once she gets to school.

Leave a comment below about your local bodega. What do you and your kids typically get from there? What are you usually talking about and who are you talking to inside? And lastly, let us know when you try to use any of these suggestions and how your kids responded. We will be back tomorrow highlighting another locale in your neighborhood and how you can transform it into your kid’s learning lab.