I Took My 10 year-old Students Shopping

I took my students shopping. 15 ten and eleven year-olds and 5 moms. We spent the entire day getting to Ikea, shopping and getting home. It was a blast.

Our objective was to buy furnishings to make our classroom a cozy space for reading. We had been given a grant by the PTSA to enhance our reading areas. Students were to have input into the decision about reading areas. With enthusiasm, I thought, why not make it into a real-life math lesson.

What We Had: Money to spend, an objective, one day.

Planning: Before our trip…students chose a part of the trip to organize–transportation, figuring out which items to buy, how much money they needed to bring for lunch. I set them up with a Google Doc. with the different teams and some websites of Ikea and our local train finder: hyperdia.com. I gave them time.

IMG_3771What I liked: This photo shows one thing. My students knew the area we had to furnish, and they began to measure. They used meter sticks and then some estimate measuring, like these two boys who stacked chairs to get an idea how large something was.

I liked hearing them talk about the train leaving at 13:40 as 1:40 p.m. as this was some content I needed them to understand.

I liked the way they talked about prices and how they talked themselves out of buying a couch because it would take up 2/3 of their money. After having spent months on fractions, I liked that reasoning a lot.

I liked how most of them worked well together and were excited by the project.

And…I liked their enthusiasm, which persisted.

What was difficult: Planning with so many students. I wanted to make sure they were all involved, but some groups had a challenging time. Looking at the train schedules took one wise student and a printout and then it was done.

Getting a good selection of items so we could make a decision based on the online catalog was also difficult. I heard the groups talking and dismissing items quickly and taking so long that they had trouble coming up with a good list of items. I printed out a shopping list of many items and finally had them take a look through and narrow it down. I realized they needed more practice in the broad gathering of information. Good check for future research.

The trip: On a sunny cold Tuesday, sandwiched between two days of testing for the ISA, we headed to IKEA. We had an envelope ofIMG_1742 money for the train, and another one with cash for the furnishings. We would take two trains and a bus to Ikea. Lessons in transportation and Japanese language.

On the way to the station, I tried to involve the non-native speakers to see if they could get us the tickets for the train. With help from some native speakers, we figured out words for elementary school students, tickets and our destination. At the station, one of the students tried to get us tickets, and we needed a little help from a native speaker. We ended up with tickets to our transfer point and all got on the train.

At the transfer station, we had a funny scene of trying to get through the gate without having enough money on our tickets. The gates all clanged and turned red, and we laughed as we had to put more money on our tickets. More learning experiences for all.

Arrival: We arrived at Ikea about 1 hour later. It was early enough, there weren’t many people. We split into three groups: rugs and lamp, pillows and chair, miscellaneous tent, stools and tables. With enough moms, it was easy, and it left me free to take photos and check on all the groups.

IMG_1753What I observed: Some serious students ready to shop. They pushed carts, had their small pencils, an Ikea list and a paper tape measure. As they went through the store with a parent supervising, they pulled out items and debated colors, cost and even quality. “It’s so cheap, it might fall apart,” I heard one student say. Students took out their measuring tapes and figured out size. They had calculators and were constantly totaling the costs to make sure they stayed under budget. Good life lessons.

Social observations: The boy group was finished within 20 minutes. They knew what they wanted and finished up. I talked with the parent volunteer supervising, and she said they’re happy and finished. Everybody was smiling and serious. Ownership of their learning in all of its authenticity.

Back home: We did the reverse commute and ended up back in school in time to take everything out and assemble. Ikea is great for that, and no problem for hands-on kids. I don’t think anyone looked at the directions, but they all tried different ways of assembling and persevered and got it right. I let them at it, then let them arrange it.IMG_1850


  • The amount of enthusiasm
  • The ownership
  • The casual mathematical skills
  • The dog

We had money to get a class stuffed animal that we are now in the process of negotiating a name. He’s really cute, and the kids love him, and it made me wonder why we hadn’t done this before. It gives them a sense of comfort and comraderie.

Overall: A great experience, and I feel fortunate we could do it. I would never have thought taking kids shopping could be so much fun and so worthwhile. Shopping is: money, time, budget, measurement (in this case) all wrapped up in a nice authentic IMG_1869package.

IMG_1864And now we have a cozy reading area, some personal space for the kids (which they requested), and of course, a class dog.


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