The Child & Youth Network (CYN) in London, Ont. is encouraging families to play language games while they’re grocery shopping. The organization has placed thousands of conversation cards at 14 grocery stores in neighbourhoods that it has identified as needing literacy support.
The cards feature questions in four categories: fruits, vegetables, fun and games, and lunch box tips. One example is, “What do you get when you combine an apple and a banana? An appleana or a banapple? How many crazy words can you create?”
“It’s basically a way for parents to then suggest to their kids ‘let’s do word play.’” said Jamie Fenton, family literacy coordinator at Child & Youth Network.
The program is based on research from CYN’s “2,000 Words to Grow” campaign, which indicates the number of quality, positive words a child hears in an hour can dramatically impact their future success. The conversation cards launched in laundromats last year and CYN decided to expand into grocery stores.
“We know that everyone has to grocery shop and most of the times doing it with small children can be a very daunting task,” said Fenton. “I know with my own child, asking her questions about different colours, shapes and sizes that we see while walking through the grocery store just came as an easy fit for us.”
CYN received funding from the province’s Healthy Kids Community Challenge to develop the cards. “Their theme is to help boost veggie and fruit [consumption], so it made a lot of sense to us to include the veggie and fruit theme onto the card,” said Fenton.
The cards are located at either the front entrance or produce section in the stores. “We did include conversation points that include the use of fruits or vegetables in other areas of the store,” said Fenton. “So, it doesn’t necessarily only work with families that are buying fresh produce; there could be questions about frozen or canned [fruits and vegetables].”
The Child and Youth Network is composed of 170 agencies and individuals in the education, health, recreation and social services sectors. Individuals from the local health unit, London Public Library and an Ontario Early Years centre helped develop the content for the conversation cards, said Fenton.
No Frills, Food Basics, FreshCo, Sobeys and the Old East Village Grocer are participating in the program.