Real-Life Math : Grocery Store Challenge

real life math lesson

“BUT MOM! When will I ever need to know this?”

Do you ever hear that? I do, especially when it comes to math. Here’s the thing, if you make math real your child is more likely to understand and retain their lessons.

Mister Man & I are working on graphing and budgeting. His math book is full of situations like the following:

The circus has 4 elephants, 13 dogs, 2 tigers and a bear. Mary and James like the elephants the best. Ramon, Jacob, and Timothy like the tigers the best. Janet, Tara, Harvey, & Amos favor the bear. Addison is the only person who prefers the dogs. Show on a graph how many children like each animal the best.

It costs $10 to buy a ticket to the circus. An ice cream costs $1 and a soda costs $2. Mary would like to buy a souvenir that costs $2. Mary has $13. Can she afford to buy everything? If not, what is a good compromise.

Um, what? And don’t even get me started on that fact that my children have never been to a circus…

(for the record my son suggested Mary buy the ice cream, soda, and souvenir and skip the circus)

I don’t really blame my son for being bored with questions like the one above. The questions typically found in math books don’t relate to my son, and they aren’t very exciting to read about. Rather than struggle with questions like this we decided to try something on our own.

I gave my son a copy of the weekly sales ad for our favorite store. I told him that he has $20 imaginary dollars to spend and his job was to pick out two meals from the sales ad. The meals had to be complete and reasonably healthy, and he had no more than $20 to spend on each meal. (Yes, I know $20 is a lot, that’s not the point, LOL!)

Here’s how it went down:

He scoured the ad (READING!) and picked out two meals that met the budgetary constraints (MATH!) and were relatively healthy (NUTRITION!). He wrote the meals down on a piece of paper (WRITING AND SPELLING!) then he polled each family member to see which meal they would prefer (PUBLIC SPEAKING!). I helped him record the lessons (RECITATION OF STORED INFORMATION!) and we sat down to graph the results (MATH!)

We chose to graph the information three ways. We used a standard connect-the-dots style graph (I am sure this type of graph has a fancy name), a bar graph, and a fraction-style graph with a different pattern representing each meal.

All-in-all it was a successful inter-disciplinary example of how math relates to our everyday lives, and the best part was that no curriculum was needed!

And yes, my son wanted both chicken wings and bacon for dinner. Don’t judge, he added salad too 😉

Meg Grooms, Gameschooling at

Meg Grooms (she/her) is a decades-long secular homeschooler, mother of many, writer, Florida ex-pat, and all-around swell gal. Meg & her partner have raised their kids all over the USA, finally settling on Southern California. For now, anyhow.

Meg blogs about Gameschooling, Educational Gaming, and the Gaming Community at Homeschool Gameschool. Meg is available for speaking engagements, workshops, and gameschooling classes. If you’re interested in scheduling a workshop, review, ad space, or just saying hi –> Click here. Happy Gameschooling!

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