How do you set up a grocery store dramatic play?

Setting up a pretend grocery store in a classroom or home is a fun way for children to roleplay and learn valuable skills. Dramatic play allows kids to use their imagination, improve social skills, build vocabulary, and develop early math concepts like counting money and weighing produce. With some simple materials and props, you can create an engaging grocery store for children to “shop” and “work” in. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know to set up a successful dramatic play grocery store.

Choosing a Space

The first step is selecting an area for your pretend grocery store. Look for a corner of the classroom or playroom that is out of the way of main traffic areas. You’ll want enough space for several children to move around and “shop” without bumping into each other. If possible, use shelves or tables to delineate different shopping sections.

For a home grocery store, a corner of the playroom, basement or even large closet can work well. An average space of 6 x 6 feet or larger is ideal for multiple kids to play together. Make sure to anchor any shelves or units you use to the wall for safety.

Organizing Shopping Sections

Once you’ve selected a space, think about how to divide it into sections. Here are some common grocery store departments to include:

Produce Section

The produce section features fresh fruits and vegetables. Use fabric bins or baskets to hold plastic, felt or wooden toy produce. Include popular items like bananas, apples, oranges, potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Print and laminate images of produce to post on the wall or displays.


Every grocery store has fresh breads and baked goods. For the bakery, provide play dough, mini muffin tins and baking tools for kids to pretend to bake their own creations. You can also include small plastic bread loaves and pastries. Post pictures of baked goods on the wall.

Dairy Section

The dairy fridge contains milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and eggs. Supply plastic versions of these foods or print images to post. You can also include empty milk cartons and small containers for pretend play.

Meat Section

For the meat department, use printed pictures of common meats or realistic plastic food. Avoid anything too graphic for young kids. A toy butcher or deli counter with a small apron and hat lets children roleplay working at the meat counter.

Freezer Section

Include boxes and bags of frozen foods, like plastic pizza, fries, ice cream and frozen vegetables. Place fabric bins or cardboard boxes on low shelves to designate the freezer section.

Dry Goods & Packaged Foods

Use a combination of empty boxes and pretend packaged foods to stock dry goods like cereal, crackers, rice, beans, and canned foods. Print logos and images from common brands to make the boxes look more realistic. You can also provide shopping baskets or carts for kids to gather items from around the store.


No grocery store is complete without checkout lanes. Provide a couple small tables for checkout stations. Supply pretend scanners, play credit cards, play money and bags. Basic calculators and scribble pads also enhance the cashier roleplay.

Signs & Labels

Clear signage and labels make your grocery store dramatic play more authentic. Here are some easy ideas:

– Print signs with the store name and sections like “Produce,” “Bakery,” “Frozen Foods,” etc. Tape or prop up the signs around the play space.

– Make shelf labels for different products using index cards, cardstock or mailing labels. Write foods, prices and item codes.

– Print signs for store amenities like “Deli,” “ATM,” “Pharmacy,” or “Floral Department.” Get creative with the types of services offered.

– Make aisles signs with letters and numbers, such as “Aisle 1” or “Aisle A.” Hang the signs from the ceiling or walls to designate play spaces.

– Print coupons, advertisements and sales signs to post around the store. This adds to the pretend play experience.

It’s amazing how official signs transform an ordinary play space into a grocery store full of possibilities. Update signs periodically to keep the dramatic play novel and engaging.

Prop Boxes

Prop boxes provide quick access to all the key items kids need during grocery store pretend play. Store materials in plastic bins, boxes or baskets labeled with pictures representing each section of the grocery store. For example, you might have bins for bakery supplies, fresh produce, frozen foods and so on.

Having organized prop boxes allows kids to restock shelves and play areas themselves. It also makes clean-up much easier when everything has a designated storage spot.

Some items to include in your grocery store prop boxes:

– Play foods: plastic fruits & veggies, pretend bakery goods, empty boxes & cans, etc.

– Shopping tools: baskets, carts, scanners, money, notepads, etc.

– Signs & labels to switch out

– Dress-up items like aprons, chef hats, grocery worker vests

– Writing tools like menus, notepads, coupons

Rotate materials to keep kids engaged in new dramatic play scenarios. Having everything stored and labeled makes setting up a cinch.

Dramatic Play Jobs & Activities

To encourage purposeful pretend play, assign children different grocery store roles and activities that go beyond just shopping. Here are some ideas:


– Get a grocery list and coupons
– Find items around the store
– Place items carefully in cart or basket
– Check off list items as they’re “purchased”
– Unload items onto conveyor belt at checkout
– Pay cashier and bag items
– Review receipt to make sure nothing’s missing


– Scan items, announce prices aloud
– Operate pretend register and scanner
– Collect payment from shoppers
– Return correct change
– Bag items
– Hand shoppers receipts and say thank you

Stock Clerks

– Refill shelves and displays
– Arrange products neatly by type or category
– Create signs with pricing and items codes
– Sweep floors and tidy sections
– Offer shoppers help locating items

Produce Workers

– Restock fruits and veggies
– Spray produce with water to keep “fresh”
– Sort items into bins by type
– Make creative produce displays
– Print signs with produce facts


– Knead play dough
– Cut dough with cookie cutters
– Place creations on trays or in oven
– Decorate cupcakes and cakes
– Display baked goods neatly
– Update bakery menu board

Butchers & Deli Workers

– Wear apron and prepare “meat”
– Slice deli meats and cheeses
– Wrap up packaged “meats”
– Create labels for meat products
– Serve customers deli meats by request
– Clean up and sanitize counter


– Oversee store operations
– Check that all areas are stocked
– Make sure each worker knows their role
– Give employees assignments or breaks
– Solve any shopper complaints
– Announce sales over loudspeaker

Come up with fun new activities and responsibilities to expand the pretend play even further. Kids will love devising their own store scenarios, tasks and interactions.

Adding Accessories

Accessories and tools enrich the grocery store experience by making it more lifelike. They also support language development as kids incorporate new vocabulary. Some props to include:

– Shopping carts and baskets
– Cash registers with scanners
– Play credit cards, money and wallets
– Coupon flyers or newspaper ads
– Writing pads, order forms and notepads
– Aprons, chef hats, name tags
– Cardboard food boxes and product containers
– Tongs, spoons and scoops for “food”
– Phones for calling store departments
– Price stickers and item labels
– Hand baskets and shopping bags
– Conveyor belts at checkout

Rotate accessories periodically to spark new imaginative scenarios. Allow kids to use the props freely in their pretend play.

Adding Literacy

Incorporate books, writing and other literacy materials to boost learning in your dramatic play grocery store. Here are some ideas:

– Post the alphabet around the store to encourage spelling
– Add a card catalog or indexes for kids to “look up” products
– Supply shopping lists and grocery notepads for writing
– Print weekly ad circulars or sales flyers to browse
– Include menus, coupons andloyalty cards for the store
– Add clipboards with order forms for shoppers to fill out
– Have children make their own shelf signs and labels
– Provide recipe cards for shoppers to collect ingredients for
– Add a map of the store’s layout for kids to follow

Encourage kids to dictate or write their own signs, price labels, coupons and scripts as part of pretend play. Tap into their creativity and emerging writing skills.

Extending the Learning

Grocery store dramatic play allows you to teach a range of academic and social skills. Extend the learning with fun activities:

– Have kids write their own scripts and act out skits set in the store.
– Create “employee training manuals” explaining different jobs.
– Start a store newsletter with ads, articles and coupons.

– Teach counting money and making change at the register.
– Practice weighing produce on scales.
– Compare prices and values using shelf tags.
– Sort foods into categories or by other attributes.

– Discuss food groups and nutrition while pretending to shop.
– Observe how fruits and veggies change from fresh to rotten.
– Conduct sink vs. float experiments with produce.
– Compare and contrast different food textures.

Sensory Play
– Provide baskets of sensory materials like rice, beans and water beads to scoop and pour.
– Include scented flavored extracts or soaps at the bakery.
– Supply tweezers and tongs for fine motor development.

Social-Emotional Skills
– Roleplay good customer service, patience and teamwork.
– Practice polite phrases like “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Can I help you?”
– Support sharing, turn-taking and cooperation.

The engaging pretend scenarios will help reinforce classroom lessons in an applied context. Think creatively about how to align activities with current curriculum topics across subject areas.

Safety Tips

When setting up any classroom or home dramatic play area, keep these safety guidelines in mind:

– Anchor furniture and shelves securely to the wall to prevent tipping over
– Place delicate props and accessories up high or out of reach
– Supervise children in the grocery store at all times
– Do not allow running or rough play that could lead to injuries
– Monitor for choking hazards with small accessories
– Clean and disinfect all surfaces and toys regularly
– Use non-toxic art supplies like washable paint and markers
– Ensure props and pretend food items are not actually edible

Fun Theme Ideas

Once your basic grocery store is up and running smoothly, try some fun twists on the classic setup:

– Farmer’s Market – With produce displays, farm carts and seasonal foods

– Bakery Shop – Filled with baking stations, treats and cafe seating

– Florist Shop – With vases of fake flowers, bouquets and gift arrangements

– Crafts Store – Featuring art supplies, handmade items and custom t-shirt station

– Pet Supply Store – Complete with toy pets, pet food and pretend veterinarian

– Pizza Shop – With toy pizza oven, menus and toppings bar

– Coffee Shop – Equipped with barista counter, menus and seating area

– Food Truck – Make a pretend mobile food service on-the-go

– Farmers Market – With seasonal produce, farm carts and fruit crates

– International Market – With cuisine and products from different cultures

The dramatic play options are endless! Encourage kids to build on the basics and make the grocery store their own with unique elements. Change things up by rearranging spaces or adding new activities to maintain excitement.


Creating an engaging pretend grocery store helps foster so many skills in early childhood development. With a little imagination and effort, you can set up a learning-rich dramatic play space for kids to “shop” till they drop! By gathering simple materials and props, designating areas, and assigning roles, children will gain valuable knowledge while having fun pretending to shop, work and play. The hands-on grocery store inspires cooperation, creativity and endless learning opportunities beyond the classroom walls.

Leave a Comment