Third-grader Cristofer Avila-Santiago only had been on the customer’s side of the cash register, but recently he was the cashier.

It was part of his experiences during Albert Harris Elementary School’s Family Math Night at the Brookdale Food Lion recently.

“It’s easy,” he said. “There’s a line, and you scan it, and you’re done. Then more customers come, and you can scan more.”

As he worked, Food Lion sales assistant Madison Callahan showed him what to do.

When Cristofer couldn’t reach the groceries on the conveyor belt, “I just pushed a different button, and they moved” into reach, he said.

Using the cash register was fun, he said, “because I just wanted to do it.”

His mother, Marisela Santiago, said the experience was exciting for her children and beneficial because “they learn to help me buy stuff.” It was the first time they really had paid attention to keeping track of the family’s grocery spending, she added.

Family Math Night was coordinated by second-grade teacher Elizabeth Jent, who also is the school’s PTO adviser and Family Night coordinator.

Jent’s recommendation of Math Night to principal Renee Brown was as “a project where our children could learn as well as have fun,” Brown said — adding that she was excited about it soon as she heard about it.

“We do want to expose our children to real-world problems and real-world activities,” Brown said.

Renee Hearndon, a Food Lion customer service manager, worked with Jent to get it going. Math Night is a tried-and-true program Food Lion has been putting on for years, she said. Food Lion provides, among other things, worksheets for each grade level; the use of a cash register for children to practice being cashiers as well as customers; and supper for the families.

The worksheets send children on challenges throughout the store. They involve math topics from Virginia’s Standards of Learning for each grade level, including estimating, counting, greater than and less than and weights, Brown said.

The atmosphere was jovial as children led their parents through the store. A section near the front was set up bistro-style, where families had supper and snacks sitting at tables or on benches. Food Lion gift cards were given out every 15 minutes, and children received gift bags.

Fourth- and fifth-graders were challenged to purchase food for a meal, including meat or beans, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy, all for $20 or less — and dessert, if enough money remained. The worksheet included spaces for them to keep tabs and do their figuring — no calculator allowed. It also asked them to compare the healthiness of the meal they were shopping for versus fast food.

Third-graders compared weights of small-versus-large cans of fruit; prices of generic versus brand-name crackers; prices for various brands of sodas; the weights of four lemons versus four limes; and costs for different numbers of sticks of butter.

Second-graders compared their estimates of how many steps it would take them to walk to the back of the store versus how many it actually took. Then they were charged with creating repeating patterns — by arranging boxes of gelatins or pudding mixes.

First-graders had to find a few items at more than, and less than, certain prices; count how many eggs in a dozen; and tell whether a gallon or a pint of ice cream is smaller.

Even kindergarteners had tasks. They were to count how many dog treats and cat toys the saw; pick out how many shapes they saw in the pet aisle; find and describe a pattern; and count ice cream cones and popsicles in packages and their steps to walk down an aisle.

In front of the milk coolers, fifth-grader Alex Yarger was comparing prices, because after he bought food for the family's meal, "if I still have enough I can get dessert."

His stepfather, Austin Craig, joked that with so many kids getting milk, "it looks like snow" days based on the empty racks in the cooler.

With Cristofer as his cashier, fifth-grader Matthew Spencer enacted paying for the groceries — but because he used a card instead of cash, it was simpler than it otherwise might have been. “I didn’t have to count all the money,” he said. With a card, “you just swipe and press ‘purchase.’”

He has used a bank card for purchases before, but since this transaction was just a simulation, “usually you have to put in a PIN number, but you didn’t this time,” he said.

Though there wasn’t any counting at the register, there were plenty of calculations on the way to it, said his godmother, Antoinette Moore, who had brought him and a niece and two nephews to the event.

The children had to keep track of expenses, she said, and they learned that “you have to take something away to make sure you have enough money to get what you need.”

Among 5-year-old Destiny Richmond, 6-year-old Riley Moore and 7-year-old Cameron Moore, “it was hectic trying to get everybody to do their checklist,” she said with a laugh.

“The little one had to find the aisle and count dog food and cat food. Cameron had to find and multiply. Matthew had to keep up with $20. It was a great experience. It taught them how to add and subtract and value money.”

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