Most Saturday mornings before we head off to the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, Catherine hands me and Oliver a list of things she wants us to pick up there for her.
Usually we do this shop together after we’ve fortified ourselves with smoked salmon on a bagel, but this weekend Oliver was quicker to finish his bagel and so, from our position sitting on the loading dock stoop, I sent him on missions into the market to do the shopping by himself.
The market is one of the public places where Oliver feels really comfortable (we’ve been going there every Saturday morning for almost a decade), so he knows the terrain well, and knows a lot of the people there. So these missions were in friendly territory.
It took him about 20 minutes to gather up everything on our list – potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, eggs, rhubarb – and he learned a lot in the process that he wouldn’t have learned had I been doing the shopping and he tagging along:
- He learned how to ask one trusted vendor what other vendors they recommended for things they didn’t sell themselves. He asked Paul Offer, for example, from whom he bought mushrooms, where he could buy carrots. I didn’t tell him to do this, he just figured it out on his own; it’s a pretty good skill to have.
- Math became concrete. They’ve been studying fractions in grade 3 at school this year; when I told Oliver we needed “half a pound of mushrooms” he knew exactly what I meant, and all of a sudden math became a useful tool instead of an abstract concept. Same thing with money: he had to figure out whether $5 was enough to buy rhubarb and potatoes (it was).
- He learned about vegetables. The potato man asked him “what kind of potatoes?” I don’t think Oliver ever knew there were different kinds. They worked this out amongst themselves. Same thing for “how much rhubarb?” (answer: “enough to make a pie”).
- He became an actor. Usually Oliver’s in the audience at the Farmers’ Market; this week he was in the driver’s seat. His sense of accomplishment was palpable when he’d acquired everything on the list.
It’s not like we need more reasons to shop at the Farmers’ Market – there are already plenty – but it’s worth considering how this exercise was something that Oliver could really only do at a place like the Market. If I’d sent him into the Atlantic Superstore on the same missions he’d have been overwhelmed, without anyone to call on for help, and wouldn’t have learned anything at all (with the exception, perhaps, that supermarkets are large and faceless).
Thank you to all the vendors who made this possible; Oliver will be back next week for more.