This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
If you’re grocery shopping in Philadelphia over the next year, you might run into a cherubic cartoon character named A.J.
Though his wide smile and trendy haircut impart a sense of whimsy, A.J. has a serious purpose: transforming an everyday supermarket trip into a learning laboratory.
A.J. is the face of “Talk It Up,” a pilot project aimed at inspiring interaction among parents and kids. At strategically placed sites across 10 Philadelphia grocery stores, A.J. appears on small, laminated signs and prompts shoppers to play a quick game.
One example: In the produce section of a Southwest Philadelphia ShopRite, A.J. asks kids to pick a nearby product, guess its weight, and then use the scale below the sign to check the accuracy of their estimate.
The task involves numbers and mathematical concepts such as estimation. And the sign itself is carefully constructed to include so-called sight words, the kind that kids often have to memorize as they grope through the early stages of reading.
Above all, the prompts are supposed to inspire conversation. The hope is that parents will see household tasks as opportunities for learning instead of chores to endure.
Based on research that suggests parent-child interactions boost early learning, Talk It Up hopes to inspire a paradigm shift in how adults think about educating their young ones.