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ECONOMICS of learning

Kindergarteners at Pine Grove Elementary learn about business, money _ and customer service _ through their own classroom grocery store.

Kaitlyn Langworthy had been on the job only a few minutes, but the 6-year-old at the make-believe store's cash register knew one thing: her customer was 2 cents short.

"Aaron, you gotta give me two more pennies!" she yelled. "Those eggs cost 9 cents, so you gotta give me some more money before you go."

"Okay, I got it," replied 6-year-old Aaron Halonen as he dug through a plastic bag filled with coins. He pitched 2 cents into the cash drawer.

Though the money was real, the eggs of course, were not. The carton was one of dozens of props that Pine Grove Elementary kindergarten students used one morning recently to see what it is like to operate their own grocery store.

"It's something I do every year to give the children a real-life experience that they can take part in," said their teacher, Debbie Rush.

"It's fun for them, and they get to see just what it takes to run a business."

For three weeks, Rush had her pupils transform their classroom into a full-service supermarket. They drew advertisements and sale posters, labeled and organized shelves and displays, and priced dozens of items they would use in the store.

Rush has used the grocery store project for several years as a method of teaching basic economic principles to her students, many of whom are only just learning to read and work with numbers.

In an effort to look for ways to make the experience more realistic, Rush called on Mike Hardin, who manages Lakewood Publix in Spring Hill, for the loan of posters, labels and shelving.

This year, Rush said, Hardin outdid himself. The children not only got the loan of a real cash register and cardboard display shelves, but Hardin also arranged a tour of his store. In addition, his store provided every child with hats and specially made identification badges that sported a "Bearlix Grocery Store" emblem in honor of their school.

The day the store opened, Hardin and several of his employees went to the class to observe. He also brought along Publix's corporate education support coordinator, Stacy Lloyd, to show her the value the experience gives the kindergarteners.

"We like getting involved because the children learn so much from it," said Hardin as he watched the kids. "When they came to the store, they were interested in everything and in learning how things work. They aren't too young to understand how important this all is."

Rush uses the store project as a learning tool as well. In the weeks leading up to the store's "grand opening," she introduced the students to new vocabulary words and taught them how to count and use money.

The aspect of spending money held special appeal for Shawn Zahringer.

"You get lots of money, and then you buy things you like," said the eager 5-year-old as he scanned the store shelves for his favorite foods. "I'm going to buy some cookies."

Rush considers the store an excellent way to teach the value of teamwork. Everyone took turns at performing the various duties involved in operating the store.

At one table, several children were busy coloring advertisements and sale banners. At another table, students measured and weighed bulk items such as beans and rice for packaging.

Ryan Stuckey, 6, enjoyed playing the store's manager. As he watched classmates stocking shelves, he summed up the job quickly.

"You have to make people happy," he said. "That's what's important."