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Teaching Children About Money: Resources for Promoting Financial Literacy by Age

Basic financial literacy is an important and essential life skill. The promotion of financial knowledge and capability for youth is increasingly important as college graduates face an increase in student debt by 56%, and credit card debt by 74%. The increase of debt matched with a lack of formal or informal guidance on their future financial matters can leave younger generations vulnerable to financial instability.

The OECD’s 2015 study on students’ financial literacy showed that investments in financial literacy from a young age are necessary in providing students with the capacity to apply their financial knowledge and skills to real-life situations involving financial issues and decisions later in life.

Furthermore, the study highlights the major role parents play in transmitting financial values, habits, and skills to their children in tandem with the application of financial literacy studies in school and educational environments. Additionally, the study notes that a solid foundation of math and reading skills proved crucial for students navigating financial literacy, as well as valuable in their use of digital technologies in learning and navigating financial literacy.

Importance of Money Management and Financial Literacy for Children and Teens

Teaching children the value of money and money management provides them with conceptual understandings of economics and responsibilities. Children often have vague understandings of how parents are able to provide food, clothing, and toys, but may not concretely recognize that money is used in obtaining these goods.

Many educational institutions do not have financial literacy as a focal point within pedagogies, and the responsibility is often on parents to guide a child’s learning and understanding of how money works.

How Are Math and Money Related?

The understanding of numeracy and mathematics is a driving force for financial literacy, and students’ emotional and behavioral ties with the study of math also play a part.

Students often wonder about how learning mathematical concepts will be relevant to their lives outside of school. Using money to teach your kids about math will help set them up for financial security. This can include lessons on budgeting, saving, investing, and basic financial decision making. Additionally, these lessons may keep them engaged in their academic mathematical learnings and pursuits.

Choosing a Money Management Pedagogy

Choosing a money management pedagogy for your child may be a matter of selecting money-focused lessons for the child’s age group. However, you should consider catering to the specific learning styles of the child. There are different types of learning styles such as:

  • Visual learners: These learners have a preference for “spatial” learning or learning in a visual way by observing pictures, diagrams, or written instructions. Visual learning for money management may include using pictures or flashcards to identify different types of money, or drawing exercises that represent budgeting, saving, or investing.
  • Auditory learners: These learners may better understand the subject matter if it is reinforced with sound or discussion. Watching videos on financial literacy or engaging in a discussion on money management topics may be most helpful for auditory learners.
  • Kinesthetic learners: Kinesthetic or “tactile” learners learn through experience or doing things “hands-on.” Exercises for kinesthetic learners could be counting coins, or using printed money to act out purchases, or play-money exchange games.
  • Reading and writing learners: Reading and writing learners typically learn better through the process of written words. Utilizing a reading and writing strategy for financial literacy may include reading or writing short stories about different money management situations such as saving for a particular item, or a story about a trip to the store to make a purchase.

Utilizing your child’s individual learning style can help them engage in the material. It is important to note that for many children, learning styles may overlap, so it can be helpful to practice and apply different types of learning activities.

Financial Literacy Activities for Toddlers

While financial literacy legislation may indicate when matters of money management are taught in school, choosing the age to teach your kids about money is a personal choice as a guardian or parent. Financial literacy might seem too complex for toddlers, but money habits are set by age seven and can start as early as two or three years old.

Establishing familiarity when it comes to your child’s recognition of basic financial concepts can be as simple as turning day-to-day activities into learning opportunities or introducing financial concepts into imaginary play. Financial learning activities for toddlers include:

  • Wants vs. needs: Take time at the grocery store to point out different items on the shelf, noting and discussing the difference between wants and needs.
  • Recognizing money: Play coin identification games where children sort coins by size, color, or denomination. Count the coins and drop them into a piggy bank. Trace coins on a piece of paper and color in the shapes. Ask the child to match the coin to its shape while discussing the name and denomination of the coin. Beware of choking hazards. Always provide close supervision while toddlers play with coins.
  • Imaginary shop or restaurant: Use imaginative play, such as setting up an imaginary shop restaurant at home where children can exchange play money for snacks, toys, and goods.
  • Coupon clipping: Preschoolers can help clip coupons with safety scissors before heading to the store. While in the store, ask the child to help look for the coupon products and discuss the importance of saving money.

DIY Coin Games to Play at Home

  • Create play coins: Practice drawing, art, and motor skills by creating coins of different denominations with cardboard to play with at home.
  • Money toss: Set out a bowl, set a time limit, and provide children with coins to toss into the bowl. At the end of the game, count the coins that made it into the bowl and those that did not, making note that the largest number of coins may not add up to the greatest amount of money.
  • Dollars and dice: Use real or play coins. Children roll dice and collect coins based on the role of dice:

1 = penny
2 = nickel
3 = dime
4 = quarter
5 = select any coin
6 = lose a turn.

The goal of the game is to collect coins that add up to one dollar. Once the game is learned, the goal can change to any dollar/coin amount.

  • Hide and seek: Hide real or pretend coins made of cardboard around the house and allow children to seek out the coins. Count the coins that have been collected and discover the amount they add up to.
  • Stack coins: Practice fine motor skills, counting, and coin recognition by stacking coins until they fall over.

Apps for Teaching Financial Literacy for Toddlers

There are many digital tools, apps and games that toddlers and small children can use to help create an understanding of financial literacy and money management.

  • Numbers from Dragonbox costs $7.99 and helps children ages four to eight learn what numbers are and what you can do with them. Learning the fundamentals of mathematics can help children in their journey of financial literacy.
  • Cash Puzzler is a free game designed for children ages three to six. This game uses memory puzzles of images of dollar bills to help children recognize different denominations of bills.
  • Piggybot is a free allowance app designed for children ages four and older that allows children and parents to track allowance spending and saving. Children are given spend-it, share-it, and save-it accounts where they can set goals and save or spend, learning the difference between wants, needs, and nice-to-haves.
  • Bankaroo is a free virtual bank for kids ages four and older that helps them manage their allowance, gifts, and chore money.
  • ABCmouse.com offers unlimited access to online curricula for children ages two to eight for $9.95 a month. The math curriculum teaches recognition of counting and numbers, the base 10 system, place value, addition and subtraction, length, time, money measurement, and more.
  • MathGames.com offers free math games for pre-kindergarten children. Learning math skills can help children reinforce financial literacy and money management.

Financial Literacy Activities for Elementary School Students

When it comes to teaching financial literacy to elementary school students, Lindsay A. Gold of the Ohio Council of Teachers of Mathematics contends that “The financial literacy content standards are meant to be embedded into the curriculum and not taught in isolation.”

Elementary students learn about mathematical concepts that can be reinforced and applied to financial literacy through lessons on earning money, saving or borrowing money, and comprehending where the money comes from. They should also be taught commerce concepts such as the exchange of goods by the use of money.

Apps for Teaching Financial Literacy for Elementary School Students

There are many digital tools, apps, and games that elementary-aged students can use to help create an understanding of financial literacy and money management.

  • Peter Pig’s Money Counter is a free game for children ages five to eight. This interactive game helps children practice and learn about counting, budgeting, and saving money. Players are rewarded with a trip to the virtual store to use their saved virtual money to dress up Peter Pig.
  • Break the Bank – Sorting is a free game for elementary-aged students to learn how to sort money. Players break open piggy banks to reveal coins and dollars to be sorted and organized correctly and are rewarded with a bonus game.
  • Lunch Lady is a free game for students to practice adding up prices for lunch items and entering the value into the cash register while racing the clock.
  • Cash Out is a free game where students practice counting money and calculating change at multiple skill levels by completing as many sales as possible and giving customers the correct amount of change.
  • Mathgames.com offers free math-focused games organized by grade level for children in grades one through eight.
  • Learn to Count Money is a free game in which children practice counting money by dragging bills and coins into a box with increasing difficulty as the game progresses. Beginner players count money using any amount of coins and bills, advanced players must use the least amount of coins and bills to reach the desired amount. Players are rewarded with a virtual fish for a virtual fishbowl.
  • Savings Spree is for children ages seven and older and costs $5.99. The game teaches kids how daily lifestyle choices can result in savings or expenses depending on how they choose to save or spend their virtual money. Players are given the choice to save, spend, donate, or invest.
  • Add Money is a free game for third graders to learn how to add money by solving word and story problems.
  • Subtract Money is a free game for third graders to learn how to subtract money by solving word and story problems.
  • Multiply Money is a free game for third graders to learn how to multiply money by solving multiplication problems.
  • Divide Money is a free game for third graders to learn how to divide money by solving division problems.

Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy for Elementary Students

There are many financial literacy education resources and activities available online that parents, guardians, and teachers may use to teach elementary-aged students.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers free information, activities, and discussion points for:

Resources such as lesson plans and activities for elementary financial literacy include:

  • Uncle Jed’s Barbershop: Leads students through a story of economics that includes savings, savings goals, and opportunity cost. Students play a card game at the end of the story to investigate what it takes to reach a savings goal.
  • Why Money?: Students learn about and define terminology about bartering, commodity money, and the characteristics and functions of money. Students then participate in a trading simulation that exemplifies the exchange of goods and services, store of value, portability, divisibility, durability, scarcity, and stability of money.
  • Money Math: Lessons for Life: This four-lesson curriculum is a free and printable supplement to include financial literacy in math education and uses real-life examples of personal finance.
  • Econedlink: Council for Economic Education offers free webinars, lessons, handouts, sing-a-longs, and activities for students in grades three through five.
  • Financial Literacy for Kids: This site offers guidance, lesson plans, and activities for teachers, parents, guardians, and students in preschool through sixth grade who are learning financial literacy concepts.

Financial Literacy Activities for Middle School Students

While financial literacy education for young children of elementary school age is primarily focused on concepts of money and applied mathematics, students in middle school may be prepared to take these concepts and make them more applicable to everyday life and future planning. Applications may include

Apps for Teaching Financial Literacy for Middle School Students

There are many digital tools, apps, and games that middle school-aged students can use to help create a deeper understanding of financial literacy, money management, and personal responsibility.

  • The Frugality Game: The Frugality Game is a free 90-day learning game that teaches a variety of personal finance and money lessons.
  • Financial Football: Financial Football is a free fast-paced interactive game that teaches students about money management skills such as saving, spending, budgeting, and the use of credit.
  • The Budget Game: The Budget Game is a free game in which players manage a budget for three months. The budget includes bills, food and travel, fun things to spend money on, as well as consequences for going over budget.
  • Space Trader: Space Trader is a free online game where players practice spotting value for money while trading with three alien shopkeepers. The goal is to trade wisely and use math skills to get the cheapest price.
  • Word Collapse: This free word game focuses on learning vocabulary for financial literacy and can be played at differing levels of difficulty. Players look for currencies of the world, dream gifts, and money terms on a grid. The object of the game is to make the tiles collapse as the words disappear without getting stuck.
  • Trash or Treasure?: Trash or Treasure is a free game where players make decisions and select items they think are valuable, or are a good investment.
  • Scam Busters: Scam Busters is a free interactive story game where players make educated decisions and solve clues to detect financial scams.
  • Saving the Day!: Saving the Day! is a free online game where players engage in an exciting quest to save the kingdom. By answering money-related questions to progress through the game, players discover their money personality type at the end of the game.

Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy for Middle School Students

There are many resources available online for parents, guardians, and teachers to provide education and financial literacy for middle school-aged students.

  • The Economics of Food.: The Economics of Food: Evaluating the Efficiency and Equity of Our Modern Food System is a free lesson plan that works to analyze the fairness of the modern food system from the perspectives of stakeholders including producers, consumers, labor, and the government. This lesson plan teaches concepts such as consumer economics, decision making, cost-benefit analysis, and personal finance.
  • Personal Finance Fun and Games: This free webinar provides resources and games that support different learning styles and engage students in various ways. Concepts taught in these lessons and games include budgeting, credit, and investing.
  • Equality Relations and Net Worth, Part One: The first of this free two-part lesson teaches students to distinguish between financial transactions and classify them as income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. The students will then determine when it is appropriate to use the income equation, the accounting equation, and manipulate equations with multiple variables.
  • Equality Relations and Net Worth, Part Two: The second of this free two-part lesson reinforces the terminology and concepts applied in the first lesson. It expands accounting terminology and how economists may define some concepts differently.
  • Saving and Investing Video and Quiz: This free lesson plan includes a video, access to games, and a multi-player quiz to review concepts of budgeting, interest, saving, and investing.
  • Why Does Money Have Value?: This free three-part lesson plan discusses why money has value, including its psychological value, and how it is used as a medium of exchange. Students will also discover how different currencies are valued and can participate in an extension activity to research currencies and exports.
  • What Can I Afford?: This free lesson plan teaches students how to budget and determine the best savings; students are then asked to compare checking account options to decide which will yield the highest return from the money saved.
  • Cost and Benefits of Bean’s Decisions: Through a story, this free lesson provides education on identifying economic concepts such as cost, benefit, and decision making. Students participate by making decisions using cost-benefit analysis.

Financial Literacy Activities for High School Students

High school students are preparing to assume many economic responsibilities that may include:

Teaching teenagers everything they need to know about credit cards, debt, and budgeting for their future finances can help them prepare to have successful financial strategies and goals in their adult life.

Apps for Teaching Financial Literacy for High School Students

There are many digital tools, apps, and games that high school-aged students can use to help create a deeper understanding of financial literacy, money management,  economics, and personal financial responsibility.

  • The Payoff: The Payoff is a free role-playing game where players manage finances and handle unexpected events in the pursuit of participating in a life-changing video competition.
  • The Stock Market Game: The Stock Market Game does require registration but builds fundamental knowledge of investing while providing students with simulated real-life experience.
  • Time for Payback. Time for Payback is a free interactive roadmap that helps students understand the cost of college attendance and student loan debt.
  • Gen i Revolution: Players play this free game by completing missions with personal finance skills to help people who are in financial trouble.
  • Charge!: This free game helps students understand the real cost of credit, cost over time, and interest rates by simulating shopping and selecting choices of per month payments.
  • Build Your Stax: This free game allows students to make choices over a simulated 20-year span to try and build wealth through a savings account and investment opportunities.
  • Spent: Spent is an interactive and abstract game in which players make financial choices and build empathy while learning about poverty.
  • Hit the Road: Hit the Road is a free game offered by the National Credit Union Administration. Players interact with the game by making choices and managing expenses such as food, gas, medicine, emergencies, and entertainment. The goal is to get to the destination with enough funds.

Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy for High School Students

There are many resources available online for parents, guardians, and teachers to provide education and financial literacy to high school-aged students. These resources can help them understand economics as a whole and increase their personal financial literacy.

  • What Does the Fed Do?: This free lesson is focused on building an understanding of the Federal Reserve System and covering topics such as bank failure, bank panic, bank reserves, discount rates, the fractional reserve banking system, monetary policy, open market operations, and more.
  • Real vs. Nominal GDP Video Series and Quiz: This free lesson plan teaches kids about economic growth and understanding GDP.
  • Benefits of Trade Video and Quiz: This free resource teaches students to understand the definition of trade, exchange and interdependence, as well as the benefits of trade by using comparative advantage.
  • It’s Your Future!: This free lesson plan covers personal finance issues related to career choice, home buying, mortgage payments, and budgeting.
  • The Business of Interest: This free lesson and video plan helps students understand how interest works by learning to calculate interest on loans, and how interest is added onto the principal of the loan and may require additional costs for repayment.
  • Money Smart for Young People: This free curriculum includes lessons, presentation slides, worksheets, and activities that cover a large range of personal finance and economic topics.
  • Scarcity Video and Quiz: This free educational resource helps students understand economics, goods and services, and the concept of scarcity.
  • The Business Cycle: This free educational resource includes a video and quiz that helps students understand the business cycle, aggregate demand, and aggregate supply.
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