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Financial literacy for your child’s (socially-distant) classroom

Boy sitting at laptop staring at a piggy bank

Some know me as the Skittles Lady. I was never really thrilled with that title but it’s grown on me over the past several years. Let me explain…

As a Financial Educator, I work in schools with students from kindergarten through high school. I work with adults and nonprofit organizations to help people learn basic financial concepts that many adults often take for granted. One comment I repeatedly hear from parents and teachers alike is that students are not taught the “real world” skills they need to succeed, including money management. They don’t learn it in school and they don’t learn it at home, often leading to an avalanche of financial errors as they become adults with income and expenses to manage. As a parent, I believe that we are our children’s first teachers in financial literacy because kids really do learn what they live. I also recognize that we can have a positive influence by sneaking in important lessons while making learning fun. “Gamification” is not just for corporate trainers- especially in the current situation where adults may find themselves in the dual roles of parent and primary educator. Learning- and teaching- doesn’t have to be a chore, and you don’t need to be an expert to cover basic concepts. Why not incorporate some fun financial lessons into that daily routine!

Teaching kids about money can start at any age and free online activities are plentiful. A couple of my favorite sites for activities are listed here but there are literally hundreds of great sites that offer free online money games if you search:

But why not enjoy all this ‘together time’, take a break from the screens and schedule in some old-fashioned game time with your kiddos?

  • For some fun that really gets back to basics — try a…board game! Yes, they still make the classics—and kids still love them! These days “Monopoly” can be purchased in a variety of themes, from animals to sports teams but it’s still a great financial game. I work with a grade 7 teacher who has a “Payday” board game set up in the back of his classroom which students are allowed to play during breaks. He has to award scheduled playtime to students because of its popularity. “The Game of Life” is another good choice. Though not completely reality-based, all of these games are fun while offering some basic finance skills.

Here are a few other simple activities that I use regularly and can be easily presented at home:

  • Wants vs. Needs – Ask students to imagine they are being sent to a deserted island for an undetermined amount of time and can only choose 12 things to bring with them. Then make them reduce that list to 6. Let them work individually or together, give them some suggested items or make a list of options to choose from. Afterward, discuss which items they chose, which they decided to cut out and why.
  • Goal Setting – Ask each student to set a financial goal. Have them estimate the cost of something they want to save for and when they would like to buy it, (i.e., ‘buy a $60 video game in 6 months’). Next, ask them how much they would have to save each month to achieve this goal ($60/6 months =$10/month). Now break it down by week, estimating 4 weeks/month ($10/4 weeks = $2.50/week). Let them determine if this is a realistic financial goal for them, and if so how would they be able to earn the money. If not, ask how they could restructure their savings goal to make it achievable.
  • Race to $1.00 – fill 4 cups with coins separated by value (quarters, dimes nickels, pennies) and use a single die. Kids take turns rolling the die and collect the corresponding amount of money. When they reach enough to trade their coins in for a larger valued coin, encourage them to do so; for instance if their first roll is a 4 they collect 4 pennies; their next roll is a 6 to collect a nickel and a penny. Ask if there is a way to have the same amount of money with fewer coins (a dime). The winner is the first to make it to a dollar.
  • Literacy Connections – Read a money book to younger children and discuss it afterward! There are many great titles, and some of my favorites include:

“The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money” – Jan and Stan Berenstain

“One Cent, Two Cents, Old Cent, New Cent; All About Money” – Bonnie Worth

“A Chair for my Mother”– Vera B. Williams

“Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal” – John Lanza

  • Budgeting with Skittles – Each participant gets a fun size packet of Skittles, a sheet of paper and a pencil. Explain that a budget is a plan for your money and introduce the concepts of income and expenses. Have each player make 2 columns labeled as such, and have them separate the Skittles by color; some will represent income and others expenses, but each Skittle will have a value of $10. Name a color and a category, i.e. ‘red represents your allowance’. Have the kids count their red Skittles by $10’s and record their allowance amount under income. ‘Yellow represents going to the movies with your friends’- record that as an expense. Name each color, designating each as either income or expenses. Finally, have them total their income and expenses separately and subtract their expenses from their income. If the result is negative, discuss what that means, how that happened and how to correct it going forward.

Now you know where I got the title previously mentioned. I sometimes run into former students in everyday places- the mall, market, schools, etc.- and they usually ask ‘hey aren’t you the Skittles Lady?’ Recently I was at a store and the young woman at the register asked if I worked at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union. She said that I had taught her 8th-grade class a budgeting lesson several years ago. She actually remembered not only where I worked, but that the Skittles exercise was really a budget! So be encouraged if your kiddos seem to be having fun with learning; you might not realize the impact it’s having until later!

Finally, check out your local credit union’s website for additional resources – most have links to financial wellness programs, websites or financial education information geared towards all age groups. Do you have any great money games you use with your kids? Feel free to share them!

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