You are here

Math Cats Math Chat Image

Financial Literacy

By Wendy Petti


At a time when many adults don't know how to plan wisely for the future, even our youngest citizens can start to develop "money smarts." The world still reels from the fallout of the economic tailspin precipitated by unfortunate, overly optimistic, or shortsighted institutional and individual financial choices. Now more than ever, we need to educate ourselves and help our students become financially literate -- be able to make sound decisions about managing personal finances and understand the fundamentals of our national and global economy.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has proposed a sequence of economic terms and concepts to be introduced in the elementary grades:

  • Kindergarteners can learn the meaning of wants, needs, scarcity, choice, goods, and services through simple scenarios bringing those concepts to life.
  • Students in grades 1-3 can learn about barter, money, earning, spending, income, saving, opportunity cost, resources, and basic banking concepts.
  • Students in the intermediate grades are able to grasp the concepts of profit and loss, trade-offs, markets, entrepreneurship, imports and exports, interdependence, budgets, credit and debit, supply and demand, shortage and surplus, competition, exchange rates, and more.
  • Students in middle- and high-school can develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of our economic system, including taxation, interest, the distribution and exchange of goods and services, world trade, inflation and recession, banking, the Federal Reserve, family budgeting, and much more.
Even young students can develop healthy habits of saving toward short-term and long-term goals, and intermediate students can learn to research and invest virtual money in the stock market.

Happily, we can tap an abundance of financial literacy resources for each age group.

This site uses story characters, follow-up quizzes, and consumer calculators to teach banking concepts. (Grades 1 6)

Money in the Bank
This very simple activity for elementary grades calculates how long it will take to save for a goal. (A simple spreadsheet lesson introducing formulas can accomplish the same thing!)

Compound Interest Calculator
With this resource, students can input monthly savings, age, and compound interest rate, and then see how much their money will grow by retirement. A graph shows the proportion of principal and interest. (Again, a spreadsheet can do this as well.)

Universal Currency Exchange
This site includes information on every world currency and up-to-date currency converters.

BizKids, a website and public television series supported by America's Credit Unions, includes external links to finance games, activities, savings and debt calculators, and information on starting a kid business. Teacher resources include support materials for the television episodes and online video segments.


Many online games relate to money or finance, but they often tend to be more diverting than enlightening. A game related to financial literacy can become a richer learning opportunity if it is explored hand-in-hand with lessons, discussion, and time for making personal connections.

Good stock market games utilize real-life resources and decision-making.

StocksQuest: A Global Stock Market Game
Individuals or groups can play the stock market with virtual money; teachers can track students' progress; friendly contests are also feasible. The site includes lesson plans, a guide to stocks, and information on online investing. (Grade 4-adult)

The Stock Market Game
In the Stock Market Game, a program of the Foundation for Investor Education, students collaborate and negotiate in teams, drawing on Internet research and current news as they compete to build a successful virtual portfolio. The program requires an initial teacher training session and a nominal annual registration fee. (Grade 4-adult)

This financial literacy game allows players to invest or earn money over time (even by doing offline chores, verified by parent e-mails) and make saving and spending choices.

Lemonade Stand games abound -- one of the better ones can be found at -- but a more "fruitful" exploration might be found through the lesson plans and resources at Lemon Squeeze --The Lemonade Stand. Here, students can take part in a lemonade taste test, act out a play, and compile, analyze, and synthesize data from the play to draw conclusions about supply and demand.

This cute site has lots of interactive elements woven into a financial literacy theme, but some of the games have minimal learning value.

Escape from the Barter Islands
This little simulation for primary students demonstrates how barter works and why money is more efficient than barter for trading goods or services.

Count the Money
Students practice mental math skills with this money counting game.


Fifty Nifty Econ Cards
Economic vocabulary cards and a teacher's guide for K-6 can be printed from the site, or a free set of cards can be ordered online. The site includes related offline games, activities, and assessments, as well as a glossary and chart of concepts organized by grade level.

The Allowance Game
This free simple printable game for all ages uses beans as "allowance" and promotes discussion as it guides students in prioritizing spending choices.

Great Minds Think: A Kids' Guide to Money
This kid-friendly, interactive activity booklet for elementary grades covers the basics of making financial choices on earning, saving, and spending. On this page, users can access a free download or request a free class set.

Once Upon a Dime
This free printable comic book for middle-schoolers presents basic economic concepts through a story of the development of the economy of a mythical island.

A Penny Saved: Why and How We Save and How Saving Helps the U.S. Economy
A 24-page resource in comic book form, with dense vocabulary and concepts geared for middle and high school students, can be downloaded from a graphic link on this page (83 mb).

Federal Reserve System Publications Catalog
This catalog includes free comic books, available online or up to 35 hard copies, on a variety of economic topics, including:

  • The Story of Banks
  • The Story of Inflation
  • The Story of Money
  • Wishes and Rainbows, a children's story about allocation of scarce resources, and a related teacher's guide to help classes make broader economic connections
  • The Story of Foreign Trade and Exchange
  • The Story of Checks and Electronic Payments


Financial Fitness for Life
This website of the Council for Economic Education includes a well-organized collection of lesson plan links supporting and extending each lesson in its financial literacy curriculum. Student activity books and teachers' guides can be purchased for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

Money Math: Lessons for Life
This free downloadable 86-page resource book for middle-school teachers includes four finance lessons with real-life examples, activity pages, and teaching suggestions.

Financial Literacy for Children and Youth
This book explains why financial literacy needs to become an important component of the K-12 curriculum in U.S. schools.

This site includes more than 600 financial literacy lesson plans for all grade levels, complete with related activity sheets and web links. (The Lemon Squeeze plans come from this site.)
This site compiles economic resources from 20 U.S. governmental agencies in one place. You Are Here is a virtual mall where middle school students can learn consumer concepts; the majority of the links at MyMoney are geared for teens and adults.

Junior Achievement
Junior Achievement utilizes trained volunteer role models to engage nearly 10 million elementary, middle-, and high-school students in interactive business and economic programs annually. Programs at the elementary level include Ourselves (K), Our Families (Grade 1), Our Community (Grade 2), Our City (Grade 3), Our Region (Grade 4), and Our Nation (Grade 5), incorporating principles of globalization and entrepreneurship by the upper elementary grades. In select areas, the JA BizTown program includes a day-long visit to an interactive simulated town. Middle-school programs include JA America Works, JA Economics for Success, and JA Global Marketplace. JA $ave USA lessons for elementary or middle-school grades can be downloaded from the site. There are extensive high-school and after-school JA programs.

Council for Economic Education
This site includes print, online, and linked economic resources.

Jumpstart Coalition Clearinghouse
The website of the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy includes a clearinghouse of extensive links to other financial resources, National Standards in K 12 Personal Financial Education, and "reality check" personal checklists.


The hexagonal moonjars, among the resources available for purchase, are subdivided into three compartments labeled Save, Spend, and Share.

Money Savvy Generation
Resources for purchase on this site include a Money Savvy Kids curriculum, book club series, and a Money Savvy Pig -- a piggy bank with four compartments labeled Save, Spend, Donate, and Invest.

Habits and a mindset developed in childhood can set the stage for responsible financial planning throughout life. If young children receive a small allowance and occasional gift money and begin to follow the "ten percent rule" -- saving 10 percent of all earnings -- and sustain that practice throughout their working lives, they can save millions by retirement. As students develop financial literacy, they apply math and thinking skills in rich, meaningful ways. We "owe" it to them to start now!

About the Author

Wendy Petti is the creator of the award-winning Math Cats Web site, author of Exploring Math with MicroWorlds EX (LCSI, 2005), and a frequent presenter at regional and national math and technology conferences. She teaches grades 4 at Washington International School.

Article by Wendy Petti
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World




Sign up for our FREE Newsletters!

Thank you for subscribing to the newsletter!