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Teaching Money to Kids: 6 Principles Every Educator Should Know

Teaching your students money management skills is like planting seeds in a garden. With the proper care, those seeds can grow into healthy, flourishing plants. Similarly, by teaching financial literacy at a young age, educators can empower their students to make smart money decisions. 

Here are six principles every elementary and middle school educator should know when teaching money to their students.

Principle 1: Start Early, Start Simple

Just as you wouldn't expect a sapling to become a towering oak overnight, don't immediately overwhelm young learners with complex financial concepts. Start by identifying coins and bills, understanding their values, and developing basic counting skills.

Engaging activities like "grocery store" role-plays or creating a classroom economy where students earn "classroom cash" for good behavior can make learning about money fun and interactive.

Principle 2: Make it Relevant and Real

Kids learn best when they can see the practical application of their learning. Tie your money lessons to real-life situations your students can relate to, like saving up for a field trip or buying a movie ticket.

Invite guest speakers from the community, such as bankers or financial advisors, to share their expertise and show students the importance of financial literacy in the real world.

Principle 3: Emphasize the Value of Saving

Teach your students that saving money isn't just about putting it away for a rainy day—it's about setting goals and working towards them. Help your students set savings goals for a new toy, a charity donation, or college savings. Encourage them to track their progress and celebrate their achievements along the way. And let them know that they can always start again if they slip up.

Creating savings jars or setting up a classroom savings club can make saving tangible and fun.

Principle 4: Practice Makes Perfect

Like any skill, mastering money management takes practice. Provide plenty of opportunities for your students to practice making change, calculating discounts, and comparing prices. Use games and simulations like "Money Bingo" or online financial literacy platforms to reinforce concepts. 

Encourage your students to take on real-life money responsibilities, such as managing a classroom snack shop, to build confidence and competence.

Principle 5: Foster Critical Thinking

Financial decisions are rarely black and white—they often involve weighing risks and rewards, considering trade-offs, and making informed choices. Encourage your students to think critically about financial decisions by presenting them with scenarios and asking open-ended questions. 

For example, you could ask, "Is it better to spend your money on something you want right now or save it for something bigger later?"

Principle 6: Lead by Example

As an educator, you are teaching money management skills and modeling them. Be transparent about your own financial habits and decision-making processes (within appropriate boundaries, of course). Show students how you budget, save, and make thoughtful spending choices in your own life. 

Encourage open discussions about money and provide a supportive environment where your students feel comfortable asking questions and seeking guidance.

Other Classroom Activities to Teach Money Principles

  • Financial Games: Use online financial literacy platforms like ABCya or U.S. Mint Games to teach kids about budgeting, saving, and investing in a fun and interactive way. Try games like "Learn to Count Money" and "Coin Memory Match."

  • Budgeting for a Class Party: Plan a class party and involve the students in budgeting. This activity teaches kids about budgeting and the importance of making spending choices based on available resources. 

  • Design a Product: Have students design a product and then calculate the cost of materials, labor, and profit. This activity teaches kids about entrepreneurship, pricing, and profit margins.

  • Fundraising: Organize a fundraising event for a charitable cause and involve the students in planning. This activity teaches kids about budgeting, marketing, and community service.

What to Teach Next?

As your students are able, expand your teachings to include understanding credit cards, credit vs. debit, savings accounts, student loans, and even taxes. 

The National Education Association offers lesson plans and activities for K-12 students, such as "An Introduction to Saving and Spending" and "Uncle Jed's Barbershop."

Cultivating Financially Savvy Students

By following these six principles, educators can lay the foundation for a lifetime of financial success. With the right guidance and support, every child can grow into a financially savvy adult capable of navigating the complexities of the modern economy.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
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