Introducing your child to the world of economics can feel intimidating…but you’re actually much more equipped than you might think! In this unit, we’ll break down the basics of money and finance in a play-based, hands-on way that helps bring these abstract concepts down to a concrete level. The majority of these activities use United States currency, but if you are outside the U.S., use your country’s currency and make any modifications you need. Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.
This unit also partners well with our Entrepreneur Unit. Once your child has a stronger handle on many of the budgeting and earning concepts they’ll learn this week, introducing them to the iea of earning money through they own business is a natural progression in their learning. We highly recommend doing these units consecutively if possible!
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money by Emily Jenkins (or listen to this read aloud)
- You Can’t Buy a Dinosaur with a Dime by Harriet Ziefert (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Money Math by David A. Adler OR The Four Money Bears by Mac Gardner CFP (or listen to this read aloud)
- If You Made a Million by David M. Schwartz (or you can read it here on OpenLibrary)
- It’s Not Fair! by Caryn Rivadeneira (or you can listen to this read aloud)
Optional additional books:
- (-) Earn It! by Cinders McLeod – This book takes the concept of earning money and puts it into very simple terms for little learners. If you’re learning with a younger sibling, it can be a great addition to your books for this unit!
- (-) The Rainbow Fish by Marcs Pfister (or you can read it here on OpenLibrary) – Similar to above, this lovely classic story is wonderful for teaching the concept of generosity to a younger audience.
- Monopoly Junior – Games can be an especially effective way to teach money in a practical way! Monopology Junior is an age-appropriate version of the classic game that can help bring spending, saving, and earning to life.
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- an assortment of coins and paper currency
- one penny from 1981 or earlier, one from after 1982
- eye dropper
- lemon juice
- needle nose pliers
- safety goggles (optional, but recommended)
- pom poms
- cotton balls
- construction paper
- small ice cream scoop
- muffin tin
- muffin liners
- dry erase marker
- DUPLO or LEGO blocks
- jellybeans (or beads)
- materials to make one of these three crafts:
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
There’s a lot to know when it comes to money! For the first day of this unit, we’ll spend some time reviewing money recognition and value before we get into some of the deeper topics of finance.
Activity 1: First, let’s make sure your child is comfortable identifying types of coins. This piggy bank printable is helpful because it’s easy for your child to self-correct their work. (If they haven’t selected the right coin, it won’t fit the circle!) Live in Canada? Click here or here for alternative activities. Live in the UK? Try this online piggy bank game.
Activity 2: Let’s reinforce what we’ve learned with a simple game: Money War! You’ll need two players and a bunch of coins. Give each player about half the pile, and have each player put their coins in a paper bag (or a large sock or something else you can’t see through). For each round, both players reach into their bag and pull out a coin at random. The coin with the highest value wins the hand (just like the card game, War). Play until one player ends up with all the coins or until your child is ready to move on.
Activity 3: Now that we’re more familiar with the coins themselves, let’s see how they can add up to a dollar. Start by reading the book Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money. As you read, you may want to keep your coins out so you can build the amounts that the two children are counting.
Next, let’s practice what we’ve learned with this Build a Dollar printable (or you can use real bills). Using real coins, have your child fill each dollar on the first page with the right number of quarters, dimes, and nickels it takes to build a dollar. (If you live in outside the US, use your country’s bills and coins for this activity.)
We aren’t able to fit all the pennies it would take to build a dollar on the actual bill itself, but the second page helps you demonstrate for your child how many pennies they need (100!). (Here’s a printable of 100 Canadian pennies in case you don’t have those handy.)
Once you have all your coins, practice skip counting and demonstrate how different coins add up to each other.
Activity 4: While we have our coins out, let’s do a little science and learn about surface tension!
Begin by printing these lab sheets and placing a penny, a dime, a nickel, and a quarter on a paper towel on a flat surface. On the first sheet, have your child create a hypothesis (or an idea or explanation that you can test) about how many drops of water they think each coin can hold. Next, test the hypothesis by using an eye dropper to place one drop of water at a time on each coin until it splashes over. (As the water builds up, point out the same it starts to take—a dome.) Record the actual answer, and then chart your findings on the second lab sheet. Which coin could hold the most? Does this surprise your child?
Why does the water not immediately spill off the coin? The answer to this lies in the structure of the water molecule itself. Water is a polar molecule, meaning that it has a positive end and a negative end. The negative end of one molecule is attracted to the positive end of another molecule (similar to how a magnet works), which makes the molecules stick together tightly. The molecules on the surface are pulled inward and they stick together so strongly that they form a dome. This is called surface tension. Eventually, though, gravity overcomes this force and the dome breaks, spilling water over the sides of the coin.
Now that we understand money a bit better, let’s talk about how we get it! We’ll begin today’s lessons about earning with the book You Can’t Buy a Dinosaur With a Dime (or read it here on OpenLibrary).
Activity 1: Let’s do a little math first to see how our money can add up! Start by printing these sheets. For the first four pages, you can choose to use real coins to cover over the correct number of coin pictures to make the total indicated on the left side of the page (recommended if this is a new skill for your child), or you can let your child fill in the coins with marker, crayon, or a dot-a-dot marker. (Note: Don’t feel like they need to complete every single problem—follow their lead! Once they have grasped the skip counting for each coin, it’s fine if they want to move on.)
After they’ve gotten some practice, go to the last sheet (the piggy bank) to practice building some amounts. Start by writing an amount on the top of the page where it says “total.” (If your child enjoys having a story to motivate their math lessons, pretend you are saving up for a toy that costs X amount.) Next, have your child build the amount with real coins in the piggy bank. Finally, have them record the number of each coin they used. Next, see if they can build the same total a different way! Repeat as many times as your child would like to play.
Activity 2: Has your child ever wondered what money is made of? What do they think would happen if the value of a coin was less than the cost of the metal needed to make it? This has happened several times throughout United States history—and as a result, changes were made in what U.S. money is made of! Learn more about the history in this blog post, and then do the included experiment to see what your money is made of!
Activity 3: Let’s bring our new knowledge to life with a little pretend play! In this game, your child will be running their own ice cream shop. Print this menu and receipts template (you can also laminate, if desired), and then set up their supplies. Use large pom poms for your ice cream scoops, cotton balls for whipped cream, beads for sprinkles, and small red pom poms for cherries. You can also fold brown construction paper into cone shapes for cones. Don’t forget a scooper!
Once your child is set up, pretend to be their customer (or, if you are learning with a group, have the children take turns being the customer and the shop owner). Make different orders, and then work with your child to figure out the total cost and the money you need to give them to pay for your treat on their receipts.
(+) Ready for an upgrade? Instead of paying with exact change, practice having your child make change.
Now that we’ve learned about earning money, let’s talk more about spending it! (Don’t worry, tomorrow’s lessons are all about saving!) Begin with the book Money Math OR The Four Money Bears (if your child prefers more of a story).
Activity 1: By now, your child has had a few examples to see how money is commonly written out in decimals. But what are decimals? A decimal is any number less than one (1) that is not expressed by a fraction. A decimal number can be defined as a number whose whole number part and the fractional part is separated by a decimal point. For example, if a new book costs $6.13, the six represents whole dollars and the 13 represents the fraction 13/100, or 13 cents out of the 100 you would need to make a dollar.
Let’s demonstrate how these decimals work with a muffin tin; muffin liners; some dimes, pennies, $1 bills, and $10 bills; and sticky notes. First, set up your tin like this so your child knows what each column on the tin represents (you can use a dry erase marker to make the decimal point.) If you have multiple colors of muffin liners, you can use different colors to indicate dollars and cents.
First, explain what each column of the muffin tin represents (the first row is single dollars, the second is the tenths (or groups of ten cents), and the third is the hundredths (or single cents). Write a dollar amount on a sticky note (example: $1.32) and show your child how the numbers correspond to the place values. Then, build that number in the second row of your your muffin tin (under the labeled row) using dollars, dimes, and pennies. Next, write a new amount on another sticky note and help your child build that number. Repeat until your child grasps the activity or is ready to move on.
(-) If your child is struggling with this skill, turn your muffin tin vertically and skip the $10 column for now.
Note: This is a great activity to repeat throughout the week when you are ready to buy something or after you go shopping. Look on your receipt for new dollar amounts, and see if your child can build the number in the tin!
(+) Ready for more? Try this playing card game to practice writing and reading decimals.
Activity 2: Let’s practice some spending and STEM skills with this simple activity.
Activity 3: Of course, cash isn’t the only way to pay for something! Another form of payment that is important to know is how to write a check. Let’s practice filling out a check correctly with this printable. (Need a refresher yourself on all the steps? This article breaks it down.)
As much fun as it can be to spend money, there’s an even more important skill (that can lead to even more fun in the future): saving! Today, let’s learn the value of becoming a saver. Begin by reading the book If You Made a Million.
Activity 1: As we learned in our book, we need money for a variety of things, but the more we can save the bigger the benefits down the line. Let’s bring the concept of budgeting to life with this game! (If you don’t have jellybeans, you can also use beads.)
Activity 2: Saving for something can be especially challenging for little kids because they don’t have a tangible reward along the way. (Unlike spending, which gives you an immediate zing of gratification!) Let’s help a savings goal feel more concrete with this savings printable. Let your child pick a savings goal that is meaningful for them (but we recommend guiding them to pick something they can save for in a month or less).
Start by printing this savings goal sheet. Discuss with your child their goal and help them to fill out the top of the chart. For some added math, determine 20% of the goal and set incremental goals on each section of the bottle.
You may also want to designate a specific jar, envelope, or piggy bank for your child to use as they save money over the month. Each time they add money, have them record the date, the amount added, and the current total. Once they hit one of their incremental goals, they can color in the bottle to that point. Once they hit the total goal, let them purchase what they’ve been saving for. Or…
Activity 3: …see if they want to keep saving! For this week’s last activity, help your child to open a real savings account of their own. Many local banks have free options for children, or you can try one of these online savings accounts for kids. Discuss how the interest we learned about in our book works for a real savings account and see if they want to put any of their hard-earned money into their savings account instead of spending it.
We’ve learned a lot about money this week, from what it is to how to earn it to how to spend and save it! But another important purpose money can serve is to help others. Let’s start our last day by learning a bit more about where money comes from, and then we’ll discuss more about how to foster generosity in children.
Activity 1: Has your child wondered where all this money actually comes from? A person who designs money is called a banknote designer. Want to learn more about this job? Read this interview with Brian Thompson, one of three designers who helped design our current $100.
Want to try your hand at banknote designing? Have your child design their own banknote for whatever amount they want (a $1,000,000 dollar bill? Why not!). Encourage them to create as many unique details as they can to make it difficult to counterfeit!
Activity 2: So, why can’t we just print our own money when we need more of it? It would actually cause a lot of problems if we did! This video for kids helps explain why we can’t print our own money and how money gets made.
To counterfeit means to imitate something. Counterfeit products are fakes or unauthorized replicas of the real product. Paper money is the most popularly counterfeited product! (source) So, what steps do governments take to try to stop people from printing their own money? Let’s learn some ways with this activity.
Next, demonstrate why the material money is made of matters. Print this fake dollar bill on printer paper, and then gather two glasses of water and a real dollar bill. Have your child put the paper bill in one glass and the real bill in the other. Now stir them both! What happens? Why is the material of “paper” money important?
Activity 3: The good news? You don’t have to have a lot of money to be a generous person. Generosity is a willingness to give or share, particularly to someone in need. Read the book It’s Not Fair! to start a conversation about generosity with your child. This article also has great ideas for parents on how to foster generosity in their child.
For our last activity this week, let’s work on a craft that will make a lovely gift for someone in your child’s life. Here are a few options to choose from:
- Option 1: Tape-resist painted cork coasters
- Option 2: DIY painted tea towels
- Option 3: Stamped and painted clay bowls
Gameschooling idea: If you purchased Monopoly Junior or something similar, try it out this week or weekend to bring all your child’s new finance knowledge to life!
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