Thursday, August 28, 2008

Money -- and beyond 4th grade math

When I was in school, I remember doing worksheets that had pictures of coins. This was how the educators thought we should learn about money. I think my father had a better idea. He talked to me about money, gave me money, and told me what it was worth. A penny was a piece of bubble gum, and a dime was a can of Coke. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, the price of a Coke went up to 15 cents. I didn't mind the worksheets though. Since I knew how to count money, they were an easy A.

When my oldest was six years old, we were having a garage sale. I thought this would be a great time for her to learn to count money. Wrong. She already knew how to count money. I had never spent any time teaching her. She had learned it through living in a world that uses money.

When my children were around 7, 10, and 13, they decided they wanted an allowance. My husband and I told them they could present us with their argument at a meeting that would be held in a couple of days, so they could prepare. It was a very impressive presentation, which included a detailed plan about payments, savings, and spending.

Each child would receive a weekly allowance equaling one dollar per year of the child's age. For example, the seven-year-old would get $7 a week, and so on. Half of the allowance would be theirs to spend on whatever they wanted, and half of it would be put into a savings account to save for big-ticket items that would be discussed with us parents before purchasing. They agreed that they would buy everything they "wanted," and we parents would continue buying things they "needed." For example, each child needed a pair of play shoes and a pair of dress shoes. If they wanted more shoes, they would be responsible for purchasing them.

This plan worked quite well, and our children gained valuable experience in managing money. There were times they made unwise purchasing decisions. They got sad, regretted the purchase, and talked about not making that mistake again. Making mistakes is a great learning tool.

When my children were preteens, I would think out loud about purchasing decisions. It sounds like a typical word problem when written in a blog, but I used to ask questions like this all the time.
If I have $25, and I need to save $10 for buying something at the grocery store, how much can we spend on lunch?
And my younger daughter started "doing the math" when we ate out. She would look at a menu and figure out the individual price of something. If an order of six mozzarella sticks was $3, she'd say, "These mozzarella sticks cost 50 cents each."

There are so many opportunities for children to learn about money in the real world, an attentive parent doesn't need to buy a book to teach it. Just start talking to your children about your daily purchases and give them the opportunity to buy things with their own money. They will learn so much more than any worksheet could teach.


Cathy said...

This is so true. Kids love money and it is a great way to learn about math.
Some other "math" ideas:
*Tell your kids you can only spend $50 at the grocery store. They love keeping trck of what you have put in the cart.
*When we had our carpet cleaned, they wanted to know the size of our rooms, the kids happily took on the job of measuring out the room.
*Buy one dessert and figure out how to divide it by the number of people sharing.
*My son built a Lego Eiffel Tower and did a ratio thing with the actual Eiffel Tower and his Lego creation.
*There is so much. Thanks again Deborah for the great ideas and reminders of how we don't have to go far to find learning. It is always around us.

Deborah said...

All excellent suggestions! Thanks!