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Preparing Our Children for Kindergarten: Using Everyday Opportunities to Teach Concepts in Money

Preparing Our Children for Kindergarten: Using Everyday Opportunities to Teach Concepts in Money

All parents want their children to succeed in school. And since Kindergarten is a child’s first exposure to “formal” schooling, preparing them for success is an important first step on the academic ladder. But “preparing” our kids for academic success does not mean completing reams of worksheets and stacks of flashcards. It’s actually a lot easier than that. It simply requires looking for opportunities to seamlessly tie “lessons” into daily life. And the good news is, because these lessons are done in the context of things that are meaningful and relevant to children’s lives, deeper learning takes place.

Money is a good example. Most kids are familiar with it. In fact, most two-year olds already know that this thing called money buys stuff. By the time they are four and five, they’ve had a lot of money experiences, from watching mom and dad pay for things at the store to receiving money as birthday gifts. We can use these opportunities to sneak in some lessons and begin to prepare them for what they will be learning once they head off to school.

The Kindergarten curriculum includes learning about coins: their names, values, and some simple equivalencies. The following activity covers each of these in the context of having kids set their first personal financial goal. Seem lofty? Believe it or not, given the opportunity, and with your guidance, 4- and 5-year olds are quite capable of learning how to use their own money to purchase something they want.

The “lesson” begins as soon as you hear your four-year old utter the words can I have? That’s because the question, Can I have, creates a teaching opportunity that is immediately relevant and meaningful. The answer, Sure, let’s create a goal that will help you save enough money to buy it, will help your child learn skills that will become useful in Kindergarten and beyond.

Since it’s important that kids experience success with their first financial goal, start with an item that has a relatively small price tag…under $5. Through an allowance or some Above-and-Beyond Jobs (extra things kids can do to earn money), help your child figure out about how long it will take her to achieve her goal. Print and fill in the My Savings Goal activity sheet. Then print out the paper coins (from the My Savings Goal activity sheet) and cut out and paste her target amount onto the activity sheet. Help her find a clear jar where she can begin to save her coins then have her tape on a picture of the item she is saving for. This will serve as a concrete reminder of her goal.

As she earns money towards her goal, have her color in the coins on the activity sheet. This is a good time to talk to her about the names of the coins and their values. This little one is called a dime. It’s worth 10 cents. Have her describe some of the unique characteristics of each coin: rough edge, smallest, silver, etc. You can even talk about equivalencies such as ten dimes equals one dollar. Just keep in mind that learning takes time. Right now it’s about exposing her to the coin names and values and introducing her to different equivalencies so that when she enters Kindergarten, she’ll bring with her a familiarity which will make classroom lessons on money a little easier.

As her jar slowly fills up, not only will she be learning about coins, but you’ll be reinforcing delayed gratification, not always an easy skill for a youngster to learn. She’ll need on-going words of encouragement from you and perhaps even little saving reminders. Soon, with your support, she’ll walk into that store with her money jar and walk out with her coveted item. There is nothing like the sense of personal satisfaction for having accomplished something you set out to do. We do not want to deny our kids this feeling. We also don’t want to deny ourselves the opportunity to watch our child hand over her hard-earned money with heavy anticipation and excitement, knowing that she has learned some very important life skills.

Kindergarten is a very exciting year. It’s a year of social, emotional, and physical growth. But it is also the beginning of their academic journey. Looking for everyday opportunities to prepare our youngsters for this incredible journey can turn out to be that extra nudge of confidence they need to help set them up for success.

Ah, 4-Year Olds

Ah, 4-Year Olds

Four-year olds are adorable in so many ways. Especially the way they think about the world. Because they haven’t had enough “life” experiences, yet, their understanding of things is limited.

Take for example, the four-year old granddaughter of a friend. Her six-year old sister’s piggy bank fell and broke. All the coins and bills scattered on the floor. She set about helping her sister pick up the money, starting with all the bills. She handed them to her grandmother saying, “We don’t need these.”

“Why not?” asked her grandmother.

“They’re just pieces of paper,” the four-year old replied. Apparently, if it wasn’t round and shiny, it wasn’t money.

Not long after that, the six-year old accidentally (how does that happen?) ripped a twenty dollar bill. She handed the pieces to her grandmother saying, “We can throw these in the garbage, they aren’t good anymore.”

I love these kinds of stories because they’re examples of the perfect teachable moments. Although the 4-year old may not be ready to fully understand that bills are actually money and therefore worth something, beginning the conversation is important.

And how cool is it to know that even though a twenty dollar bill is ripped, if you have both pieces, it’s still a twenty dollar bill.

These are the moments when kids learn most about money. It’s relevant, it’s meaningful, it’s interesting. Let’s keep on the lookout for the priceless (!) opportunities.

Are Bribes Okay?

Are Bribes Okay?

I took Ryan with me to hot yoga yesterday.  Nathan had gone a while back with my friend Rebecca and came back with stories about how he’d never sweat so much in all his life.  Then I started going and found out that he was right.  The heat, plus the difficulty of the poses made for a very intense 90 minutes.

Ryan likes a good challenge and asked if he could give it a go.  So yesterday we went.  In the lobby of the yoga studio was a girl who looked to be about 16 years old.  She was talking to the owner about the heat, not sure if she would be able to make it through, and wanted to know if she could get up and leave during the class.  I’ve learned that that is a no-no.  I’ve also learned the heat isn’t as much of an issue as I, too, thought it was going to be when I first started.  But the girl did not seemed convinced.

When we got into the yoga room, I was surprised to see that the 16-year old girl decided to stay.  She ended up right behind Ryan…and right next to the exit door.  I decided to go over and talk with her and allay some of her concerns about the heat.  I told her that because the poses are so difficult and require a lot of concentration, the heat actually becomes secondary.  And then I asked her what made her decide to come.

“My mom gave me twenty bucks to come,”  she said. 

Really?  So where was mom?  Apparently she had something better to do.

I had to smile to myself, though, about the twenty dollars.  To a teenager, that is a lot of money.  And the fact that she was so concerned about the heat, but stayed anyway, underscored the value of that money.  It made me think about whether bribes were okay.

I am not a believer in paying kids to do things they should do as a member of a family or community.  For example, paying kids to clean up after themselves is not okay.  Neither is paying them for their grades.  But every now and then, like in the yoga example, I do think it’s okay to offer a monetary reward.  The key is to never make it an on-going habit.  Because that’s when kids begin to expect a handout for everything they do.  And raising entitled kids is not teaching them good money habits…or life habits.

The 16-year old made it through the class just fine.  As Ryan and I were leaving, she was asking about memberships.  Ryan…he did awesome, as well.  But in the car ride home, he never asked me about going back.  He had proven he could do it…and was moving on to his next challenge -training for his first half-marathon.  I’ll stick to yoga.