Kids need to learn about money. Understanding how to earn, save and even spend money smartly is a skill all children need. Financial literacy for kids is becoming more and more important. Teaching children about money in a safe way at a young age, will hopefully help them to make smart choices with their money when they are older.
I have used this activity for many years in my classroom, from junior grades to primary. My students have always loved it and are incredibly engaged during all of our lessons and ‘shopping’ days. Although I used this activity in the classroom, you can easily do it at home with your own children.
To start, I set up our class store using a variety of inexpensive items ranging from suckers to erasers. I also added some larger items, such as stuffed animals and popular trading cards.
Next, I attached a price tag to each item. I made sure to have a range of prices. You can set your prices to any money amount appropriate for your group. For young children, the most expensive item may only be .99 cents if you are only covering amounts to $1.00. For older children, trickier amounts to work with, such as $34.58, will help reinforce the math skills.
Next, I gave every child a plastic baggie with their name on it. I attach the bags to the wall with double sided tape and a clothes pin. This way students could remove their bag to put money in it as they earn, and easily replace it. With older students I used our bulletin board with push pins.
I used play money to give to children as they earned it. I like using play money because it looks like real money and students learn the values quickly because it is hands-on. Students earned money for a variety of things. I made sure that all children had an equal chance of earning money. It was not only for academic achievements. For example, everyone earned a bit at the end of the week for doing their class jobs. Earning the money could also be used as a classroom reward system.
Earning the money is only step one in financial literacy for kids. Now that my students had some money, they needed to learn what to do with it. It was not simply time to spend. Each child worked through a booklet to record what they were going to buy and the costs etc. The booklet is a great way to reinforce, in writing, math skills worked on throughout the class store. (Link below)
Every week, the students money would accumulate in their bag. Each week we would have a ‘trading day’. Students would count how much money they had earned and they would trade in their coins so that they would have the least number of coins in their bag. For example, they would trade two nickles (5 cents) for a dime (10 cents). It was great practice to understand the value of their coins.
When we had a “Shopping Day”, then it was time to spend… if children chose to! However, they were not allowed to spend all of their money. Before every spending period, everyone had to put a specific amount of money aside into their “savings jar”. Each week I gave students a specific amount that they had to put aside and save. Just like in real life!
Each student had their own savings jar that was basically a savings account. We had great discussions about why it is important to save money and what, in real life, the savings would need be spent on when they were older.
Before they could start spending, however, we also had a classroom share jar for donations. Everyone chose some amount that they wanted to share, from their spending money. The money in this jar was then used for a whole class reward, such as a movie party, or extra gym class. The class share jar is also a great way to build community because everyone contributes and works towards a common reward.
The money left in each child’s bag after some had been set aside to save and share, was then spending money. Children had the option to spend their money on anything in the store. However, like in real life, if they wanted one of the bigger ticket items, they had to save their money for several weeks to have enough.
When students would purchase their chosen items, they had to work out the math of how much the item(s) cost as well as the change that they needed to receive. I did not work out the math for them unless they needed help. Once they figured out their change, they also worked out what coins and bills they needed to receive to make up their change.
With my older group of students, they earned money, and larger amounts, very quickly. My students came up with the idea of special tickets that they could purchase. Many of the tickets were a reward for the whole class and my students loved the idea of being able to buy something to share with everyone.
Overall, I always loved teaching financial literacy for kids because I always found they were excited to learn about it, especially in this way. I feel that a class store is one of the closest real life experiences to learn about money. There are so many essential math skills incorporated into this ongoing classroom activity and I have seen the benefits of it year after year.
Different grades have different expectations for financial literacy. For older children learning about taxes and interest rates, you can incorporate it into this activity. Students can accumulate interest on their saving jar. They can also calculate tax on all of their purchases.
For more math activities to do with kids…