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Kids and Currency : 4 Ways to Teach Common "Cents"

Early childhood educators are reporting that some young students are arriving in their classrooms unable to name coinage and in some cases, not even recognizing money as a tool used to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. They note that often these students are members of affluent families.   Upon consideration, this relatively new but concerning observation makes sense.

Would a child, whose nurturing parents limit their television time, supervise all play activities, and provide for most of their wants, ever observe or participate in a monetary exchange?

Consider these situations:

  • If a child attends a daycare or preschool, the parents prepay or pack a healthy, organic lunch. (Which, given the opportunity, many children will happily trade their carrots and cucumbers for forbidden fried foods and sweet desserts. Apparently the concept of bartering is innate and we need not worry that this method of exchange will become extinct.)
  • Grandparents include gift cards to educational toy stores and bookshops when sending their young ones birthday wishes. It’s easy and practical. The added benefit of sending a gift card is that most have no idea about current toy fads and popular children’s books. If the grandparents are old-fashioned and send a cheque it goes, sight unseen, into the child’s college fund account.
  • Trips to the store are often rushed affairs with the child confined to the shopping cart as the parent picks up items needed for the evening meal. As they wait to check out, the child is sitting with his back to the cashier, facing the parent who is pulling out a credit or debit card from a thin wallet that does not even contain a pocket to hold change. When the items are rung up and the total calculated, the parent swipes the plastic card through a machine, and possibly punches in a few numbers or scribbles something on the screen.

These examples help explain why it is possible for a young child to never see a coin let alone know the correct name for common currency and identify each one’s specific value.

Here are four fun, quick and easy ways to help rectify this situation and teach kids some common “cents”.

#1 - Treasure Hunting

It’s exciting to go on a coin collection treasure hunt. Show the students examples of coins and explain that these items are money, used to buy the things people want.

Ask if anyone can think of places where some coins like these may be hidden in their house. Junk draws, coin jars, under chairs with cushions, and in the pockets of the coats in the hall closet are examples of good places to look. Notify parents of this activity in advance and encourage them to hide a few extra coins, just for fun.

Have your students bring their loot into class the next day and tally up their treasure. Consider discussing what types of purchases can be made with the amounts they have to give them an indication of the value of the money.

#2 - The Money is in the Bag 

Gather up coins of varying value and place them in a bag. Instruct each student to reach into the bag and pull out as many coins as possible with one hand.

The coins may be counted and recorded as to how many coins each student was able to grasp in one handful. They can also be sorted as to the amount of like coins that were collected. Older children may wish to calculate the monetary value of the coins.

Because children like competing with others and themselves this activity can be repeated often.  It works well during those “down times” between lessons or waiting for recess.

#3 - A Trip to the Store

Encourage parents to take a few extra minutes when shopping and allow their child to select a small item to purchase. Have them note how much the store is charging for the item, because that is how much money they will need to pay for it. While at the cash register, the parent should give some money to the child and allow her to interact with the clerk and make the purchase. This interaction is more meaningful if the child receives change.

This activity focuses on what currency is and how it can be used to purchase goods. It is not a lesson in responsibility. Therefore, it would be best NOT to give the child money upon entering the store, but wait until it is time to make the purchase. If the money gets lost, and it may, everyone gets upset and the teachable moment is lost.

Teachers can create this scenario within their classroom by setting up a “store” with items for purchase. Classroom objects must be clearly marked with a price tag and students can go shopping. Using play money, they will need to calculate what they can afford to purchase. Having students play the role of sales clerk is also a great way to learn the value of money and counting out change. A win-win for student shoppers and student shopkeepers!

#4 - Dollar Discussion

Divide your class into small groups and distribute a piece of money to each group. (each group can have a different piece of currency and then trade with other groups) Explain that this is something that is used to purchase goods.

 Instruct them to look at the money carefully. Ask them to make a list of three or four things they like about the piece of money. (Possible responses could include:  it’s colorful, it feels good, it has numbers on it, the pictures are nice, you can buy things with it, etc.) Then ask them if there is anything they do not like about the money. (Possible responses could include:  it’s made of paper, it’s too big, it’s too small, it could get lost, the pictures are ugly, etc.)

You may want to talk about the other things people use to purchase the items that they would like to have. This conversation may prove to be enlightening. Because of the advances in modern technology, today’s students have a very different concept of money than that of a student just five years ago.


If you think young children have a unique idea of what constitutes money, it’s just as interesting to discover where they imagine this money comes from. However, that’s a discussion for another time. Have you used any interesting methods for teaching money matters in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments section!

Posted by Lynne Farrell Stover in Teacher, General ← Previous Post Next Post →

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