Financial Literacy for Kids

On this page, I will be uploading some basic lesson ideas to help parents or teachers administer a reward system, which is a basis for learning about Financial Literacy (and incidentally, Entrepreneurism).  It benefits traditional classrooms because it ties into applying math skills and establishing good behaviour and study routines.  Moreover, it creates a physical and psychological market of students who by sheer daily interaction learn how money can, can’t, should, shouldn’t work.

I will tell you straight up, it can be horrendous to administer at a detailed level if you are not the best manager of things, but I encourage anyone to at least have a currency in a class / group of students / children.  As well, when things “go wrong”, or turning points happen–those are the teachable moments.  I learned so much from my students.

I have found that it works best with elementary aged students.  However, it is possible to adjust this system by providing rewards that match the interest of older students.  I’ve tried to keep this as SIMPLE and open as possible, as not to scare anyone off trying:

(PDFs for Classes or Parents):

Part 1: Implementing a Reward System

Part 2: Administering the First Few Weeks of the System

Part 3: Evolving the Reward System

This is a children’s book I wrote and illustrated in 2006 hoping to inspire entrepreneurism via my paper monkey, Taro!

5 Responses “Financial Literacy for Kids” →
  1. Interesting. A couple days I wrote my own blog post about Financial Literacy, or the seeming lack of it in the curriculum I studied on the way up. Then, through a comment was directed to watch your TEDx talk and followed the link around this way to see a bit more of what you’re talking about. What struck me, oddly was that in fifth grade I was part of a very similar experiment to the one you conducted in your class this year. Mr. Bidal issued Bidal Bucks (which closely resembled photocopied monopoly money) for good behaviour. There was no sticker shop, but there was an auction twice a year. I bid high on a secret item and ended up with a crappy plastic ruler. It still hurts. But I never reflected on what, if any, financial insight I gathered from that foray. In any case, thanks for the post! Something for me to keep rolling around about this…

    Maybe a question though… Have you ever thought of a way to create this kind of learning experience, with authentically desirable and earnable currency, that isn’t a sort of abstract, extrinsic reward? I think it’s that extrinsic factor that trips me up on it.

    Cheers, Jamie


    • Green Rabbit

      June 11, 2012

      Hi Jamie, I just wrote a comment and then it disappeared mysteriously. So here it goes again: I think your Mr. Bidal may have inadvertently (?) introduced you to the highs and lows of betting the house at that tender age. I wonder about your crushing disappointment–did it come with any teachable talk? Or was it just “funny” to him and you had to wrestle with it yourself? It’s interesting that you say that it still stings. Are you a more conservative investor because of it? Are you “careful” with your money?

      About your question, do you mean if my students earned a physical currency? (If so…) they did. In fact, some seemed perfectly content with just collecting the paper bills like a tangible growing graph of their efforts. The currency was first a stamp, but became bills once we needed 50s and they started a market with each other (because I held the only stamp). Students were physically handling money the whole time–in fact, I think this is important to conceptualize it.

  2. Ha! Interesting point. Betting big on that mysterious prize (aka crappy ruler) was an introduction to betting the house. You’ve actually stirred a very visual memory of looking down at the unwrapped ruler, and looking up in disappointment at Mr. Bidal’s face which, in my memory, was registering an apologetic sort of expression or shared disappointment. I understood it as one of somewhat “those are the rules of the game” helpless empathy. Am I a conservative investor now because of it… Hmm. I’m not really much of an investor at all really… But I certainly don’t feel like I do enough research to take big risks with my investments either. I’m not sure if it’s just about early economic trauma, or if it’s more about how I choose to prioritize my time presently. But an interesting thought…

    I understand how there could be value in your students amassing faux-currency that they could look at as representative of their efforts… But I still get stuck with my admittedly idealistic feeling that I want the rewards for academic achievement to be intrinsic. I’ve never been much for awarding stickers or that sort of thing. I’m wondering how to take your sort of clearly valuable exploration of economy, and the learning that comes from it, but apply it in a way that doesn’t make the earning of money an extrinsic reward for something that I’d prefer to see validated intrinsically. What do you think? Any models you’ve come across?

    Cheers for the dialogue!

    – Jamie


    • Green Rabbit

      June 18, 2012

      I agree that the ideal should be intrinsic rewards. And that’s the ultimate goal. Perhaps, the reason even some adults still depend on extrinsic rewards is that they have not had long, practiced training in intrinsic-ating their internal reward system and they are stuck at level 1.

      In my experience working with primary-aged kids, they are very visual, very tactile–still counting on fingers some of them. So, to be able to get a toy or a sticker for their efforts means something. But then, enough of this happens and the novelty of the “stuff” SOON wears off. They get bored with yet another sticker. So, other things start happening: they see that they have enough money to “hire” people to help them clean up, or draw up a series of comics–so then, they start using the money for more entrepreneurial endeavours. Some students became altruistic and bought things for their friends. Some, kept a padding of cash as insurance against potential infractions (I fined them nominal fees). As a teacher, it is horrible to maintain / administer a consumerist society of more and bigger rewards, so shifting to intrinsic rewards is definitely easier–though it has to evolve I think.

      Intrinsic worth, I found, was helped along by the extrinsic system above, and by my efforts as a teacher. After we established in our class (as above) that you will get rewarded for good stuff you do, that concept becomes transferrable to more intrinsic, abstract notions. When I had the energy to be inventive enough, I got my students to be doing hilarious things that they enjoyed anyway and there was no “reward” needed to do a good job of it. For instance, I video taped their presentations often, edited them and played them back. They became acutely self-media-savvy fast. I taught them how editing could cause “disappearing” or could erase minor errors or how not reading or using big gestures were more entertaining to watch. Then, they automatically wanted their next video to be better and enthusiastically made it so. Another example is, since I am a crazy, dramatic reader and I had a weekly story writing contest based on the Harris Burdick books, they started inventing strange characters, wacky dialogue and epic adventures just so I would make it come alive. We had the class vote on them every week and there were many increasingly well-written entries. The prize was a book, but the applause and accolades were the most coveted. Not all students were as enthusiastic about the same things, so having an alternate extrinsic reward was good for them. Overall, it definitely happens–the feel-good reasons for doing things.

      Like yourself, I can’t / don’t spend the amount of time I should investigating proper investments–and I had no similar trauma to yours! I’m trying to determine now if there is a service that can do side-by-side comparisons of financial products–like a (UPDATE: I found one here–the 3rd one). This heightened awareness needs to snowball into action! I am going to a Financial Literacy workshop held by a writer for the Toronto Star tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see what she can tell us is going on in Canada (UPDATE: I went!).

  3. Hey! Sorry for the delayed response… I wonder how the workshop with the finan lit writer went… Are you a Torontonian too? Beaches, baby… East side… (gestures in a feeble imitation of some mid-90s NY hip hop bad ass shit). Toronto to Tokyo (with Turkey and Taiwan in between if you’re trying to deduce patterns…).

    I know what you mean about the strength of extrinsic rewards with elem kids btw, at one point every student in my class was successful on some silly little thing and I celebrated by busting out some gross half-melted little packages of gummi bears someone had abandoned in my closet a year earlier. I thought nothing of it, but at the end of the year, in her final reflective work, one of my gorgeous superstars mentioned it as a memorable moment… I was surprised, a little alarmed, but also given some pause.

    I think I’ve always taken the road of avoiding the extrinsic rewards altogether, for the sake of just cutting to the intrinsic chase, but there’s clearly something to be said for a bit of balance. We all have to work that out in our lives anyways. I guess I’ve thought of it in the way I approach paid work vs volunteering (formally or otherwise).

    Anyways, I can’t write much now, I’m on the road as part of my summer project ( if you’re interested), but lets keep the dialogue going. I’m curious to see where you take it (cause you’re definitely thinking deeper and longer about it than I am, and it’s taking you down some interesting roads). Maybe a follow-up when I’m back in Tokes!

    Enjoy Toronto. Do all the things I would be doing if I was there. Except don’t hang out with my mom. That would just be creepy.


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