Money is interesting to most students, it’s an inescapable part of adult life, and it lets you study a lot of math and economics concepts, so it makes a great classroom theme — or just grab a few of these activities to knock out some framework requirements.
Need a bulletin board? U.S. Money Bulletin Board Set from Trend is clear and straightforward, showing coins and currency and their relationships, while Teacher Created Resources U.S. Money Mini Bulletin Board focuses primarily on equivalencies. Carson-Dellosa’s U.S. Money Bulletin Board Set has a chart and pieces showing both bills and coins.
Understanding U.S. money
First students need to be able to identify coins accurately, understand the place value issues of coins and currency, and recognize the value of various combinations of bills and change. Just as digital clocks have made it harder for kids to learn to tell time with analog clocks, changes in shopping have made it harder for kids to learn about money. Few elementary students today have ever seen someone count back change, fewer have run to the corner store with a $5 bill in hand to pick up a carton of milk, and many kids now get their allowance through PayPal or debit cards.
Here are some classroom activities that let kids get the money practice they might not be getting at home:
- Fair trade Have students work in pairs with classroom money. The first student offers a combination of bills and coins, and the second student must match the value. Students who need to work on recognizing coins can use the same combination exactly, while those who know the names and values of coins should have to come up with a different combination that produces the same value.
- Making change Have students use a Teaching Cash Register or a cash drawer to make change for items “bought” from catalogs. Bring mail order catalogs to class, give each student a One Hundred Dollar Bill, and let them take turns running the register and shopping.
- Draw it Have students draw items they’d like to buy and draw bills and coins totaling the price they’d pay. Have them label the drawing with “I’d pay $___ for a ____.” While you could use a cents sign, bear in mind that modern keyboards no longer have this sign, so it might be more practical for students to get used to $.01.
The value of money
Knowing that a nickel is equal to five cents is necessary, but it doesn’t really tell you the value of that nickel. Money is only worth what it can buy. Kids whose experience of shopping with parents is putting things in a cart and swiping a card may not be conscious of the relationship between goods and cash.
Try some activities that make it clear:
- Big plans Plan a class party, a trip to a fun destination, or another big event. As a class, brainstorm the things needed for the trip. Use ads from newspapers or catalogs or do internet research to find the prices for all the items needed. For older students, divide the class into teams and compete to see who can bring in the lowest total.
- Budgeting Have students create a household budget. A typical budget recommendation is 28% for housing and 15% for food, 15% for transportation and 10% for savings. That leaves a mere 32% for clothing, entertainment, insurance, medical costs, gifts, charitable giving, and everything else. Imagine a person making minimum wage at a full time job and have the class do the math. Have older students use classifieds from the local paper or online research to determine what kind of housing, transportation, etc. their sample budget would pay for.
- Global view Use Peter Menzel’s eye-opening books Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats to get a clearer understanding of how much money people have in different parts of the world. Use Google Earth to make virtual visits to the homes of the people you learn about.