Dollars and Sense: Teaching Money

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moneykids3While elementary school students may have years before they are faced with decisions about credit cards and mortgages, it is essential that they have a solid foundation for future economic learning. Teach the meaning of money in the lower grades, including recognizing coins and bills and counting money, and teach skills such as saving and budgeting in the upper elementary grades. In both cases, the Internet makes lessons fun and interesting for all elementary students.

The History of Moneymoneykids4

Start with the history of money.  The History of Money from PBS-NOVA provides an interesting background to help students begin understanding what money is and how it has come to be the driving force for world economics. Explore the site with the students, and ask them if they have ever used something nonstandard as money. For example, students may trade stickers or cards with one another or take on chores in exchange for things they want at home. Ask them to think of things that could be used in place of the money we use in our society; things that have value and are easily transferred from one person to another (for example, food, jewelry, and decorative items).

Follow up with The History of Money from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Start by reading the ‘problem’ on the page and then read through the site. Discuss what different societies have used as currency at different times in history. The ThinkQuest  History of Money is another excellent resource. Students can use this site as a guide to help them design their own Web page, brochure, or mini-story about money.

moneykids2Uncover another comprehensive exploration at History of Money, a site created by Glyn Davies of the University of Exeter. This page includes timelines on the history of money beginning in 9000 BCE, as well as information on the origins of banking and the dollar sign. Instruct students to create their own timeline of the history of money, including pictures and explanations of relevant events. Post the timeline in the classroom or a school hallway for everyone to examine.

What Is Money?

Young children who do not yet understand the purpose of money need practice recognizing and counting both bills and coins. The lesson What is Money? from helps students recognize money and understand its purpose. Use the store activity and/or the printable worksheets to reinforce the ideas of the lesson.

Move on to counting money using either MoneyInstructor’s traditional lesson plan or their interactive exercise (requires registration for a free account).

When students are ready to learn about bills, they are can start Talking about Money (from Learn American English Online). Next project this video about Using the Fewest Coins (EduPlace) for the whole class. Use either play money manipulatives to have each student find the correct bills and coins to calculate various values that you put on the board.moneykids5

Using Money

Once students have a sound understanding of how to count money (usually by the beginning of second grade), they are ready to learn about earning, spending, and saving. Mad Money from

PBS Kids is an interactive game in which students earn and spend money. Players start with a fixed amount of time to save enough money to buy an item they select ahead of time. They receive a periodic allowance and can earn extra money doing odd jobs in the virtual town. However, they also have to buy things on a shopping list and deal with unexpected expenses.

Lemonade Stand, by AE4RV, allows players to run a virtual lemonade stand for 30 days to see if they can turn a profit. Students choose how much to advertise, how much to charge, and how much lemonade to make each day. Require students to keep track of the amounts they choose for each and write a short explanation of which choices were successful and why.

Set up a classroom situation in which children practice earning and spending money. Let them earn play money for things like good behavior or helping other students. (Avoid rewarding correct answers or good grades with play money, as this can be discouraging to struggling students and can diminish students’ internal motivation to do well.) After an allotted amount of time for earning, perhaps several weeks, stage a store or a carnival at which students can purchase items using the play money they have earned. Ask students to budget their play money for things they want and keep track of how money is spent.

moneykids1Finally, consider starting an in-school banking program if your school does not already have one. These programs, which are supported by local banks and staffed by parent volunteers, give students a real savings account in a real bank, a passbook for deposits and withdrawals, and a valuable education in the methods of banking.

Expert students in the field of money can try out any of the various fun learning games such as Cool Math Money Games, Kids Math Money Games, and ict Money Games. If time permits, challenge students to work in pairs to create their own money games. Allow the class to play the different games.

Money is an integral part of our society, and teaching children how it works is of critical importance. Learning about earning, spending, and saving in the early years sets the stage for learning about banking, interest, and credit later on. Teach these concepts in an interactive, developmentally appropriate way through the Internet and observe how much fun your students will have!


in mathematics Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts.

Select, apply, and translate among mathematical representations to solve problems.

Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.

§111.15. Mathematics, Grade 5.
(4)  Problem solving, language and communication, connections within and outside mathematics, and formal and informal reasoning underlie all content areas




Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

History of Money

Oracle Education Associates – ThinkQuest


PBS Kids - Mad Money

AE4RV - Lemonade Stand

Squidoo – Play Money

ict Math Games

Kids Math Games

CoolMath Games

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