Children are looking to a future vastly different than their parents. Due to automation, jobs are shifting around and will start disappearing at such a rate that no one has simple answers anymore. With the possibility of a shrinking job market, our children might have to be able to get by with less money, so they need to learn to be responsible with it. There’s been an increase in finance education programs, but they don’t always lead to better habits, so what works? Let’s practice early and keep math and economics integrated with life.
What are we missing when we start too late? There’s a big difference between knowing the right thing and actually doing it. People can learn to be savers late in life when they have to, but others are already geared to pinch pennies. One personality trait most influenced by the world is conscientiousness. To be conscientiousness is to be careful, plan, and control impulses. Caregivers and teachers have a role in shaping conscientiousness.
Parents around the world have reported that their children’s level of conscientiousness increased the most between ages 3 and 6. After that the increase is slower and by age 9, conscientiousness tends to level off. That’s right. You can help your 3 year old be a more careful person than you can help your 10 year old. This means we need to be teaching kids to plan ahead way before high school and in fact well before middle elementary. So how do we do that?
A program called Tools of the Mind helps preschool and kindergarten children develop executive functioning or self management. Preschoolers in the program have a block of time to independently plan their make-believe play. Children draw a representation of themselves and what they want to do. The children also do their best writing their plan using a sound map. Kindergarten students have many activities that they plan and a study buddy to keep them focused on their learning plan. Caregivers can use these strategies on the weekends to make play more varied and interesting. When kids have a plan their less likely to become bored and frustrated.
Teach your preschool children about number concepts in a natural way. Charles Bleiker, a child development professor from Florida International University, has develop a set of games that can be easy for parents to set up. These games should take 15 minutes of your week and over the course of several months, or 15 sessions, the child should have a better sense of what number look like and what they represent by counting in games and responding to new comparison vocabulary words like less than or greater than. Children show enthusiasm for these games and excel beyond typical preschool students.
Integrate math and economics
Now let’s aggregate, calculate, and integrate. Not surprisingly, students with better math scores have been shown to be better off financially later in life, so we know that integrating math into a child’s life is ideal.
We can teach young children economic principles. The concept of buying becomes familiar quickly to preschoolers playing at a toy cash register. Once a kid can count to 5 they could count out 5 $1 bills and buy a real life toy. When kids know how to add we should be teaching them to save. “If you get a dollar a day for doing chores and you have $5, how much money will you have in 5 days?” $10 is a big deal to a kid. That could be a pretty cool toy or a lot of candy. Now if they know subtraction you can start asking questions like, “If you bought the bigger stuffed animal, how much money would you have to buy treats when you and dad go to the grocery store tomorrow?”
These strategies can be integrated into the classroom with a ticket or token system with rewards like free play, computer time, or prizes. The most important part of this is that it’s motivating to the child. They’ll learn better when they care about the end result.
Young kids can listen to stories like The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd BaylorIn. In the book, the daughter takes for granted what their modest family has, so the parents assign values to things like being able to sing loudly. She starts to total everything and gains perspective on what matters most. The lessons are out there. The department of education in Indiana wrote a classroom guide wrote a classroom guide called “Teaching Economics Through Children’s Literature.” The department just demonstrated these concepts in a workshop in Manhattan, New York last month. The particular lesson featured play dough. Students mold play dough and present goods to a theoretical market.
As kids get older some economic concepts can be discussed and applied to everyday life. Opportunity costs should be considered before you waist your time watching a bad movie. What else could you be doing? Sure you could be doing productive things but you could also be watching a movie with a better rating. Watching a better program or reading a better story is something that kids can relate too. No one wants to waste their resources and time is valuable. If we set limits kids can learn these types of lessons especially when we help them reflect on their decisions. Decision making skills matter and kids can apply these strategies to their life elsewhere.
High school students could look at budgeting and it’s impact on their future (microeconomics) and how it affects countries and the world, past and present (macroeconomics). What know it all young person doesn’t want to pretend they know how to solve the world’s problems? If they can argue their point well by the numbers, they’re learning something very valuable.
The more applicable lessons are to real life, the better they stick. How much money would my parents save every month if we only ordered takeout once a week versus 3 or 4 times a week? Concepts like budgeting and interest rates could be explored in a lesson on car buying. I would’ve benefited knowing tricks that dealers pull. Owning a fancy car is probably more important to the students who need the reality check anyway. Students want to play with money when they become adults and they will, but hopefully with some education they can give those loan sharks a bit of a poker face.
Working together for a better future
Children need to learn money management now, more than ever. When thinking about teaching our kids to be better planners it’s usually just a little and often too late. Financial education means teaching kids how to make good decisions that effect their well being and the community. We should spend more time training teachers on the concepts of economics and how to teach those concepts. Better yet, we should train teachers and counselors who can then pass the information to parents and then teach them how to incorporate the concepts at home.