"It's actually easy to teach kids about money," says Jayne A. Pearl, an Amherst, MA-based author of Kids and Money: Giving Them the Savvy to Succeed Financially. "Turn your day-to-day activities into learning experiences." Trips to the bank, store, or the ATM machine, for instance, can be a perfect opening for a discussion about your values and how you use money. When children are very young, you can work money concepts into your child's imaginary games, like playing pretend store or restaurant. Read on for some fun, simple ways to introduce finance to your child.
Ages 2 and 3
"A 2- or 3-year-old faced with a choice between a penny, dime, and nickel will almost always choose the nickel because of its size," says Dorothy Singer, Ed.D., a senior research scientist at Yale University in New Haven, CT. But while very young children won't fully understand the value of money, they can begin to learn the names of coins. One way to do this is to play the coin identification game. You and your child can trace around the outside of various coins and color in the shapes. Then invite your child to match the coin to the image while discussing each one's name. (Note: Toddlers may try to swallow coins, so always provide close supervision.)
Young kids love to play store, but an imaginary shop in the living room is more than just a fun way for your child to exercise his imagination. By exchanging play money for goods, your child begins to understand the basics of commerce, says Dr. Singer. Use cereal boxes, fruit, sponges, or paper towels as store items. Together, make pretend money and shop till you drop.
Ages 4 and 5
Before heading to the supermarket, ask your preschooler to help you clip coupons. (Don't forget to use safety scissors.) When you're at the store, hand her the coupons and ask her to keep an eye out for the products. This will make her feel like she's helping, and it's an easy and fun way to talk about saving money, says Neale S. Godfrey, chairwoman and founder of the Children's Financial Network in Chester, NJ.