Amanda, 5, was excited. She had received a $10 bill as a birthday gift. She begged her parents to take her to the mall so she could buy a favorite toy. Sound familiar?
Parents often wonder how they can help their child learn sound money management skills at an early age. Telling them "money doesn't grow on trees" usually doesn't sink in when they seem to want everything. Children are good at mastering the concept of "want" long before they seem to understand "cost" and "need."
Children's books are a good way to begin teaching money management concepts to youngsters of all ages. Even preschool children can learn from books such as "The Bernstain Bears' "Trouble with Money." A child in first to third grades would enjoy learning from "Arthur's Funny Money." Children who can count and use a calculator could learn money skills from "Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday." These are examples of the many good books available that a parent could use to teach money skills.
What should a parent look for when selecting such a book? Consider the age for whom the book was written. Preschoolers have difficulty understanding concepts such as time and value. They might think a nickel is more valuable than a dime because it is larger. Using credit cards and checks might confuse them. They have an understanding about buying things, but little understanding of limited money resources.
Elementary school-aged children are eager to learn, but their attention span is short. Making choices is difficult. Money means more to them, but they may be careless with it. They are, however, beginning to develop an awareness of the relationship between today's decisions and tomorrow's results.
Choose books, which — through words and pictures — show cultural sensitivity. Read the book to or with your children. Consider that each child has a preferred learning style. Hearing the book as it is read, seeing the pictures that reinforce the message, and touching items that relate to the story will help the child learn.
Use the concepts presented in books to start a family discussion about your family's resources, expectations and goals. This lets your child understand your earning, spending, saving and sharing goals. A whole new world of family communication will develop.
Most parents agree that financial responsibility is a vital part of every child's education. Financial literacy is a key component of everything from developing self-esteem to maintaining successful interpersonal relationships. As a parent, you can help your children grow up to be responsible, clear-thinking individuals who can make wise decisions about the use of money. The use of children's stories about money matters can facilitate that goal.
Do an online search for age-appropriate books, games and videos for children of all ages. Visit www.washington.umd.edu and click on Family and Consumer Sciences, then Nutrition And Food Safety for reading tips as well as an annotated bibliography of children's books about money.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.