What My Students Know About Money
What My Students Know About Money

Last week I wrote a few posts about money, what seems age-appropriate for kids to know, and how parents should begin sharing financial information with their kids. Since my topic is lining up nicely with my new reading unit in my class, I thought it would be a great time to follow up with some real-life data. I probably should rephrase that title, it should say what my students know about money. So, this week I opened up a new thematic unit on money. Granted, I’m currently teaching 3rd grade, so these kids are between the ages of 8 and 9 years old – a time when I think parents should be introducing chores and allowances if they haven’t already. When I first introduced the theme I asked questions to find out what they already knew about money so that I would know where to start. Some of their answers were really surprising! Here is just a smattering of what they said:

  • “Money is paper.”
  • “You pay money for your money.” (the student meant paying off a credit card… hmmmm, very interesting.)
  • “Money is hard to make.”
  • “Money comes from trees.”
  • “You use money to buy expensive items.”
  • “You use money to buy things you need.”
  • “Money means nothing to me.” (I was surprised by this one, but this is coming from one of my students whose parents are more financially secure in comparison to the others.)
  • “You need money to pay bills.”

For the most part, my students had some understanding about money. One even mentioned that her mother was paying Chase, I assumed she was paying off her Chase credit card. This brought up the topic of debt. Many of the students didn’t know what this word meant, so I quickly defined the word for them. One student asked what happened to a person if they didn’t pay off their debt; they were thinking they might go to jail. Since this is a 3rd grade class and I didn’t want to frighten them, I said that going to jail was a very, very slim possibility. That student quite seemed relieved! (Many of my students’ parents have been laid off or are economically challenged.)

Because our reading is focused on money for the remainder of the school year, I’ve started “paying” the students with play money to keep them motivated and on task. At the end of the day, they are allowed to purchase a candy, pencil, or treasure box item (all priced accordingly). I’m noticing that most of my students can count their coins, as I’ve told them I’m not counting for them. A few are clueless as how to count out the amount they need, often having to return to me two or three times before they have the correct amount. I’ve also seen a few disappointed faces when they realize they don’t have enough money for an item.

Only two of my students seem to understand the concept of “saving.” They save their coins, then trade them in for a paper dollar bill. A couple of other students have caught on to this strategy, something they are supposed to learn about by the end of the unit. I’m planning on introducing an “expensive” item later on in the unit to enforce the idea of saving for something big. I might also have to throw in a little monkey wrench and “charge” them a fee for disrupting the peace, or something to that effect. Those students without any money saved will be in debt. The goal of the unit is to have a basic concept of money; money is used to purchase things you need and want, it’s important to save money, money is valuable, and money is something that is earned (a couple kids thought you just go to the bank and they give you money and some have asked why you can’t make your own money!…All good questions.)

Have you asked your children or nieces and nephews what they think money is? Did you save your money as a kid? Do you pay your kids an allowance? How does this help children understand the value of money?


  1. What an interesting post! I had a 4th grade teacher who also ran a little “store” that we bought items from when we were rewarded with “classroom currency” for doing well.

    I also remember that as a child, when my parents were having financial difficulties, I asked my grandmother why they just didn’t go to the bank to get more money? (That’s where *I* thought it came from — you just go in and get more whenever you need it!)
    .-= RainyDaySaver´s last blog ..Can You Reject an Interest Rate Increase on a Credit Card? =-.

    • @Rainy Day Saver – It’s funny how teacher tips and tricks are universal! The store is definitely motivating the students to stay on task, keep their areas clean, and get their work done. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mr Credit Card Reply

    Kids know what you know and tell them.

    If they ask for anything, and you always buy them, then they will know nuts about it.

    But if you sit down and are constantly explaining why you are spending on this and not that, sooner or later they will know what you tell them!


    • @Mr. Credit Card – I agree. Based on the responses from my class, I’m thinking a lot of their parents aren’t spending much time with them explaining money or finances. Some are still having problems counting out 50 cents or a dollar in coins…argh!

  3. @Debra – That’s a wonderful idea! I haven’t yet had them make their own products, they are earning money for good behavior and clean areas. I just introduced the idea of paying me for bathroom usage (they’re constantly interrupting my lessons to go and I need to put the kibosh on that!) and disrupting the peace (or calling out too much.) However, I might need to incorporate the idea of making a product to sell at Open House. Thanks for the idea!

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