“Reading Makes ₵ents” teaches children the history of money

The National 4-H curriculum teaches young people about money concepts by using children’s literature and related hands-on activities.

In the Michigan State University Extension article, “‘Reading Makes ₵ents’ Curriculum Teaches Children Money Concepts,” we learned that the curriculum combines two key life skills: reading literacy and money management skills. The financial concept addressed in the first chapter of the curriculum is the history of money. Five books appropriate for third through fifth graders are featured along with numerous hands-on activities.

Through the various books youth learn how currency has changed over time in the United States from various items of value (animal hides, beads, salt, etc.) to paper bills and coins. They learn how money is made and follow the journey of a newly minted quarter through a variety of transactions. The accompanying activity encourages youth to examine coins with a magnifying glass and attempt to recognize them when blindfolded.

One of the activities directs the youth to make a journal that they can use throughout the series to record vocabulary words, money facts and chronicle their experiences. Young people also learn how and why some people, called numismatists, collect coins.

In “I Spy a Dollar” youth learn that the look of money has changed over time but that many signs and symbols still carry special meaning. They investigate those details on the front and back of a $1 bill. What is the average life of a $1 bill? Youth may be surprised to learn it is just 18 months.

Another lesson focuses on who decides whose face is featured on the United States’ currency. Once they learn the legal directives of who can be pictured, youth are directed to research a famous person and present their nominations to the class.

The family-time activity in this chapter encourages families to read a story together about a young boy during the Great Depression and then interview family members and write down their stories of what life was like for them during that time. To fit with the book, a recipe for apple bread pudding is provided.

Numerous reference books are identified for each lesson and the youth are encouraged to read and find new and interesting facts about money. Reading selections are suggested for both beginning readers and independent readers.

The activities are designed for youngsters to practice valuable life skills including working in teams, making presentations, creating artwork, making decisions individually and in groups, taking turns, persuasion, etc. Thought-provoking discussion questions help guide the youth through the experiential process.

The curriculum was developed by professionals at Pennsylvania State University and pilot tested by youth in after-school programs across the country. It has been reviewed, recommended and accepted into the National 4-H Curriculum set of professional educational resources. Future articles will highlight lessons from subsequent chapters in the curriculum.

The 194-page guide is available from the 4-H Mall under the curriculum “reading/financial literacy.” Contact your local Michigan State University Extension office for additional information about financial literacy programming for youth.

For more information about children and money, visit the eXtension personal finance webpage.

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