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August 09, 2009

Teaching Kids about Money

More and more, money seems to be in the news: government deficits, Wall Street swindlers, mortgage foreclosures. Business schools are starting to require graduates to take an oath of ethics, much like MDs have to take the Hippocratic Oath. Teaching children about money can seem daunting in light of all that, but it needn't be. Learning about money can be fun.

From the very earliest years children see us handling paper money and coins. The coins are different sizes and colors with detailed bas-reliefs of people, date of minting, symbols and more. Copper pennies (you can visit the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia where they are made) can be oxidized and showing a green patina like the Statue of Liberty, or they can be shiny and new. This alone can be fascinating. Pennies are the smallest unit of our currency. Five of them have the same value as a nickel. But two of those "large" nickels are equivalent to that "tiny" dime. And 100 cents = $1. We can also say each cent has the value of 1-one-hundredth of a dollar. That's like slicing a pizza pie into 100 skinny slices and giving your child one thin slice. There's a lot to learn right there: fractions, decimals, word representations of mathematical values.

You can even mix in a little science experiment: Soak a penny in vinegar until it is bright and shiny. Then just let it air dry on a towel. Soon it will oxidize, leaving that green patina. What makes that happen? What happens if you soak a nickel? dime?

Mix in some history, too. Did you know that starting this year, the reverse of the penny will have 4 different designs, chronicling the career of Abraham Lincoln? Did you know that 1.5 million pennies were minted in aluminum in the 1970s because the value of the copper in the coin had exceeded 1 cent? Which famous Philadelphian said, "A penny saved is a penny earned"? (Hint, he's the only person famous enough to be pictured on our paper currency who was never a U.S. president!)

There's much more to learn about pennies. But there's a slew of other coins, as well.

Quarters: Just when you thought you were done collecting a different quarter for each state, Congress passed legislation to create an 11-year program introducing at least 56 of America's beautiful National Parks. This campaign is in an effort to increase awareness and interest in our rich parks system.

Did you know that there used to be real gold coins that circulated?

$500 bills that circulated? What about a $100,000 bill?

Look forward to future articles about what your children should know about saving and spending.

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