Updated: May 15, 2021
It was his FAVORITE birthday present.
Bright red with lots of buttons and a cool ‘cha-ching!’ whenever the door opened. He was three and it came from his aunt. A toy cash register to use in all of our different pretend play scenarios. He would carry it around with him to use in the kitchen, the living room, or outside.
He was ready and willing to start learning about the different coins and values even though teaching money to kids isn’t usually taught until much later, in fact first grade in most lists of learning standards.
Like so many other skills and topics, real learning and teaching happens when we enter it through inquiry and are ready to jump on our child’s interest and natural curiosity.
When they ask the inevitable questions of “how” and “why” we need to be ready to meet their interest in age-appropriate, engaging, and meaningful ways. Through experiences that will be memorable and concrete rather than through tedious worksheets or workbooks.
Teaching money to kids can be a really challenging concept, if we rely solely on paper and pencil tasks. It can feel disconnected from anything children know, even foreign or nonsensical to them.
In reality, hands-on activities that teach money are incredibly fun and rewarding, and also the most effective. Connecting the concept of money to the real world and the role it plays in their own life is remarkably powerful and long lasting.
Below we share 5 important learning tips when teaching money to kids and 5 activities or games that go hand-in-hand with these tips. However, this blog merely scratches the surface. If you want a comprehensive math unit for introducing Money and Time, click here to purchase Thoughtful Play Math Unit 8.
If you want a free sample of our activities for TEACHING TIME, here you go: CLICK HERE
This gives you 3 simple & fun activities for introducing time. Start with these and if you want more, head to Thoughtful Play Math Unit 8.
Teaching Money - Tips & Activities
Money Tip 1: As much as possible use real coins when working with money. This allows children to feel and closely observe the differences between coins. Only introduce play money once children can easily identify the different coins.
There is so much to observe when working with coins! They are fascinating to play with and look at closely. Open up the piggy bank or a coin jar and let your child play with the coins inside. Get down with them and play along, noticing features or differences as you do so. Look at the front and the back of coins. Sort them into piles. Feel them in your hands and make note of the different sizes of coins. Engage with them and introduce the names of the coins as you play. “Wow! What a neat quarter you found! Oh, I like that penny!” Encourage your child to touch, feel, and explore the coins in lots of different ways, and as much as possible.
Money Teaching Activity: Coin Pattern Making
Let’s use our coins to make patterns!
Invite your child to make a pattern with the coins. Demonstrate, if needed, a simple A/B pattern and name each coin as you use them (penny, nickel, penny, nickel).
Advance to more advanced patterns (quarter, dime, dime, penny, quarter, dime, dime, penny). Focus on naming each coin as they read/share their patterns.
Extend by creating a coin pattern and inviting your child to continue the pattern sequence.
Further extend by making a mistake in the A/B sequence. See if they can find and correct it (e.g., penny, nickel, penny, nickel, dime, nickel).
Money Tip 2: Remember to say the value of the coins as your child names and organizes them. Casually introduce the idea that different coins hold different values.
Just as we encourage not separating letter names from letter sounds, we recommend always associating the value of a coin with the name of the coin. As your child plays and engages with coins through exploration, gently affirm their growing understanding and add-on to their discovery by stating the value of the coin. Here’s how it might sound: “That’s right! You found a nickel! A nickel is worth five cents!” The more exposure to coin names and values through hands-on exploration and physical manipulation, the greater the likelihood of cementing the coin name and value to memory. Repeated practice, play, and engagement is key. Providing the learning behind the play by introducing coin values at the same time as the coin names helps your child learn each coin in its totality.
Money Teaching Activity: Buried Treasure
Bury 20-25 coins in a bucket of oatmeal, rice, or lentils. You could also bury in playdough for additional fun or to work on finger strength.
Challenge your child to find all the coins and name them as they find them. After your child names the coins they find, mention the value of each coin (e.g., “That’s right! A nickel! A nickel is worth 5 cents. That’s the same as finding 5 pennies!”)
Sort the coins by attributes and count how many of each coin you found.
Extend by counting the total number of coins or determine the total value of the coins.
Money Tip 3: Skip counting by 5’s and 10’s is the foundation for counting nickels and dimes.
Encouraging regular and repeated practice with saying the number sequence for counting by 5’s and 10’s is instrumental to supporting success with learning to work with coins. Provide lots of opportunities to practice counting by 5’s and 10’s as you begin to teach the name and value of coins. Kids also need lots of practice with concrete objects to understand that counting by 5's means groups of 5 items and counting by 10’s means counting groups of 10. In time, they develop a connection between the concrete groups of objects and counting by 5's or 10's. Then, (and really only then), will they truly understand that counting nickels means counting groups of 5 pennies, and counting dimes means counting groups of 10 pennies. Use coins as physical objects and manipulatives to support this practice. Check out our Thoughtful Play Math Songs Playlist on YouTube for some great songs to help your child master the counting sequences for counting by 5’s and 10’s.
Use the activity below to build your child's understanding that counting groups of ten pennies is just like counting dimes.
Money Teaching Activity: Fill the Bowl
Place 10 paper cups in front of your child with 10 pennies in each cup. Explain that each cup is the value of a dime (10 cents).
Invite your child to determine how much money there is all together.
Provide a bowl for them to dump the pennies into. Ask them to come up with a plan for determining the total before beginning to dump the pennies. Remind them there are 10 pennies in each cup. Each cup is equal to one dime.
Math Talk: Knowing there are 10 pennies in each cup, what’s the easiest way to determine the total amount of money (in cents) all together (Ans: Count by 10’s).
Extend by asking your child how many dimes are equal to the total amount of money in the bowl (Ans: 10 dimes).
Money Tip 4: Focus on one coin at a time. If your child is ready, incorporate a mixture of coins.
With any teaching, it is important to respond to your child and what fits them best. A good practice is to spend several days with one coin at a time to explore its value, how to use it and count with it. If you find that incorporating more coins is overwhelming or confusing, then stick with just pennies, introducing nickels only once your child feels ready. When you create a pretend store, or go searching for coins in rice or playdough, feel free to only include one type of coin and have them practice counting with that coin. For example, you could set up a store and only give your child pennies to use and set the prices accordingly. Gradually introduce an additional coin as they show readiness. If your child is regularly able to name the coin and the value of the coin, and is showing ability in counting the coins, they are ready to be introduced to a new coin. Remember, this is not a race and your child is not behind.
Money Teaching Activity: Nickel Wishing Well
Prep Ahead: Place 20 nickels in a container with water.
We are going to collect coins from a nickel wishing well! There are only nickels in the well. Ask your child, “How much is each nickel worth?”
Have your child use a large serving spoon to scoop out some nickels and count by 5’s to determine the total value of the nickels in each scoop. Continue scooping!
Extend by determining the total value of coins when all the nickels have been scooped out of the wishing well, or mix in other coins.
Money Tip 5: Incorporating money into playtime allows children to practice counting, use money vocabulary, and sets the stage for mathematical concepts like fractions and decimals.
Bringing coins into pretend play is an organic and easy way to embed learning into everyday activities. Setting up a supermarket, ice cream shop, or toy store are all great ways to create high-interest activities with lots of hidden teaching. Whether your child acts as the shop owner or the customer, they are comparing prices and using terms like “more” and “less.” It encourages counting and lends itself to simple addition and subtraction practice. It even strengthens their knowledge of needs vs. wants and making choices about what they can buy with the money they have. As always, playing beside them and extending the conversation to include the names of the coins is ideal.
Ideas for how to embed a store into the play that is already happening could include setting up a “Materials Store” for construction where they need to purchase different LEGO pieces for their build. It could also mean visiting the “Art Store” to purchase the types of paints, brushes, or glitter they want to use in their painting. Flip the script and have your child be the grocer and set prices for the items in the kitchen that you will need to cook dinner. Empowering your child to create price tags provides them opportunities to think about an item's value as well as provides meaningful writing practice as they work on number formation.
Money Teaching Activity: Snack Shack
Prep Ahead: Place out different snack items and label with price tags under $1.00 (e.g., cheese stick: $0.25, cookie: $0.17, carrot sticks: $0.35).
Welcome to the Snack Shack! Help yourself to any of the items here! You can purchase more than one item but you need to make sure you have enough money!
For extra fun, use a cash register and apron. If you don’t have a cash register, make one out of a cardboard box.
Math Talk: How did you determine which coins to use to pay for your snacks?
Extend by incorporating quarters. Adapt by using small toys instead of snacks.
Teaching money to kids is a ton of fun with children. Using real coins and lots of hands-on activities makes the learning high-interest and engaging. Once you put away the workbooks and the pencils, shift the teaching to happen within hands-on, play-based activities, children can more readily understand how coins work and quickly become fluent working with coins.
That being said, having the space and time to research and develop creative ideas to teach money to kids can be overwhelming. The ideas above are a good start, but are just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are looking for a well-sequenced introduction to teaching money to kids in an open and go format, pick up our Math Unit 8 on Teaching Money and Telling Time. It includes more than 20 money activities and over 20 telling time activities that are hands-on, engaging, and get your child moving. The lessons use materials you have on hand and provide step-by-step instructions on how to carry out each activity. They also provide additional teaching tips and inquiry prompts to encourage math talk and math thinking, as well as suggested read-alouds for each day!
Follow us on Instagram (@Thoughtful_Play) and Pinterest, and check out www.thougthfulplay.org for more teaching tips and activities that teach kindergarten skills through hands-on, engaging, and play-based approaches!
Thanks for reading,
Katie Eichman, M.Ed.