When the Center for Smart Financial Choices (CFSFC) presents workshops, we avoid telling youth we teach financial education or literacy, words that may make eyes glaze or elicit a negative reaction. Its’ not that we don’t want them to know or understand what we do, however, we have made a conscious choice to give them a quality experience while making their learning fun. Instead we tell them, we teach youth about money; how to get it, how to save it and how to spend it wisely. This approach makes them curious about what’s next.
This summer CFSFC had a different audience for our financial education workshops, children ages 5-10 years old. This required a different approach, especially when you are talking about education beyond high school, paychecks and things you need to pay for to set up a household. We needed to simplify but not to the point of boredom. Our goal was to share knowledge in a fun way.
Younger children love to share, so we began the “Adult for a Day” workshop with questions that required them to raise their hand, such as “who likes money; do you want to have fun; and who wants to be an adult today.” When asked, “do you want to have fun?” everyone raised their hand. However, when asked, “who likes to learn?” there were fewer hands. We had to keep to our promise to make the learning fun.
Each child was paired with someone older, even if only a year, to make a team of two. All members of the team had a role, the older was the bookkeeper and was responsible to keep track and write down how much money they spent, and the younger was the banker that paid for their choices. After a few hiccups, with some of the children telling the adults to keep the change from their $500 bill and confusion about how much to pay, the game got rolling. One young lady of about nine was paired with a little guy of five, she was a good team leader who asked his opinion on choices and let him make decisions. Volunteers are crucial in responding positively to the children’s questions and helping them make choices in setting up their household.
“Adult for a Day” requires each team to spend their monthly net salary from a preassigned career in order to set up their first household. This requires teams to move around the room and visit different budget stations to make choices for their housing, utilities, transportation and recreation. Most of the teams decided they would live at home (lowest cost) although eating out was big on their spending list.
One team came to the Grocery station and admitted that they had no money left for food. They had spent money on a new car and put the maximum in savings despite having a very low income as a Security Guard. We encouraged them to save only for emergencies and to purchase a used car instead. They were relieved to have money for food and $30 left over for spending at the end of the month. When offering advice to another team, I recommended they take the cheap choices. A minute later the kindergarten team member came up and asked, “what does cheap mean?” After a simple explanation, he continued the game. No one ran out of money and for the most part the children were very frugal.
One of the stations is “Life Events” and we use a familiar cartoon character, Charlie Brown, to emphasize what kind of things can happen to kids, from losing a ball game, to not doing well in school or having friends who like to play tricks on them. They are given a choice of cards and need to select one card that might earn or cost them money ($100-200). We selected scenarios children would be familiar with such as not doing homework (-$100); doing their chores (+$100): not eating their vegetables (-$100) or telling someone they loved them (+$200 . This introduced them to the concept of consequences for choices and lead to laughter or groans.
Once teams visited each station, they were encouraged to add up all the money they spent to see how much they had left. Volunteers helped with the math and most teams were eager to do the calculating. A few of the children shared what they learned from the workshop with comments like, “being an adult is hard work”; “you shouldn’t spend too much money”; and one boy told his dad, “buy only the things you really need and don’t buy crap.”
You can see by all the smiles, all 570 of them this summer, we accomplished our goal of making learning fun!
To make learning about financial education fun, you may want to incorporate the following suggestions:
- Keep it simple- use questions to keep youth engaged
- Give them a role to play and keep them moving
- Pair them up with someone younger or someone they don’t know
- Use volunteers of different ages and backgrounds to assist and model being an adult
- Offer choices within the game or presentation
- Present something surprising whether it be a choice, like Life Happens or a consequence
- Expect the unexpected and have fun!
We encourage you to take part in teaching youth about money by volunteering your time or making a personal donation.