My husband keeps this play check on his bulletin board at his desk. Our daughter gave it to him many years ago when she was about 4 years old. (She is 18 now.) She used to love to play “pretend” and I am sure she had a precise reason for giving her Daddy a check for $50. Her imagination enabled her to be a mommy, a teacher, a chef, a dentist, a dog walker and a grocery store clerk, among many, many other imaginary careers. One of her favorite toys was a toy cash register. She kept it filled with play money, old tickets, discontinued checks and the little plastic credit card samples that come in the mail with credit card offers. (Note: coins (play or real) can be a choking hazard so supervise your kids carefully). As I was looking at this check recently and reminiscing about our little girl, I started thinking about the money concepts that can be learned and practiced through preschool play.
When I was a preschool special needs teacher, I used a lot of dramatic play simulations to teach concepts. For example, if we were leaning about nutrition, I would set up a grocery store for the kids to play in. If we were learning about transportation, I would set up an airport area with small planes or a garage setting to repair toy cars. By playing with them and entering into their play world, I could extend the learning that was taking place by asking questions or modeling behaviors. For example, in the grocery store, I might ask about recommended fruits or healthy choices that I could fix for dinner. The kids would bring me the items and then I could gage their knowledge of nutrition. They didn’t view this as a quiz or a lesson; they just thought I was playing with them. However, they remembered the concepts that we practiced or talked about during our play sessions. The concepts became real for them.
So…how can we use preschool play to set the foundation of financial literacy? Play with your kids. Enter into their play world and introduce money concepts while you are playing. Here are some ideas:
Restaurant: Set out some play food, paper plates, cups, paper and markers. Ask your child to help you make a menu for the restaurant. You can cut out pictures from magazines or draw the food items. Write the name of the item on the menu. Then ask your child how much each should cost. There is no right or wrong answer. Just have fun with it. Maybe an ice cream cone costs a gazillion dollars in this restaurant. Remember…these are preschool kids and you are having fun! Then take turns being the customer and the chef. When you are finished eating your delicious meal, make sure you ask for the bill and pay for it. As your child gets older, you can try different scenarios, such as saying that you have $10. What is available on the menu for $10? Or introduce the concept of counting back change.
Carpenter: If you have a child that loves to play with plastic tools, then this is the career of choice! Gather the plastic tools and a few empty boxes and some play cars. Tell your child that your garage needs to be repaired and ask if they know a good carpentry service! Let him hammer and saw on the box until it is “fixed” and the cars can park in the garage. Be sure to ask how much he charges for the carpentry service. Maybe ask if he prefers cash or credit.
Clothing shop: Gather up the doll clothes and the dolls and set up a shop. One person is the parent who is shopping for clothes for the doll. The other player is the shop owner who shows the available clothes for sale and discusses the cost of the clothes. You can make simple price tags for the clothes with masking tape.
Car Wash: This idea came from my friend, Susan. Let your child take some toy cars to bath time. You can make water proof “money” by cutting crafty, foam sheets into rectangles. Offer to pay your child one dollar for washing your race car (must have gotten dirty on the Nascar race track today). The cool thing about this activity is that the wet dollars will stick to the bath tub wall!
Airport, Bus Station or Subway station: This is so much fun, especially if you have a large box. Set up a ticket counter with tickets, cash register and pictures of destinations. The box (or a couch) becomes the plane, bus or train. Make sure you buckle your seat belts because those drivers (or pilots) can often get crazy.
Bank: A box can become a vault or an ATM. Have a large supply of old checks or pieces of paper, play money, play plastic cards, ink stamps (preferably washable ink!). Customers can deposit money, withdraw money, ask for loans, etc. They can even stash their valuables in a safety deposit box.
Town: I love this outdoor activity and did it quite often with my kids. Take some chalk and draw a large circle in a spot where your kids can ride their tricycles, scooters or little cars. The circle is the town. Then draw some symbols for different town locations:
- Dollar sign for a Bank
- Ice cream cone for a Sweet Shoppe
- M for McDonald's
- Star for the Police station
- Apple for grocery store
- Gas pump for a gas station
The kids follow the road and drive around town. They may go through the drive through at McDonalds and order lunch or stop at the gas station to pump gas in their car. Maybe they have to stop at their place of business and pick up their paycheck. Then they go on to the bank to deposit the check. We usually used small stones or sticks as the money.
Most importantly, have fun with your kids. And, every now and then, while they are playing, play along with them and throw in some money concepts. You’ll get to have a great time and your preschoolers can learn about money while playing with Mommy or Daddy.
Do you have more ideas for teaching money concepts to preschoolers? Please share your ideas in the comments.
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