Start Teaching Your Preschooler About Money Advises LSU AgCenter Family Economics Expert

Ann A. Berry  |  7/14/2005 2:51:23 AM

2005 Back-to-school News

If your child will be entering kindergarten, this will be an exciting time for both you and your youngster, says family economics professor Dr. Ann Berry.

Children are born learners, and there will be many new things to learn. By age five, kids know a lot about themselves and the world. And what money does.

Knowing how to use money, however, can be confusing. Youngsters see people make purchases with cash, checks and credit cards. Berry says you can help your child learn at home about money and especially about your values concerning money.

According to the Thrive by Five curriculum sponsored by the Credit Union National Association, some children will learn to handle money well and be able to avoid problems when they get older. Others will learn to live paycheck to paycheck and be in a constant state of worry.

Children learn by both example and experience. The Thrive by Five program offers the following tips that you can use to teach young children the basic rules for smart money use and prepare them to be wise consumers as they get older.

Reassure your child. Let the youngster know you will provide the basic needs - food, clothing and shelter. If you have a crisis in your family, such as the loss of a job or illness, this message is important for your child’s sense of security.

Look for the "teachable moment." A "teachable moment" is any time that your child is ready for a new idea. For example, getting cash from an ATM gives you the opportunity to explain that to get the cash, you had to first put money in your account with the bank or credit union.

Know when the teachable moment is over. Young children cannot pay attention very long, sometimes only a few minutes. When teaching, stop as soon as you sense your child’s mind wandering.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to explain too much at one time.

Ask open-ended questions. For example, ask "What happened when you took the toy to the checkout counter?" These types of questions help children observe and learn more.

Try new things. Look for ways to change lessons to fit your child’s interests and abilities. You may want to try teaching with a small group of children.

Let children make mistakes. Losing money and being unhappy with spending decisions are more effective lessons than a lecture.

Read together. Books help explain the adult world. Look for these books at your local public library: A Bargain for Frances, by Russell Hoban; Carl Goes Shopping, by Alexandra Day; My First Job, by Julia Allen; The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes and The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money, by Jan and Stan Berenstain. Also, visit the LSU AgCenter’s Web site for more children’s books about money, sharing and saving. Reading books and discussing them gives you a chance to teach your values and beliefs.

Play together. Children learn by playing. Make learning about money fun. Joining your child in play can lead to many teachable moments. "My son loved to play ‘store’ and enjoyed having me be the shopper; he liked being the shopkeeper," Berry recalls.

Watch TV together. Young children cannot understand the difference between programs and commercials. Choose television shows to watch with your child. Talk about the ads and what they are trying to sell. Explain that choosing what to buy is like choosing what shows to watch.

Set a good example. Let your child see you using money wisely. For example, demonstrate how to make a shopping list. Show how you decide which items to buy and how to set spending limits for yourself.

Consider an allowance. Allowances are a good way for children to learn to make their own money decisions and live with them. One of the best learning experiences is for your child not to have enough money to purchase an item and to decide to save for it. Of course, this will take self-discipline on your part, too.

"Your child’s learning experiences this year can be fun and beneficial, especially with your involvement," Berry says.

For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


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Source: Ann Berry (225) 578-3329, or

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