Monday, May 25, 2009

Having a large quantity vs. having a large amount: value

Recently I've written a lot of good blog posts in my head, but I am sorry to report that now that I finally have a chance to sit down and write, they have all escaped my head.

That said, I do have an interesting child development report regarding my son, M.

Earlier this year, I tried to introduce M. to the idea of counting money, and also saving/donating/investing/spending money. I had hoped it would be a math, economics, social justice, and sensory (coin recognition) exercise that we could work through in multiple ways during Montessori as well as through a very small-change allowance. He took little, if any, interest.

However, lately he's begun asking for more things, and I've had to say no quite a bit. Sometimes I have a reason in addition to financial limitations, but not always. When money is the only reason, I've taken an honest, though not (I hope) fear-inspiring, approach with him. "I don't have money for that" is an answer that seems to be satisfactory at least half of the time still, particularly when I can think quickly enough on my feet to redirect his interest to something fun we can do together.

Today he told me he wanted to eat at a restaurant. I told him I didn't have money for it. "Yes you do, you have a lot of money! Do you want me to show you where it is?" he replied. "Sure," I said (I'll admit that I was secretly hoping he'd found some forgotten dollar bills somewhere in the house). And he disappeared into my bedroom. He returned a moment or two later with a jar of change that I generally use for tolls, but that contains mostly pennies. "Look! You have a lot of money here!"

I asked him, "M, do you want to know how much money this is?" and he eagerly nodded his head. We began counting. I told him that a hundred pennies is equal to one dollar. By twenty pennies, he had tired of counting, and left the work to me. By thirty or forty pennies, apparently tired of waiting for the tally, he was telling me, "that is one hundred...that's a dollar." I kept at it, and finally we got to one hundred pennies. There was still a little bit of random change left, including some more pennies, so I counted that too and added it in. I actually was pleasantly surprised it was as much as it was, close to $3.00!

"See!" M. declared victoriously, "we can eat at a restaurant."

So then we had a talk about what $3.00 could buy, and how it is a lot of money in a way, but not a lot of money when it comes to things like eating at restaurants. I got out the kids' "piggy bank" again. I gave the kids the quarters that were in the change jar, and made sure they added one to each section of the piggy bank (it's actually a "cow bank," a Christmas gift for the kids from my mother!): one for saving, one for spending, one for investing, and one for donating. I told them I would give them more when I could. Trying to think of something that would really motivate them, and inspired by my friend Sara's ice cream-allowance connection from when her kids were a bit younger, I told the kids that when they had about 16 quarters, it should be enough for each of them to get an ice cream treat at the corner store.

They were really excited about this, though I worried a bit about whether they could wait as long as it would take to collect 16 quarters. Still, I felt good because it seemed like M. at least had a starting point to make the connection that just because you have a large quantity of coins doesn't mean that you have a large amount of money. It seems like a good basic math and economics lesson.

Then my alternative to going to a restaurant to eat was to take the kids to a new park, in a neighborhood near us that we hadn't explored yet. We had to drive there, and when we arrived, we found an ice cream truck in the parking lot. Yikes! This had M. digging in every nook and crannie of the car, where he found a total of about five pennies, which he insisted could buy him some ice cream afterall! When I finally convinced him five pennies wasn't enough, he took up the idea that he could wish 100 pennies into existence to make a dollar, simply by saying that is what he had. I told him I wasn't even sure if they sold anything for a dollar anyway. It took some convincing for him to let go of the idea, and I was a tiny bit tempted to let him go up to the truck and try and buy something just so he'd believe me. I guess we still have a ways to go, but I still feel excited that he is starting to pick up on the difference between quantity and value.

It makes me feel like giving up my debit card for a bit, so he can watch me grocery shop with cash, and help me keep track of what I am spending. I wonder if I could carry an envelope with a certain amount of cash and coins, and hand him the right amount of money (approximately) for each item I am purchasing so that he can physically watch the amount change as we decide on purchases.

I also wonder if there are any printable charts on the internet that outline for kids about how much it costs to buy a variety of items (from a gumball to an ice cream cone to a toy truck). If not, maybe I'll make him one. Meanwhile, we'll keep counting change when he shows some interest. I'm curious to watch how this kind of knowledge will develop for him.


boatbaby said...

Z is obsessed with coins and spends tons of time each day playing with and counting them. He now understands they can get things and he's trying to figure out ways to obtain these little shiny objects on his own (just blogged about this). Dh and I have been on a cash only grocery system since the start of the year and it's been GREAT for Z. He loves counting out the $ for the clerks (sometimes I give him a budget for things he wants, like $3 to spend at a shop or something). We end up doing counting, simple addition, so much homeschool fun! When I get coin change from the store he gets to keep the coins if he can count them, ID them, add their values, etc.
Have fun, it seems like you have some great ideas!

sf said...

SM, What was that story about the lock box and Christmas gifts when you were a kid???

Sara said...

Darn Ice cream truck! Just when you think you have them redirected ...