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What’s A Penny? A Valuable Tool to Change Behavior & Teach Economics at the Same Time

I was at a book fair and overheard a kindergartner ask the librarian, “What’s that?” She replied, “That’s a penny.” Then he asked, “What’s a penny.”

The question was shocking at first, but made sense because this child never handled a penny. He only knew that the dollar bills in his hand were what he needed in order to get the book he held in his other hand. He had no idea what was behind that dollar. There was no connection to the 100 pennies it took to get the dollar, or that he could trade ten of those brown things for a dime.

The concept of decimals was easy to teach 25 years ago, because children knew that .10 represented 10 cents, which was 1/10 of a dollar. But today, the lack of understanding once derived by handling coins and trading for dollars has made some abstract concepts more difficult to grasp.

For our children to become savvy consumers, we need to offer experiences that once was a part of our lives and have disappeared because of currency changes. We also need to add consumer awareness, since so many children are being exposed to technology advancements that make them victims to subliminal strategies designed to gain and sustain their attention while capturing their dollars.

Parents can begin by using pennies to reward children for tasks completed or desired behavior changes. A parent wanted her daughter, who didn’t like making her bed, to stop whining, so she told her, “Each time you ask me in a sweet voice and don’t whine, I will put a penny in your jar. When you get five pennies, I will trade them for a nickel. Then when you get two nickels, I will trade them for a dime. Once you have ten dimes, you will get a dollar bill. The dollar bill can be used to pay me to make your bed for one week. Does that sound like a good idea?”

This mom reported back the following week. “I couldn’t believe how making her bed for a week would motivate her to stop whining. She asked me other ways she could earn pennies. I’m going to meet with her every week and find things she can do to earn more money.” This is the best behavior modification strategy I have ever used.

The rewards need to be child driven and the behaviors need to be stated in a positive fashion. Instead of, “Stop whining,” use “I want to hear you ask me in a sweet voice.” Then demonstrate what the behavior would look and sound like.

Please share your results in the comments box and how you used this strategy. You children will learn about the flow of money while you solve some behavior issues at the same.

This exposure to the flow of money can be expanded by taking children to a bank and opening an account where they can save it. Some banks will issue a debit card much like the used to issue checks once an account was opened. The child can use the debit card to buy things on-line and in stores. Unlike checks, the beauty of a debit card is that it won’t work if there isn’t money in the bank to cover it.

I look forward to hearing your stories. Please share them and this post with friends.

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