An introduction to financial literacy:
Experts agree that students are currently lacking financial literacy and that schools and families should be held more accountable for showing young people how to manage their money, “to ensure that students make sound financial decisions as adults, financial education experts contend that schools and families should start fostering financial literacy before the teen years” (Allen, 2009, p. 5). As teachers, we must take some of this responsibility as we are consistently touting schools as places that are preparing students for the rest of their lives, and without a curriculum that supports financial literacy we are failing to paint the entire picture of what students will encounter when they leave us. By teaching students about their finances, we can combine this with other lessons about the real world as well, as Supon (2012) points out:
Students have the opportunity to learn appropriate choices relative to purchases which definitely includes prior planning for the money being spent. This enables students to be more analytical and cognizant of the advertising world. They begin to comprehend the difference between luxuries and necessities. In our digital, yet disposal society, students must distinguish between their needs and desires” (p. 68).
The importance of knowing how they are manipulated daily, decision- making and problem-solving, and comprehension of luxuries versus necessities are all important life-skills that would complement the learning of finances within schools. These are skills that we aim to teach in our curriculums anyway, so adding a layer of financial management would be a logical next step.
In order to make this next step possible, schools would have to rearrange students’ schedules and rewrite some of their curricula in order to accommodate this new aspect of learning. However, it would be worth it in the long run as, “Students who haven’t been taught financial literacy are at a disadvantage when they are adults and living on their own. Some may learn to make good decisions on their own, and others are having to learn things the hard way” (Teaching Financial Literacy, 2015). Students must have the ability to use the formative time in their lives to make small financial mistakes that will not affect them for the rest of their lives, as opposed to when they are adults living on their own and could cause themselves or their families true turmoil. In order for this to work in an appropriate way, teachers would have to be trained to incorporate this topic into their classes. Math classes would be the most obvious place to insert lessons regarding this; however, English classes could easily use literature that ties in showing characters making choices regarding their money. Social studies, history, psychology, world language, and science could all have potential connections to this addition to the curriculum as well. It is unfair that we are ignoring something that will be such a huge part of our students’ lives, and will affect them daily, and this should be changed. So many students would benefit from becoming an active participant in managing their money early on and would take much of the pressures off of them of having to figure this out on their own, particularly if they are not being taught or getting a lot of support in this regard at home. We need to increase our involvement in allowing ourselves to teach students about their finances and what that is going to look like for them as they leave the classroom and become successful adults who must interact with the world around them, and a large part of that interaction has to do with their financial literacy and understanding of how to manage their money.
(2015, June 28). EDITORIAL: Teaching financial literacy in high school imparts valuable lessons. Lubbock Avalanche Journal (TX).
Allen, R. (2009). Financial literacy: An imperative in economic hard times. Education Update, 51(2),1,3,5.
Supon, V. (2012). Helping Students to Become Money Smart. Journal Of Instructional Psychology, 39(1), 68-71.
Books Regarding this topic- for use in grades 2-5:
- Allen, N. K., & Doyle, A. (2015). Once upon a dime: a math adventure. NY, NY: Turtleback Books.
This book is one in a series of “math adventures.” It is told from the point of view of a young boy who likes to help Farmer Worth to take care of his farm. One day, a strange tree appears on the farm, both the little boy and Farmer Worth not knowing how it came to be. As it grows, they discover that it has pennies in each of its flowers. Farmer Worth then goes on a journey, with his future wife, and the young man is left to take care of the farm and does just that; he fertilizes the tree with various animal droppings, helping it to grow, and it does, growing dimes, quarters, and eventually dollars. Farmer and Mrs. Worth return from their adventures and tell the young man that the money is not the most important thing.
This book has wonderful illustrations, that truly add to the story. They are done in fantastic watercolor and are eye-catching. The font is easily accessible for the level of reader, and the characters, while not diverse, are well developed with strong morals and do travel to places outside of their own culture.
This book could be used in the classroom to introduce monetary concepts. It teaches the three-step problem-solving process in a way that is fun for students because it is embedded within an entertaining story. The topics of what coins are worth more could be discussed with younger children, as well as what people do in other countries for money. A more metaphorical approach could be discussing the definition of success, as Farmer Worth decides he is content with growing dimes, rather than money that is of more worth, strictly monetarily speaking.
- Axelrod, A., & McGinley-Nally, S. (2009). Pigs Will Be Pigs: Fun With Math and Money. Paw Prints.
This book takes place in the home of a family of pigs. The mother pig has just gone grocery shopping, but all the food is missing from the refrigerator after the piglets eat it. The pigs then want to go out to eat together, but they have no money between them, so they go searching for some throughout their house. They find enough to go to their favorite restaurant together and enjoy a nice meal. When they return home, they find that their house has become a mess, hence the title of the story.
This book includes abundantly colorful illustrations, tying in the décor of the Mexican restaurant where the Pigs eventually eat. It also includes an artful use of dialogue that is formatted correctly.
In terms of introducing financial literacy, this book talks about specific amounts of money as the pigs are finding it; students could add it up as the pigs find it to see how much they have. When the pigs finally do arrive at the restaurant and ask the waitress about the specials, an illustration of the menu is included. Students could discuss what they pigs are able to order based on the amount of money they have after figuring that out. They could discuss their reasons for ordering different combinations of food using the different amounts of money the pigs would be able to afford. Lastly, the book includes pages at the end that illustrate the amount of money each of the pigs found during their hunt. These pages could be used for various activities teaching the themes of the text as well as financial literacy.
- Baratz-Logsted, L. (2009). Annie’s adventures. Boston, MA: Sandpiper.
This book is the introduction to the octuplets, Annie Huit, and her sisters, who are lovingly referred to throughout the series as “The Sisters Eight.” Their parents have gone missing, and they need to figure out how to fend for themselves. They discover that they each have some sort of magical power, that they must harness in order to find their parents. The reader is kept interested throughout the story as the girls figure out how to fend for themselves, and a touch of mystery is included in notes that continually appear that are seemingly clues as to how to find their parents.
This book does a phenomenal job of dispelling gender stereotypes, as these eight young females succeed at what they are trying to accomplish. There are also pictures interspersed throughout the text so it would keep young readers’ attention, even when being done as a read aloud.
This book could be utilized when introducing the concept of financial literacy because the girls are left on their own for literally everything. Annie ends up splitting the duties between them, but they still need to manage to pay the bills, how to get food, how to interact with adults (and them not finding out they are fending for themselves), and other adult scenarios. Students could talk about how the sisters need to manage their money to ensure that they do not run out before their parents are discovered.
- Garay, L. (1997). Pedrito’s day. Toronto: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Pedrito lives with his mother and grandmother, and his father routinely sends money from where he is working. Pedrito longs to borrow some of these funds to buy a bicycle. He works in the market shining shoes, and one day is asked to run errands for an Aunt. He runs into a large problem when he misplaces the money she has given him after stopping to play soccer. Pedrito ends up replacing the money with his own, and because he has done the right thing his mother and father decide to help him purchase his bicycle.
This book is artfully illustrated and shows the Latin American marketplace. They also show the details of people’s faces and homes, allowing the reader to become immersed in the story. It displays a wonderful message about honesty and how doing the right thing pays off.
This book could be used in conjunction with My Rows and Piles of Coins as the plot lines are very similar, with young boys wanting to save to buy bicycles and wanting to do what is right within their families. Students could compare and contrast the Latin American marketplace with the African one. This book could be used in order to teach students that working hard and saving their money is worth it for an end goal. Pedrito engages in the correct actions for himself and those around him, and this allows him to become more prosperous both in his relationships and financially.
- Godfrey, N. S. (2002). Neale S. Godfrey’s ultimate kids’ money book. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.
This book is informative, but still appropriate for elementary-school aged children. Godfrey speaks to children about important concepts that they may otherwise not be introduced to in their daily lives such as credit, investments, currency around the world, and other monetary concepts. Children will also be introduced to how to handle their money in terms of earning it, saving it, spending it, and sharing it. Checks and electronic banking are also touched upon.
Godfrey makes her book student-friendly by including pictures, illustrations, photographs, charts, and text that is informative, yet still engaging. She is also culturally responsible within the text, discussing various countries’ currencies. The book is also split into various chapters by topic, so it is user-friendly in terms of making it what one would need and does not need to be read in a linear fashion.
This book would be useful in the classroom, as many of these topics are not typically included in the curriculum, yet they are important for students to be introduced to at an early age. Students should be introduced to the concept of managing their own money, and what systems work best for them. Godfrey also discusses the history of money, and how banks keep track of everyone’s, so there are lessons within this book that may appeal to many different learners within a single class.
- Johnson, D. B. (2003). Henry builds a cabin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Henry, a very determined bear, is based on Henry David Thoreau and shares his real-life counterpart’s affinity for a life in which a person becomes one with nature. He desires to live in a cabin in the woods and is soon being critiqued by many friends and acquaintances as to the lack of space he has. However, he is quite content, and after the cabin is finished he is able to live a healthy and prosperous life.
Colored pencil and paint are used to convey the joy that Henry feels when living his life to the fullest in his cabin in the woods. The character is well developed, even though he does not spend a great deal of time interacting with other characters. The overarching theme, too, that one is constricted by their material possessions is present without being overpowering. Students will once again have the message conveyed to them that having more money does not always coincide with being happier.
Scholastic has a wonderful rendition of this book that animates the illustrations that are so well done. It could be used to capture the attention of a younger audience who may need audio and visual in order to fully comprehend the meaning of this story. It also has pictures from Henry David Thoreau’s life interspersed that match up with what Henry, the bear, is doing. Students would be able to talk about the idea of happiness, and what that means to every individual. Henry is able to show his friends that one can have a successful life without spending a lot of time earning money.
- Loewen, N., & Jensen, B. (2005). Lemons and lemonade: a book about supply and demand. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.
This book tackles the very mature concept of supply and demand in a way that children can understand. It also uses humor, which makes learning about economic terms more fun and enjoyable. Karly, the main character, opens a lemonade stand when she is bored during her summer vacation. Her mother explains to her how business really works by talking about capital, gross profit, net profit, marketing, supply and demand, and competition.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful; with the text and pictures truly complimenting one another on the page. There are multiple pages where the illustration is the main focus, with the text being part of the paint on the walls. This is a brilliant way to allow for both pictures and text to shine as the story is being told.
Using this type of literature would make a lesson in economics much more engaging. Teachers could lecture to their class regarding these terms, but it would not be nearly as memorable as hearing them placed within a story framework. Kids would also readily relate to being bored on summer vacation, having a great idea, trying to make it work, and being in competition with other kids around their age.
- Mollel, T. M., & Lewis, E. B. (2000). My rows and piles of coins. Boston, MA: Produced in braille for the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped by National Braille Press.
Our main character, Saruni, is given money to buy something at the market after his mother has had a successful day. He decides that he would like to buy a bicycle because his father has been teaching him how to ride and he wants to help his mother when she is participating in the market days. The audience soon discovers he has been saving money in a special box that he arranges in piles and then arranges the piles in rows. Eventually, when he believes he has enough to purchase the bicycle, he is laughed at for thinking that he could afford it with what he had saved. After telling his parents the whole story, and them realizing that Saruni wanted the bicycle to help him, they supplement what he had saved with their own money so he can afford the bicycle.
Students will be able to identify with Saruni on many levels such as learning to ride a bike and saving up for something they want. However, it will provide them with a multicultural experience, illustrating the markets of Africa where Mollel grew up. The illustrations are done in beautiful watercolor- some even looking like photographs upon first glance. Students that have grown up in the United States would benefit greatly from seeing this book and identifying with someone of their own age, but not necessarily of their own culture.
First, this book could be used in the classroom to teach the writerly strategy of repetition, as it is so well done. In terms of financial literacy, students can discuss the difference between needs and desires. They may also talk about when to spend their money, when to save their money, and when it is best to do a combination of these things.
- O’Neill, A., & Sanchez, E. O. (2007). Estela’s Swap. Lee & Low Books.
Estela would like to sell her music box at a swap meet in order to take dance lessons. However, after a huge gust of wind blows all of the work a woman near her has done, trying to prepare to sell flowers, Estela gives her the music box instead so she has music to listen to while she recreates what has been destroyed.
This story is multicultural, as it is about a Mexican-American young girl. Readers will get a sense of her culture, but also of the universal characteristics that all people share. It does a wonderful job of being culturally responsible as it touches on the subjects of the Spanish language and traditions. The illustrations are acrylic and demonstrate the beauty of the culture alongside the words. The Spanish translation of this book is also readily available, which would make it an excellent choice for a classroom that includes ELLs.
The financial literacy aspect of this story would be a wonderful one to share with a class too. It touches on bargaining, bartering, and trading. Much like the other books on this list, it also places emphasis on connections between people being more important than money, and Estela allows for readers to learn this lesson through her compassion and generosity.
- Reynolds, M. (2013). Saving for the future: an introduction to financial literacy. South Egremont, MA: Red Chair Press.
This book is set up to ask rhetorical questions of very young children. It starts off with the idea of saving, and it provides different ideas as to why people save money. It then moves into a second chapter on how people save and concludes with a chapter on when to use those savings. It readily speaks to the difference between wants and needs in a way young children will grasp. It also provides a glossary of terms and other resources for more information.
This book is brightly colored and full of photographs. The photographs have fun, attention-grabbing borders surrounding them. Students will relate to seeing families wanting to go on vacation, kids earning money from having small chore-like jobs, and going grocery shopping with a parent. This book also does a great job representing diverse people in various situations throughout the book. It is also set up in an extremely user-friendly fashion with a glossary, other useful resources, an index.
Students will be introduced to the concept of saving for the future, which will help them with forethought and money management skills. It shows them that even though they are young, they can start having great financial habits now that will benefit them in the future.
- Schwartz, D. M., Kellogg, S., & Johnson, B. (n.d.). If you made a million. Norwalk, CT: Weston Woods Studios.
In this straightforward children’s book, you as the reader, are given tasks to complete for specific amounts of money. Schwartz has very clearly laid out the equivalents of different coinage (“five pennies is equal to a nickel”) and the totals go up from there. This book lays out how to earn, save, spend, and even tackles the concepts of interest, writing checks, and mortgages in a way that kids can understand.
It has illustrations that are informative right alongside the text. The pages are set up in a way that children will be able to correlate the exact amount of money with the sentences that are telling what is going on in the picture; the pages are set up portrait style, allowing the images and words to be parallel to one another. The usage of a wizard throughout the tell the “story” is also a fun way for kids to connect with the concepts presented in this informational text.
This book would be great to teach kids about number sense and how to count money. Students will grasp the concept of just how large, actual large sums of money are, by having visual comparisons such as a million dollars being equivalent to the amount of nickels that would fit inside of a school bus. Through reading this book, kids will get a better understanding and sense of their own currency and how to put it to proper use.
- Wells, R. (2009). Bunny money. United States: Paw Prints.
This book is intended for a very young audience, as Max and Ruby, two bunnies, decide what to buy their Grandmother for her birthday. Ruby, who has a wallet full of money saved up, asserts that they are going to buy her a music box with a skating ballerina in it. As the story unfolds, the bunnies get themselves into various predicaments that cost them a portion of Ruby’s money. They ended up not being able to afford the music box, but the store keeper suggests a beautiful pair of earrings for their grandmother.
This book has excellent illustrations that show exactly how much money the bunnies are spending, and exactly how much they have left. The text is clear and appropriate for a kindergarten, first, or second-grade audience and the characters are developed perfectly for their own ages and this audience as well.
In the classroom, this book would be excellent for teaching students the value of money. Children often don’t understand this concept, and buying a present for someone is something they could certainly relate to. It also portrays the worthwhile message of unanticipated spending occurring even after trying to save for an item. Lastly, it shows that items are often more expensive than what was originally anticipated and compromises have to be made; the book does a wonderful job of showing that these compromises often end up positively and that we should not overspend in order to get something over a specific budget.
- Williams, V. B., & Marcuse, A. E. (2011). A chair for my mother = Un sillón para mi mamá. United States: Hatch.
Rosa, the main character of this story, has a mother who is working tirelessly at a diner in order to support her family after all their material possessions are burned in a tragic fire. When her mother arrives home from work, Rosa adds the tips she has brought home to her own earnings in a jar that they keep. She counts all of the money that her mother has made, separating it into various piles of different coins. Grandma also contributes to their earnings, and they are saving for a chair as a family to replace the one that was burned in the fire.
This book has a wonderful message of community and empathy within its pages, as the community joins together to help Rosa and her family. The illustrations greatly add to the text, with the framing connecting the pages from one to the next. It explores the themes of family relationships, dealing with having very little with which to survive and saving money after doing hard work in order to get an end result. It also displays strong female characters, with whom young girls and women will definitely be able to relate.
This book could be used in the classroom to show the power of family bonding and support, even after a tragedy. In order to introduce the concepts of financial literacy, teachers could talk to their students about the way Rosa counts her money and saves for something specific in her jar she shares with her family. They could also talk about goal setting and saving for something that is important to a family member of their own.
Additional Books for Young Adults and Older Readers:
- Orman, S. (2007). The money book for the young, fabulous & broke. New York: Riverhead Books.
Orman has set up her book in a way that is user-friendly. Each chapter opens with a few pages of her explaining a financial term or concept, and then advice in regards to that specific idea. It then moves into a section that has specific questions with answers to them; as high schoolers do not have an extremely long attention span, it would be great to be able to focus on the questions to which they truly need immediate answers.
This would be the perfect book for high school students. They will relate immediately to the title, and the cover is eye-catching as well. The set-up would be conducive to using it in the classroom, as it would be easy for collaborative learning based on interests or needs to occur.
It discusses the basics of finance such as FICO score, credit cards, how to pay bills, first time home buying, and general money management. One of the reviews from a reader on Goodreads says, “Deep financial debt is, in my opinion, an unnecessary epidemic that is not being properly addressed at an early enough age for most. Kids also need to know the difference between “good” debt (like educational loans) and “bad” debt (like credit card abuse); this is something that Orman addresses in detail in this book, among many other things.” This is at the heart of the issue that will be examined.
- Collinge, A. (2009). The student loan scam: the most oppressive debt in U.S. history, and how we can fight back. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Alan Collinge is writing for a more mature audience, but high school-aged students could benefit from this text and others like it. This text describes the government’s involvement in student loan programs, and how they, as well as the private companies, at their core, are trying to make money.
This book is somewhat repetitive but does make valid arguments that students entering higher education need to be made aware of. The author, while having a somewhat bitter title, does have valid arguments for students to consider before making the decision to enter higher education, but also before making the choice about where to go. While it is informative, it gives little in the way of presenting solutions, which could be useful in the classroom as it would generate detailed discussions as to how students can look to the future to solve this problem.
Classroom teachers could use this text to talk about bias of an author, or the need to research multiple points of view in order to make the most informed decision. That being said, students need to be well-informed about the debt the debt they are accruing before entering higher education. Books like this may help them to make more informed choices about whether college/university is truly the right path for them, and it may also help with future planning.
Teaching Scenario- Reading Unit on Financial Literacy:
2nd grade reading/math unit
Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells
A Chair for my mother by Vera Williams
If You Make a Million by David Schwartz
Pigs Will Be Pigs by Amy Axelrod
Estela’s Swap by Alexis O’Neill
Lemons and Lemonade: A Book About Supply and Demand (Money Matters) by Nancy Loewen
This collection of five titles could be used as a cross-curricular study that combines an ELA unit, a mathematics and a social studies unit in terms of studying economics. In the ELA portion of the study, the teacher and students could talk about responsibilities to oneself and one’s family, the different definitions of success, the idea that money cannot buy happiness and material possessions are not what should be most important. There would also be a distinct focus on financial literacy and learning how to manage one’s money and some of the vocabulary and knowledge that goes along with this. Teachers could guide students in gaining perspective that could end up being invaluable to them as they grow and start to gain an idea and appreciation of what their family does to take care of them, and how they will one day need to take care of themselves.
Overlapping with this idea, teachers could touch on the economic implications of what many of the terms within these stories mean such as gross income, supply, and demand. Lastly, teachers could use this most obviously to teach mathematical concepts that will lead to their students being most knowledgeable with their money. Students can learn how to count various types of coins, add money, how to earn and then save money, and when it is okay to spend their money. Perhaps one of the most pertinent lessons to be learned from this collection, that crosses the line between ELA, math, and social studies is the difference between wants and needs. This is an important lesson to learn early in one’s life and teachers would be doing their students a great service by including these books, that have such practical messages in them, into their lessons.