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We recently connected with Sam Renick, a long-time fan of financial literacy for young people. He wrote these great words of advice to parents for talking to kids about finances, and generously agreed to let us share his tips here. The original post can be found here.
Mastery requires repetition, so does the development of great money habits. A Cambridge University study on adult money habits indicates to be effective you need to start teaching personal finance concepts before the age of seven.
Delivering financial education programs for over 13 years has also taught us to get results you need to employ a variety of strategies and mediums. Why? To keep messages fresh. To keep learners engaged. To reach children who have different primary learning styles. Some learners absorb and respond better to visual instruction, others audio, still others, by hands on doing, etc.
Here are five field-tested strategies and tips that will work for you or anyone who wants to effectively bring financial education to children.
- Use story books and videos. Stories and videos appeal to both visual and audio learners. My guidance when using storybooks, just do not read the books. Bring stories to life by acting them out. Kids will love it and you will, too. It sends children an important second message–reading is fun. When reading to groups make the stories interactive. Ask learners to repeat key phrases or concepts throughout the story. This keeps them engaged. Also, feel free to put your storytelling on hold and ask questions. You do not have to wait to the end of the story to do this.
- Use songs. Almost everyone likes to sing or tap their toes to a catchy tune. Even better, music is a powerful learning tool. Although songs have almost universal appeal, they are extra attractive to audio learners. Here is some spectacular news. You can use songs even if you sing off key and clap off beat like me.
- Use games and activities, including arts and crafts. Activities and games are for those who like to learn by doing. One activity I enthusiastically recommend is creating a personalized savings jar with a goal stated right on the jar, perhaps in glitter. I then suggest counting coins out loud. Have kids place the coins in the savings jar. Then have them shake the jars to produce a ca ching ca ching sound effect. Why? It’s fun. Striving for a goal should be fun, even though it requires effort and discipline. Additionally, it provides a powerful visual. It tangibly demonstrates how savings accumulate. Seeing your savings grow is a big part of the joy of saving. Make sure the savings jar is transparent.
- Use conversation. Language is an enormous part of life. It shapes our thinking and feelings. Be cautious though. Conversation can be dangerous, particularly if it turns into a lecture as opposed to a two way dialogue. When conversing with kids, ask lots of questions, like what do you think? When kids are unable to clearly express their thoughts, help them. Give them choices to select from. Conversation is a wonderful way to personalize lessons and add emphasis to points. Do not be bashful about trying difficult words with children. As a Rice University study on language revealed, there is a 30 million word gap between children raised in low- versus high-income homes. That has a substantial impact on their futures. How is a child to know saving money, goals or lists are important if no one talks about or demonstrates them? One technique we use when introducing new words to kids, is to share two or three synonyms along with the word. For example, if you use the word save, you may also say “we keep, hold onto, store, put away for another day.”
- Use journaling, writing and lists. These tools will stir up kids’ cognitive skills and empower those who are quiet and less expressive.
Finally, keep in mind the following: (1) learning is typically best when active; (2) practice makes perfect, and (3) there are no replacements for enthusiasm and authenticity. Kids will largely mirror your behavior. If you are enthusiastic, they will be enthusiastic. Kids forgive a lot including singing off key and clapping off beat, when they sense your message is genuine.
Sam X Renick is an author, songwriter and financial educator, and founder of the social enterprise “It’s a Habit.”