Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Economics for Kids

I can’t begin to understand the current economic situation myself, let alone explain it to my kids. But if ever there was a time to bone up on our country’s money system and how banks and businesses operate, this is it. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Work and Family column, even though kids don’t pay the bills, they know when their parents are under stress, and it can hit them hard. So for all you who are scratching your heads over how to explain what’s going on to your children, here are some online resources that can help.

First, some lessons in basic economics. For elementary and middle school students, most economics Web sites deal with concrete subjects such as coins and bills. For instance, H.I.P. Pocket Change from the U.S. Mint has light features like games, cartoon, coloring pages, as well as a more informational timeline that ties money in with history. At the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing site’s kids section you can design your own bill, play trivia games or download an interactive animated tour through that looks at the new security features in currency and shows how Secret Service Agents are trained to look for counterfeiters. But if you’re interested in learning about economics concepts – including supply and demand, interdependence and the stock market – the Social Studies for Kids site explains things in a way preteens can understand.

One site that aims to teach kids how markets work is MinyanLand. The site, (which requires free registration, including parent’s email), aspires to a very lofty mission: “to help address the gap between classes created in part by the financial illiteracy of many in our country, if not the world.” Players choose a character and receive $50,000 in MinyanMoney and a condo worth $50,000. They can increase their virtual bank balance by “doing real-life chores your parents assign,” playing games, and keeping their creature healthy. They can also spend money at the mall, renovate their home, invest, and earn “incentives” for charitable giving. The site is a joint project of Minyanville (a private financial “infotainment” site featuring articles for families on explaining “depressing times,” afterschool jobs and allowances); the non-profit National Council on Economic Education (which offers classroom resources, many free); and the Kaboose network of family Web sites.

For tweens and teens most money sites talk about budgets, credit and spending wisely. Don't Buy It, a companion site to the PBS series, focuses on media and shopping smarts for 9- to 11-year-olds. It All Adds Up is somewhat creaky, decade-old interactive site that lets high school students see what it’s like to use credit to buy cars, electronics and other consumer items. I Buy Different comes from The Center for a New American Dream and the World Wildlife Fund. It helps kids make connections between the products they use and the environment, and suggestions actions they can take to make a difference in their community and across the globe. Many more wonderful links from places like MIT, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, have been collected at the South Plainfield Library’s Homework Links Consumer Education & Money Management page.

Finally, financial news outlets for adults can also help parents understand and explain what’s going on. Marketplace Public Radio recently spoke with Kiplinger's Janet Bodnar, for example, whose column “Money Smart Kids” has many useful pointers in its archives. The Motley Fool’s newspaper column and website explains stock market happenings in understandable terms, and MSN Money Central contains a useful section with tips on bargains and freebies that will help you and your kids save money. All these resources can be helpful to turn to during these tough times.

Family Online Picks

Wall Street Journal Work and Family Column

H.I.P. Pocket Change

Social Studies for Kids



Don't Buy It

It All Adds Up

I Buy Different

South Plainfield Library Consumer Education

Marketplace Public Radio

Money Smart Kids

Motley Fool

MSN Money Central

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