Financial Literacy

Integrating Financial Literacy Throughout the Day in Elementary School

From math to reading to indoor recess, there are many opportunities to weave financial concepts into existing elementary routines and lessons.

March 28, 2024
Wonchalerm Rungswang / iStock

Earlier this school year, during a social studies lesson about Japan, I explained to my first-grade students that the country uses a different currency than the American dollar, known as the yen. We had been studying Japan for a few weeks, so my students were beginning to understand some of the cultural and geographical differences between countries, as well as similarities. 

Currency, however, was something they assumed would be similar; they were therefore quite shocked to learn that most countries use their own types of money. As our discussion continued, I realized that much financial language was over their heads, so I began to think of simple ways to build financial literacy in the elementary classroom.

The State of Financial Education

Teaching financial literacy is not necessarily a new idea; however, the subject is often overlooked or forfeited in favor of more pressing academic content in elementary curricula. Short of touching on currency values in math, elementary students usually have little exposure to the topic, but this paucity comes at a cost, as teaching financial literacy to this age group can have far-reaching benefits. 

Because teachers may be hesitant to devote time to the topic, or because they may see financial literacy as yet another task to accomplish in their overly busy day, it is critical to find innovative ways to weave it into existing curricula—ways that do not require extra time or explicit instruction. 

Below, I share some implementable ideas that I have incorporated with students. 

Infusing Vocabulary with Financial Terms

Elementary students are constantly growing their vocabulary. Weaving finance-related terms into weekly vocabulary practice can support language skills alongside financial literacy. Even if teachers use a reading curriculum with predetermined vocab, adding one or two finance-related terms can have an impact over the course of the year, growing students’ familiarity with terms like dividend, profit, surplus, debt, credit, and more.

Integration into Reading Instruction

You can choose read-aloud books that include financial language. Simply reading books that use financial language and provide examples of responsible money management (or irresponsible, for the sake of learning through non-examples) can strengthen financial literacy. Examples include simple picture books as well as upper elementary chapter books like The Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies, all of which introduce concepts like entrepreneurship and business sense.

While math curricula typically include some lessons on currency value, using currency beyond these units can boost students’ financial literacy as well as improve number sense. Instead of using the common base ten blocks to practice counting by 10s, try using dimes, or use nickels to practice counting by 5s, to add an element of financial literacy into routine math practice. 

Calculating the ‘value’ of the day

During morning meeting or as a math warm-up, keeping track of the number of school days can also boost financial literacy. Though the activity usually entails using sticks, links, tallies, ten frames, or other simple tools to represent each day, you can instead encourage students to keep track using currency, such as pennies to represent single days, dimes to represent 10s, or a dollar bill to represent the hundredth day, etc.

Financial Topics in Social Studies

You can bring the importance of financial literacy to life while teaching about communities, a common topic in lower elementary curricula, or about the government and economy, common in upper elementary.  

For instance, a kindergarten unit on community helpers could include a lesson about bankers to teach students who manages money and how. Or, a unit on government and/or economy could include lessons on the treasury, reasons for taxes, etc. Units about other countries or continents could include lessons on global currencies as well.

You might even take a field trip to a bank or state treasury to teach kids what these institutions do and to provide real-world examples.

Boosting student engagement with board games and videos 

Keep board games like Monopoly and The Game of Life in the classroom as options for indoor recess or choice time activities. Though students may not have time to finish them, simply having the exposure can prove to be helpful given their emphases on finance.

Along with games, videos are another way to capture student interest. Many teachers use online resources with educational videos like Storyline Online, BrainPop, and GoNoodle as brain breaks or during snack, dismissal, etc. Consider showing videos from BrainPop that range in topic from the history of money to investing, interest, the stock market. For upper elementary, videos from PBS LearningMedia cover financial literacy. 

These short, informative videos are productive time-fillers, as they tend to hold students’ attention—the topics are not entirely academic and have interesting, real-world applications.

In addition to exposing students to the world of finance at an early age and providing a foundation for strong financial literacy, integrating activities like these can support traditional academics; weaving finance terms into vocabulary lessons extends spelling and word knowledge skills, counting currency provides basic math practice, and connections to social studies topics allow students to see the relevance of what they are learning, which can greatly impact engagement.

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  • Financial Literacy
  • Curriculum Planning
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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