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Early childhood

In early childhood, it’s a little too soon for children to understand abstract financial concepts. Still, they are practicing skills and attitudes that will serve them well in school and in the future: planning and problem solving, staying focused, and waiting for what they want.

Featured activities for early childhood

Activity preview

Money sort

Practice sorting everyday places into categories: Where do you need to use money, and where don’t you?

Activity preview

Pretend play

Use suggested scenarios and props to get creative and act out activities, like going to work or going shopping.

Activity preview

Money as You Grow book club

Use children’s books to learn key money concepts through reading, play, and quiet one-on-one talks. For children ages 4 to 10.

Money as you grow: Conversations and activities

“You see people working every day doing different jobs.”

  • Describe your job to your child.
  • Walk through your neighborhood or town and point out people working, like the bus driver or the police officer.
  • Talk about people who start their own businesses, like clothing stores or restaurants.
  • Encourage your child to imagine how she could run her own business by setting up a lemonade or cookie stand.

“You may have to wait before you can have something you want.”

  • When your child is standing in line for a turn on the swings, or looking forward to his favorite holiday, point out that sometimes we have to wait for things we want.
  • Find a jar or can, and label it for saving. Suggest that your child put some of the money he gets into the saving jar, so he can buy a toy or treat when he has saved enough.

“Win or lose, you get better at games when you practice.”

  • Games and activities can help your child build skills that might not seem related to money management – but they form an important foundation.
  • Playing musical chairs or Simon Says help your child pay attention and make quick decisions.
  • Guessing games like 20 Questions or I Spy can help your child exercise her memory and think creatively.

“There are lots of things that are valuable, and some of them cost money.”

  • Ask your child to identify different coins and their value.
  • Discuss things your child enjoys that are free, such as playing with a friend or going to the library.
  • Point out to your child items that cost money, such as ice cream, gas for the car, or clothes.

“You need to make choices about how to spend your money.”

  • When you are out shopping, point out essentials such as food and clothing, and ask your child to describe items that he may want but are optional.
  • Talk about how your family decides what to buy and what to pass up. Which is more important, buying cookies or fresh fruit? Soda or milk?
  • Think out loud about your budget and how you mentally divide up a finite amount of money into sections for food, rent or house payments, clothes, and optional items.
  • Include your child in some of your small decisions. For example, at the grocery store, think out loud about why you pick one item over another.
  • Give your child two dollars and let him choose which fruit to buy.
  • When shopping with your child, ask yourself aloud: Do I need this item? Can I borrow it? Would it cost less somewhere else?

What’s going on with your young child, developmentally?

During their early years, children:

  • Exercise the mental muscles known as “executive function” that lay the foundation for future decision-making.
  • Develop their abilities to stay focused in the face of distractions, control impulses, think flexibly when things change around them, and process many pieces of information at once.
  • Grow and build on their mental skills quickly and intensely.

Find out more about how kids develop skills, habits, and attitudes that contribute to their financial well-being as adults. 

Put it all together with our downloadable summary of financial development, along with supporting activities and resources for early childhood.

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