Dollar-Wise, Penny-Foolish

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School lessons don't reflect the lessons learned about money in the real world, according to University of California researcher Mary Brenner.

In the classroom, kindergarten students are first introduced to pennies, Brenner notes, and are exposed to nickels and dimes later in the year. They learn the rest of the coins and the dollar by the end of 2nd grade.

Outside the classroom, though, children learn money as a system that begins with the larger—and to them, the most important—units, the dollar and the quarter. Brenner observed 184 purchases made by young children in local stores: Dollars and quarters were used in 68 percent of the purchases, and pennies were almost never used.

There is yet another difference. In elementary school, children are primarily responsible for identifying the names and values of coins. Children are asked to count coins as objects: They must identify six nickels as six nickels rather than as 30 cents. In 2nd grade, they begin to add up groups of coins: A dime, a nickel, and two pennies makes 17 cents. But that isn't how children shop, Brenner observed. She noted that children seldom add up large collections of coins to purchase an item with exact change. Instead, they tend to pay more money than an item costs and get change: a dollar, say, for a 75-cent comic book. They soon learn that the predominant process is not addition, but subtraction, breaking down large denominations to find out how much money is left once a purchase is made.

Textbook portrayals of money also don't mesh with reality, Brenner contends. In textbooks, prices are impossibly low. Textbook exercises often use sums such as 23 or 56 cents, while stores generally deal in rounded amounts such as 50 cents or a dollar.

According to Brenner, inconsistencies between school-related and marketplace lessons about money cause some children to lose skills that they once had. One boy told her, "I don't know quarters anymore because we don't do them in kindergarten."

Other children realize that school exercises are just that—exercises that have little intrinsic interest or meaning. "They start to really dissociate the way they learn in school from what they do outside," Brenner says. "And they don't necessarily value the way they learned it in school."

Vol. 01, Issue 01, Page 38

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