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Third Graders Make Sense of Money at 4-H Program

by Cassie Clark

Photos by Cassie Clark


The young would-be homeowner was like many today who want to buy their first home. She pondered the options presented to her, but the math wasn’t working out. She wasn’t going to have enough money to afford a mortgage. So, then she considered an apartment but even that was going to be a stretch for her budget.

Turning left and right to get the attention of two friends, she found a solution. “We all could be roommates,” she announced.

Whether that will ever happen, only time will tell.

After all, these first-time renters are only in the third grade. They were participants in Kid’s Marketplace, a money management exercise presented by the 4-H program in Washington County, Va. This is the third time that the program developed by Virginia Tech University and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service has been offered to third graders at Abingdon Elementary School, according to Bailey Dotson, a 4-H program assistant in Washington County.

In this exercise, students were given a “job” at random. The salaries ranged from $180 to $400. Some careers were common, like a dentist, who made $180, while other options were not so common, like a magician, who earned $200. The students then made their way through four different stations, making financial decisions and recording them on their budget sheets to mimic what it would be like to manage their finances as an adult.

At the housing and furniture station, students were made to choose between options like an apartment versus a house, having roommates versus living alone, and borrowing furniture versus buying used or new.

They were also given a choice of three different insurance packages: medical, dental, and vision, or “eye insurance” as the kids called it. At the grocery and pet station, students had to choose between three different grocery packages, each more expensive than the last.

However, by far the most difficult decision for many was whether to own a pet. They were given four choices: a hamster, a kitten, a bunny or a puppy.

At the fun and clothing station, students were given the choice of adopting an activity such as bowling or swimming and buying clothes, new or used: all at a price. The students had to make regular stops at the savings and transportation station to get more money out of the “bank,” as well as choose their mode of transportation.

They could choose public transportation for $15, a motorcycle for $20 and other pricier rides, which also came with a monthly payment. Apparently some third graders acted just like a man in a midlife crisis because they chose to buy a sports car even when they couldn’t afford it.

Each time they made a purchase, the students were required to tally up their purchases to see how much was left in the “bank.”

Participating students were asked throughout the exercise about the differences between wants and needs, a concept that often produced this statement: “A want is what you want, a need is what you need.”

Michael Lester, a third-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Abingdon, believes that this activity benefits the students greatly. “It gives them a chance to make economic choices and understand that sometimes they have to give things up depending on their money situation,” he said. Lester explained that the third grader students focus mostly on ancient civilizations in their social studies classes, learning about how they used resources and developed their economies in ancient times, but that he teaches a unit on the economy of Southwest Virginia at the end of the school year. “We’re able to compare and contrast,” he said.

The students believed that the experience was beneficial as well. Brody Hagy, a student in Michael Lester’s third grade class made practical choices such as buying a four-door sedan and opting for medical and dental insurance, but when asked if he believed he was ready to be an adult, he gave a simple, “No.”

The students were required to save at least $5. Some met that goal, and others went above what was required. Alyssa Kopp, a student in Ashley Harris’ third grade class, saved $7 as a dentist. Another student in Harris’ class, Ashlyn Dorn, started with $300 as a scientist, and ended the activity with $131. Most methods for saving money were built into the activity, but a couple of students got creative. One student asked, “Could we split the bunny?” when trying to save money at the pet station.

For Alyssa, the exercise was eye opening. “I learned that you should save your money and you should buy things that you need and then use the leftover money for things that you want…I think I’m ready to be a grown-up but it’s a very stressful grown-up life.”

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