By Eric Braun and Sandy Donovan, coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give
Do you think teaching financial literacy to your students sounds risky? Maybe you imagine blank stares and moans of “This is boring!” rising up like the cries of ghosts in a graveyard.
It’s true, financial management may not mean a lot to a kid who doesn’t have many finances to manage yet. The future seems so far away! Kids aren’t wired to worry about it. Besides, the message of finance lessons often boils down to a simple, boring admonition to “save more, spend less.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. April is Financial Literacy Month, and we owe it to our kids to help them establish a foundation of money smarts that will help them now and in the future. After all, the future does matter.
So how can we make money smarts engaging for kids? Here’s one idea: Instead of focusing on saving, play a game in which they get to spend money—on investments.
What Are Stocks?
Start with a quick lesson on what a stock is: It’s a share of a company. When you buy stock in a company, you become a part owner of that company—a very small part. You don’t have any say in how the company does business (unless you own a lot of stock). But you do get to enjoy part of the company’s earnings. If the company does well, then the value of its stock goes up. If the company does poorly, the value of its stock goes down.
For example, say you buy ten shares of stock in the Super Awesome Sneakers company. Each share costs $10, so your shares cost $100. And let’s say lots of people buy Super Awesome Sneakers and the company’s owners run it well. The value of each share might go up. Six months later, each share might be worth $12. Now those ten shares you paid $100 for are worth $120. If you sell your shares, that’s how much you will get. You can sell your shares any time, but the price you get for them is the value of the stock at that time. If the value went down, you will lose money on the sale.
Buying and Tracking Stocks in Class
Once everyone understands stocks, move on to the activity.
- Assign students an imaginary sum of money, maybe $1,000, and have them research and choose one stock to invest their money in. (You may want to do some preliminary research and limit their options to a handful of stocks to make tracking easier.)
- As a class, check everyone’s stocks’ closing prices each day of the week, then calculate the value of students’ portfolios. You can look up stock values at the New York Stock Exchange website.
- On Friday, students write about how their stock did after a week and how they feel about their investment.
- Continue for every week in April if desired, having students write about their results at the end of each week.
It’s imaginary money, of course. But the kids choose real companies. And that’s a big reason why this activity can be fun for them. Have your students choose companies they know about, maybe even companies they spend their real money with, like a sports apparel or tech company. When researching where to invest their money, have kids look at things like how the company has performed historically, if it has recently been in the news for good or bad reasons, and how the company reflects—or doesn’t reflect—students’ own values.
This last part is important, because having money smarts isn’t just about financial security. It’s also about feeling good about where your money goes. If you invest money in a company, you are supporting that company. Allow students to get as in-depth in their research as they are motivated to go. What they find may affect where they spend their real money, too. Use the “Is a Company Responsible?” worksheet for taking notes.
Extensions and Variables
Depending on the age and interest of your students, you may want to make this activity a little more complicated. Here are some ideas:
- Have students invest in more than one stock. For example, require a minimum of five different companies.
- Have students work in teams rather than on their own. The team that makes the most money at the end of the week or month gets a reward of some kind.
- Have students mix other saving and investing options into their portfolios. For example, invest some money in stocks, put some into a traditional savings account (research interest rates in your area), and invest some in certificates of deposit or mutual funds.
Finally, you may want to use the following questions to prompt students’ weekly writing or class discussions:
- Why did you choose your stocks?
- Did your stocks perform the way you expected them to? Why do you think that is?
- All investments involve risk. Is it worth the risk to invest? Why or why not? How can you reduce risk?
Bringing It Back to the Future
Use this investments activity as a springboard to discuss other money management topics such as smart spending, donating, and, yes, saving strategies. At the end of the day, the smartest of money-smarts tips is about saving. This interactive activity can help get kids excited about the idea of their future selves.
Eric Braun writes and edits books for readers of all ages, specializing in academic and social-emotional topics. Books he has worked on have won awards and honors, including the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, a Foreword Book of the Year Gold Award, a Benjamin Franklin Award, and many others. A recent McKnight Artist Fellow and an Aspen Summer Words scholar for his fiction, he earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.
Sandy Donovan has written nonfiction books for kids and young adults on topics including economics, history, science, and pop stars. She has worked as a journalist, a workforce policy analyst, and a website developer. She currently works for the U.S. Department of Labor, developing online tools to help people of all ages meet their career, education, and employment goals. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in labor and public policy. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two sons.
Eric and Sandy are coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give.
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