Teaching Economics in Kindergarten


By Krista Calvin

     I am a kindergarten teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Silverdale Washington. My job is to teach reading, writing, math, art, science and social studies to a group of children who have had little or no experience in a classroom setting. It is also part of my job to teach these little people the skills necessary to be successful learners. Through modeling and instruction, I teach my students how to sit quietly, listen, follow directions and work with others.

     When I began teaching kindergarten three years ago, I did not think it was possible to teach young students about economics and entrepreneurship. Working in an enterprising school that focuses heavily on economic education has taught me that kindergartners are able to learn basic economic concepts, decision making skills, good work ethics and financial responsibility. In adding economic education to my kindergarten curriculum, I believe that I am not only teaching children how to be successful students, but I am also providing them with an economic background that will allow them to one day be productive citizens in our society.

     When it comes to economics, I am not an expert. It is a field in which I have only just begun formal training. Before working at Clear Creek, I never once thought about how to teach economic concepts and entrepreneurship to young children. I attribute most of my success as a teacher of economics to the fact that I started my job at Clear Creek with an open mind.

     During my first year of teaching, I listened to many teachers share their ideas for economic education. I observed other teachers teaching economics and I had the opportunity to work with and learn from two mentors who knew a great deal about economics and economic teaching strategies. These experiences allowed me to grow as an educator. I incorporated many of their ideas into my own teaching and I have now developed many of my own lessons.

     In writing this paper, I can share many things I have learned during my two years teaching economics at Clear Creek. I hope that other open minded teachers will be able to see the value in teaching economics to young people and use some of the lessons with their own students. The ideas and activities presented in this paper were originally designed for the kindergartners in my class. However, I believe they can be adapted and taught across many grades.

     In the next three sections I will attempt to describe the activities that take place in my class during the school year. First I will discuss how I prepare my kindergartners for economic education. In the second section, I will describe the economic concepts that I focus on during the year. Finally, I will explain how I put everything together in order to put together a comprehensive economics program that has all students working and learning in my classroom. At the end of this paper, I have included lesson plans for the six economic concepts that I teach during the year. I hope teachers will find these lessons helpful when planning their own economic curriculum.

Part 1: Setting the Stage for Economic Education

     On the first day of school, many kindergartners come to Clear Creek who have never stepped foot in a classroom before. Because of this, I feel it is necessary to teach my new students the rules, procedures and routines that make my class run smoothly. When my students learn how to sit quietly, raise their hands and complete their work on time, I feel it is appropriate to introduce basic economic concepts. I begin my economics program at the beginning of November. This allows my students two months to practice the skills necessary in order for them to be productive workers. Teachers who work with older students may find that they can begin teaching basic economic concepts much earlier in the school year.

Part II: Teaching Economic Concepts

     At the beginning of the year, teachers at Clear Creek Elementary School are presented with a packet of materials prepared by Keith Lyum, my kindergarten teaching partner, and me. The teaching materials focus on the following six basic concepts to use when teaching econonomics: (Click on the links for complete lesson plans)

  1. Wants

  2. …things we would like to have
  3. Goods/Services

  4. …things we can use and buy/intangible activities we purchase and use
  5. Resources

  6. …provides the means for satisfying wants
  7. Price/Money

  8. …medium of exchange generally accepted because of its intrinsic value
  9. Scarcity

  10. …when wants are greater than the resources available to satisfy those wants
  11. Opportunity Cost/Choice

  12. …the value of the highest foregone alternative/we cannot have everything we want and must choose from alternatives.

     During the year, I teach the economic concepts in the order presented above. However, these concepts can be taught in many different ways. They can be taught simultaneously, or in any particular order.

Part 111: The Kindergarten Marketplace

     In order for students to get the most out of an economics program, I believe they need to have the opportunity to experience situations that resemble a democratic entrepreneurial society on a daily basis. In my class, after all of the economic concepts are taught, I feel it is time to begin incorporating economics in the daily lives of my students.

     I begin by establishing a banking system in my class with my students. I act as the banker and I explain to my students that their job in the classroom is to be model students who follow rules and complete work. In the beginning, students are paid one dollar, or one Orca buck, on a daily basis. Money earned is added to their private bank accounts. Using a banking system is a very valuable teaching tool. The bank helps me to meet many of my school district’s Essential Learnings. My students have to keep track of their money and continually add their money to their accounts on a daily basis. This process helps students in math as they practice sorting, counting, adding and problem solving.

     After students earn about twenty-five Orca bucks, I introduce the concept of paying bills. Every student has to rent a house and a car and pay bills weekly. There were three houses to choose from ranging in price from nine dollars to thirteen dollars. Before students choose their houses, we talk about money and how much money they need in order to pay rent. Each child selects the type of house and car he or she wants.

     Students are given small pictures of houses and place them on a map outside our classroom. Putting their houses on the map gives students ownership of their homes. This is very motivating for my students, because they can go to the map and find their house. Students also get to choose between three cars ranging in price from three dollars to seven dollars. Again, my students and I talk about the weekly cost of the different cars and how much money students need to afford the car they want. Every week each student has to pay rent on a house and a car.

     After students begin paying bills on a weekly basis, it is apparent that one dollar a day is not enough for my students to be able to pay for their homes and cars. Because of this, it is time for students to start manufacturing products and selling goods at the marketplace.

     In my class, students hold a market about once every two weeks. For many days prior to the market, my students begin manufacturing goods to sell at the market. During this time, my students and I talk about many of the economic concepts we had already learned such as, goods, resources, money and scarcity. On the day before the market, students take money out of their bank accounts so they have money to shop at the market. Before kids take any money out, I remind them of their bills, however, I allow kids to take out whatever amount they choose. If students take out too much money, they will not be able to pay their bills during the next billing period. When this happens I put a red mark on their paper and explain that they owe money. Many youngsters learn rather quickly that they should keep money in their account to pay for bills.

     On the day of the market, students who want to be entrepreneurs bring goods to sell from home, such as baked goods and crafts. Students who do not bring goods from home act as workers in the market. Some help sell goods the whole class manufactured, some greet people at the door, some work at a raffle booth and others work at the fishing pond game. After the entrepreneurs and workers sell out, or complete their job, they get to shop at the market with the money they took out of the bank. I do not let them use the money they earned during marketplace.

     Directly following a market, my students and I sit down together and discuss the things they saw at the market. We talk about things that were good and things that were not so good. We also discuss many economic concepts that students experienced at the market. Students often use the language of economics when discussing the market, for example, goods, services, opportunity cost, scarcity and money. Students also get to write about the marketplace. Students go to their seats with a piece of paper and draw a picture of the market and write down what they did and saw. One of the best pieces of writing I have seen is a child who drew a picture of himself selling cupcakes, he wrote money at the top of his picture and spelled it "mune." The follow-up discussion meets many of my district’s Essential Learnings in speaking and listening, because students take turns speaking and listening, make meaning clear and recall details after listening to a speaker. During the writing activity, students draw pictures and they use letters or letter-like forms to depict meaning.

     In the days following a market, students count their money and figure out their profits. When counting money, students sort the bills by ones, fives, tens and twenties. With my help they count how much money they make and graph the results on a chart. This process helps students to count by ones and to skip count by fives and tens. After all of the profit results are gathered and plotted on the chart, students take turns making comments about the graph. They explain how much money they made compared to others. We use this information to determine which items were good sellers at the market and which items were not.

     Economics is a valuable teaching vehicle for me. Working with my kindergarten teaching partner allows me to put together and teach a comprehensive program that incorporates many Essential Learnings into my curriculum. Economics is also a program that I enjoy teaching. Children come into my room on a daily basis and point to the calendar and tell me that Thursday is their favorite day, because they get to sell goods. If you ask me why I like teaching economics, I would say because it allows my students to learn many academic skills, and they get to work at their individual level. Most of all, I would say economics affords children the opportunity to experience real world problems from day to day. If you asked my students why they like learning economics, they would say because it is fun.










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