We were at the store and Elena was whining about being thirsty. After a few minutes it became clear that she wouldn’t be distracted. I took her to the water fountain on the condition that she would also try to use the restroom. It was there that she noticed something shiny on top of the toilet paper holder: a dime, or as she knows it, some money. Since she found it, I told her that she could have it. This may be the first time that she has ever had money of her own, no matter how little.
She realized that she wouldn’t be able to hold the money in her fist until she was able to use it to buy something, so it ended up in my pocket. But now she knows that she has some money. She also knows that we use money to buy things. When we don’t have something she will frequently say “it’s okay, we can get another one at the store,” especially when she’s the cause of the loss. We also talk to her about how we use money to buy things, so it seems like she might be ready to learn more about money through experience.
I had an idea which has been rejected by Jenny and universally by everyone else I’ve discussed it with. However, if I wrote only about my good ideas, this blog would probably continue to be updated as rarely as it recently has been, so here it is: I wanted to find something that Elena would want and be able to buy with her ten cents. At the very least, implementation would be difficult, because almost nothing costs that little. Even the superball vending machine at the front of the store requires at least a quarter, and it’s rare to find someplace that sells an individual piece of candy anymore.
That isn’t the main case against the utility of my proposal. Instead, the argument is that Elena is too young to have any sense of scale regarding the transaction, that the main benefit of the experience will be for her to personally experience participation in the economy even if the thing she spends her money on costs more than what she has. Even if we tell her that we’ve also contributed to the purchase, she’s unlikely to comprehend that some things cost more than others.
They are certainly right about why my idea is overkill. Elena’s dime is now safe in a coin purse in my backpack. She knows that I have it, but doesn’t think about it often. The teachable moment of the found money, if it was ever there, may have passed. For me the learning is just starting–I think that Jenny and I have a solid working understanding of and healthy relationship with money, but I clearly don’t know how to pass that along to Elena and Roman in a way that is age-appropriate and accurate.