Before your child can perform any other money task, he has to be able to tell which pieces of currency are which.
For coins, there are a few fun activities that can make the size, color, image and value easier to distinguish.
1) Money Rolling
One of the biggest hurdles kids face when trying to tell coins apart is that they might generalize too much. You might know the generalization tendency from the proverbial “all four-legged animals are dogs” rationale, which tends to disappear as kids get more information that allows for better classification. As an example of how this shows up with money, in U.S. currency, instead of recognizing that each coin has a different person on it, kids might simply see that all the coins have faces and are, therefore, “the same.” To counter this, have your kids roll their coins up in paper money rolls, which are available at most banks and office supply stores. These rolls not only have different colors, but the tubes the rolls create are all different sizes. Kids can easily see if they’ve sorted properly based on how the coin fits in the tube.
2) Crayon Rub
Artists have used the rubbing technique for centuries to create beautiful images. They place an item with an uneven surface under paper and then rub a pencil or other tool to transfer an impression of the item to the paper. This technique, which teachers often use with things like leaves, works wonderfully with coins, which all have their distinct surfaces. Have your child choose a coin and place it under his paper. Then have him rub over the spot where the coin is with a crayon. When he’s done, have him do the other side of the coin. Repeat for the other coins in your currency, and if desired, help your child label the impressions. You can use any color of paper or crayon, but a lightweight paper usually works best for this project.
3) Blindfold Reach
Most agencies that issue currencies purposely attempt to give coins different images and sizes. This way, even people who are visually impaired can tell the coins apart by touch without a problem. Blindfold Reach takes advantage of this. Place a large number of different coins in a bowl. Then wrap a scarf, bandana or other piece of cloth around your child’s eyes, making sure it’s comfortable and that he can’t peek. Let your youngster reach into the bowl and fish around for a particular coin. If he pulls out the wrong one, simply encourage him to try again and ask if the coin he needs is smaller or bigger than the one he picked. You can also take a moment to reinforce other specifics, such as whether the coin has ridges around the edges or which person is honored (e.g., “Which person is on that one? George Washington, right! We need to find Abraham Lincoln.”). If you have more than one child, you can keep score for each kid and make the activity a friendly game. The winner could get a tasty treat or, better yet, a coin or two to keep.
Very young kids typically need a concrete way to think and learn about money—that is, they need to be able to use their five senses with real currency before they can apply what they know into more abstract concepts like using a debit card. Having your kids build coin towers is a visual way for them to grasp how much each coin is worth. You can approach this in two ways. The first is to build a tower with the coin that’s worth the most on the bottom, building up to the smallest value. It’s fine if the size of the coins creates a little balance challenge. In the U.S., for instance, nickels and pennies are both bigger than the dime. Just let the kids have fun seeing if they can keep the tower from tumbling. You also can make comparison towers. For instance, put a dime on the table and then have your child stack up 10 pennies next to it. If you’d like, you can always use a little glue to create more permanent towers that your child can look at for reference in the future.
Before kids really can work with money well, performing basics like saving toward a goal, they need to be able to tell different pieces of currency apart. Techniques such as rubs and tower building provide fun alternatives to traditional teaching methods like worksheets, and they let your child physically work with real coins, offering a more concrete way to learn. Choose one or all of these activities based on your child’s needs.