Even though money can look very different from country to country, generally speaking, there are distinguishing features that make each bill or coin unique. These features aren’t something your kids should ignore. These are just some of the design elements you can point out to your kids:
- Country Name—This element tells your child where the money is legal tender. The name matters because one country’s currency is not necessarily “good” in another country. If your child travels, they’ll need to exchange the bills or coins from your country for money they can use in the new location.
- Currency Amount—Most bills say how much they are worth, usually written out across the paper as a word, expressed in the corner as a number or both. In the United States, values for bills are on both the front and back, while the value for coins are provided only the back. Your child should be able to recognize coins worth 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, as well as bills worth 1, 5, 10 and 20 dollars. They should know the worth of 50 and 100 dollar bills, as well, but they likely won’t have much exposure to these higher values in real life until they are much older.
- Famous Symbols or Portraits—Most countries feature multiple symbols and portraits on their bills and coins. Each of these has individual historical significance or gets beliefs of the issuing country across. For instance, George Washington, shown on the American $1 bill, served as the first president of the United States. Similarly, the pyramid shown on the back of the $1 bill is meant to symbolize strength and duration. Understanding the hidden meanings behind these symbols and portraits can give your child a much deeper appreciation of past events and their current belongings or situation.
(Important note: As of the time of this publication (2015), there is a great debate in the United States about whether to put a woman on the $20 bill. This is a perfect example of how money sometimes can be a great tool for discussing current events and social expectations!)
- Phrases—Some currencies do not rely on symbols or portraits to get important concepts across. Instead, the issuing authority writes out the idea as a phrase. In the United States, for instance, bills and coins contain the phrase “In God We Trust.” The Federal Reserve has kept this phrase on American currency despite the many religions practiced in the United States, in part because the notion of religious freedom played such a critical role in the establishment of the country. Some phrases are not in the native language of the issuing country. American bills and coins feature Latin phrases, for example. If this is the case in your nation, have some fun playing detective with your child to show him what the words really mean.
- Signatures—Some currencies show copies of signatures from important figures from the issuing country. American bills, for example, include the signatures for both the Treasurer of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury. These signatures help provide a degree of authenticity to the money.
- Colors and Size—Color adds beauty to currency, but it also has meaning and function. For example, the American $5 bill has a large number 5 in purple on the bottom left corner. This not only helps the value of the bill stand out as a reiteration, but also helps people with visual impairments tell how much the money is worth. Color and size are among the first two elements your child can use to sort money at the start of their money education.
- Watermarks/Security Features—Almost all countries use some kind of security measures to discourage counterfeiting. In the United States, these include larger offset portraits, fine-line printing patterns, watermarks and even color-shifting inks.
Money designs vary by region, but every design is very carefully put together and approved by issuing agencies. These groups pay close attention to the connotations every element can have. Designs can keep history alive, improve kids’ appreciation of the past and present and ensure good security. See how much your child can distinguish from bill to bill or coin to coin!