Toys Help Teach Kids About Money

Zillionaire bank toySince teaching children about money management for the most part falls on parents and not school teachers, you'd think they'd want more than a plastic piggy bank at home to teach an important life skill.

A recent online survey by the McGraw-Hill Companies of 500 parents and 500 elementary school teachers found 93% of parents are teaching their children about money matters at home, and 35% of teachers say they're teaching the subject at school.In a world where personal bankruptcies are up and increasing debt helped fuel the recession, teaching money management can be a daunting task for parents -- some of whom are struggling to save money themselves. "Do what I say, not what I do," may have to be part of that lesson.

"Money is a complicated, charged factor in most people's lives," said Ellen Sabin, author of "The Nickels, Dimes, and Dollars Book: A Wise Kid's Guide to Money Matters," a book that has games that parents can play with their children, such as creating a list of "wants" vs. "needs" for how to spend money.

"Even for the ideal parent who may have the ideal approach to dealing with money," the book has some reminders, Sabin said.

McGraw-Hill is giving away 5,000 copies of the book to students across the country to help the 72% of the teachers it polled who feel they do not have sufficient resources to teach money-related topics to elementary school students.

Personal finance books are a great start, as we reported recently. But since children as young as kindergarten are interested in money, finding something other than a book may keep them more engaged.

One place to start is beyond the basic piggy bank. Every kid probably has one, and when coupled with a savings account at a bank, it's s good way to teach them how to count money and save it for a long-term goal. There are piggy banks and boxes to save money by dividing it into areas such as saving, spending, donating and investing. There are also games using play money, which can give children the chance to handle paper money without worrying if they'll rip it in shreds.

Summit Products sells its Zillionz toys, which are more fun than the typical piggy bank. Its savings banks include a real-money ATM machine, fortune telling banks, and money jars and other contraptions that count how much money is put inside.

I tried out its Zillionaire Personal Savings Machine, a $50 toy that may require mom and dad to save their pennies to buy. After 30 minutes of setup, I created three separate accounts for my daughter to drop her weekly allowance into: spending money, saving for a short-term goal (a Nintendo DS that she wants to buy), and the long-term goal of college. The plan is that she'll take her allowance and put a third of it into each plastic canister, which counts coins as they're put in.

It allows you to set passwords for the child, and parent, and gives quick views of the balances in each account. Resetting it was a little tricky after I didn't put a quarter in quick enough, causing the machine to think I had put a nickel in when I didn't put the quarter all the way into the slot yet. That was quickly solved by learning to push the coin in fast and in fully, not halfway, so it can read the coin correctly.

The Zillionaire also has an optional alarm to remind everyone when it's time to collect an allowance. What it really needs is an alarm to remind the kid to do the required chores so that the allowance can be paid.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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