Academic journal article Social Education

Best Practice Economic Education for Young Children? It's Elementary! Kickball or Four-Square at Recess? Pack Lunch or Buy It? Spend Aunt Edna's $10 Birthday Check or Save It for a Larger Gift in the Future? Do Math Homework or Play Soccer after School? (Raising It in Economics)

Academic journal article Social Education

Best Practice Economic Education for Young Children? It's Elementary! Kickball or Four-Square at Recess? Pack Lunch or Buy It? Spend Aunt Edna's $10 Birthday Check or Save It for a Larger Gift in the Future? Do Math Homework or Play Soccer after School? (Raising It in Economics)

Article excerpt

If you've spent any time with seven-or eight-year-olds, then you know that these are the type of decisions that young children make every day. While all of these questions might not seem, at first glance, to be economic decisions, they are. In fact, any time children choose from among two or more alternatives, they are making decisions that can be examined using what economists call an "economic way of thinking" Furthermore, the discipline of economics is often described as the science of analyzing decisions and decision making. As the examples above indicate, all young children make decisions, often on an hourly or daily basis.

Elementary-age children are also playing increasingly larger roles in the U.S. economy. Indeed, spending attributed to children eight to twelve years of age has roughly doubled over each of the past three decades, and some observers estimated that in 2001, youngsters in this age group controlled more than $40 billion in consumer spending. In addition, children under twelve directly influence $400 billion to $500 billion in family purchases. (1) Obviously, young children are already making economic decisions that have an impact on their own lives.

Why Economic Education?

Given these factors, building a rationale for economic education--even for our youngest students--is not difficult. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Mark Schug argues, "Economic education introduces young people to a highly useful way of thinking about basic issues and making personal and social decisions ... necessary to become effective and participating citizens" (2) James Tobin, a Nobel Laureate in economic science, stresses that economic understanding is essential for all citizens, whether they go on to college or not. (3) Robert Duvall, president of the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE), has gone so far as to state, "Economic literacy is a vital skill, just as vital as reading literacy" (4)

Can Young Children Learn Economics?

Research over the past fifty years has confirmed that children as young as five can develop an understanding of basic economic concepts such as scarcity. (5) Two clear findings have emerged. First, economic understanding is a developmental process. That is, children's economic understanding proceeds through a series of levels or stages. (6) Second, many children have formed a view of the economic world that is marked by misunderstandings based on their own (singular) personal experience. The successful development of young children's economic understanding must take these two findings into consideration.

How to Develop Economic Understanding in Elementary-Age Students

Schug concluded that teachers and teaching materials "need to address the types of confusion that many students have" about economics and the economy. (7) Schug also stressed the importance of identifying "key economic principles and teach[ing] them thoroughly, drawing heavily on personal and family economic experiences of students" (8) How then to do this in the elementary grades? The remainder of this article presents four "best practices" in economic education at the elementary level: using children's literature to teach economic concepts, using Internet/World Wide Web resources, using the Mini-Economy (9) classroom simulation, and using the Financial Fitness for life curriculum. (10)

Using Children's Literature to Develop Economic Understanding

Using quality children's literature to teach economic concepts has long been a widely accepted "best practice" in economic education. (11) Indeed, much of the children's literature already used in classrooms "is replete with economic ideas that enable young people to relate their own experiences to their economic environment." (12)

There are at least three arguments for using children's literature to teach economic concepts. First, literature is a motivational strategy for students. …

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