Early childhood

In early childhood, it’s a little too soon for children to understand abstract financial concepts. Still, they are practicing skills and attitudes that will serve them well in school and in the future: planning and problem solving, staying focused, and waiting for what they want.

Featured activities for early childhood

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Money sort

Practice sorting everyday places into categories: Where do you need to use money, and where don’t you?

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Pretend play

Use suggested scenarios and props to get creative and act out activities, like going to work or going shopping.

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Money as You Grow book club

Use children’s books to learn key money concepts through reading, play, and quiet one-on-one talks. For children ages 4 to 10.

Money as you grow: Conversations and activities

“You see people working every day doing different jobs.”

  • Describe your job to your child.
  • Walk through your neighborhood or town and point out people working, like the bus driver or the police officer.
  • Talk about people who start their own businesses, like clothing stores or restaurants.
  • Encourage your child to imagine how she could run her own business by setting up a lemonade or cookie stand.

“You may have to wait before you can have something you want.”

  • When your child is standing in line for a turn on the swings, or looking forward to his favorite holiday, point out that sometimes we have to wait for things we want.
  • Find a jar or can, and label it for saving. Suggest that your child put some of the money he gets into the saving jar, so he can buy a toy or treat when he has saved enough.

“Win or lose, you get better at games when you practice.”

  • Games and activities can help your child build skills that might not seem related to money management – but they form an important foundation.
  • Playing musical chairs or Simon Says help your child pay attention and make quick decisions.
  • Guessing games like 20 Questions or I Spy can help your child exercise her memory and think creatively.

“There are lots of things that are valuable, and some of them cost money.”

  • Ask your child to identify different coins and their value.
  • Discuss things your child enjoys that are free, such as playing with a friend or going to the library.
  • Point out to your child items that cost money, such as ice cream, gas for the car, or clothes.

“You need to make choices about how to spend your money.”

  • When you are out shopping, point out essentials such as food and clothing, and ask your child to describe items that he may want but are optional.
  • Talk about how your family decides what to buy and what to pass up. Which is more important, buying cookies or fresh fruit? Soda or milk?
  • Think out loud about your budget and how you mentally divide up a finite amount of money into sections for food, rent or house payments, clothes, and optional items.
  • Include your child in some of your small decisions. For example, at the grocery store, think out loud about why you pick one item over another.
  • Give your child two dollars and let him choose which fruit to buy.
  • When shopping with your child, ask yourself aloud: Do I need this item? Can I borrow it? Would it cost less somewhere else?

What’s going on with your young child, developmentally?

During their early years, children:

  • Exercise the mental muscles known as “executive function” that lay the foundation for future decision-making.
  • Develop their abilities to stay focused in the face of distractions, control impulses, think flexibly when things change around them, and process many pieces of information at once.
  • Grow and build on their mental skills quickly and intensely.

Find out more about how kids develop skills, habits, and attitudes that contribute to their financial well-being as adults. 

Put it all together with our downloadable summary of financial development, along with supporting activities and resources for early childhood.