Since the first days of school, the children have been interested in currency. Having a currency to buy goods (sticks, stones, etc.) was important as they established different stores in the nature mall. We were most delighted when they began using leaves as currency because there was such an abundance of leaves, and that provided inherent equity among our friends. Anyone could get the money they needed by reaching down and collecting it off of the ground. The nature mall went through various transformations, and sometimes it transformed into an amusement park with rides that require tickets.
In the classroom, we observed that children’s favorite currency were glass gems. Sometimes they were used as treasure or currency for buying meals at a restaurant. They have also been used to purchase tickets for various carnival games that have been created by the children.
At some point, a child decided to start making money from paper in the classroom. Paper was cut up into rectangle-ish pieces and numbers were written on it. Then it seemed like many children were interested in making money, that is, cutting up paper into rectangles and writing numbers on it. It was great number writing practice and fine motor skill practice, and it was natural jumping off point for introducing money math into our math activities.
We started by working on automaticity with sum of 10 math facts. We used our portable 10-frames (egg cartons with 2 sections cut off) and sometimes wooden counters or crabapples or whatever we could find to practice these math facts with manipulatives. We use the cards from the game Tiny Polka Dot to play a make 10 matching game. We used our fingers and played a make 10 game with partners. Finally, we started working with play money 1s, 5s, and 10s. In this way, our work with the play money supported our sum of 10 math work.
As a culminating project for this unit, I arranged for the children to go to Mondragon bookstore to buy used books as presents for family or friends. The students each brought 10 dollars. I thought it would be helpful for the children to have a wallet to put their money in and to keep it organized so we sewed up some simple wallets from felt and yarn that morning. In the afternoon, we set out on an icy walk to the other end of town to do our shopping. We noticed that different surfaces were coated with ice and some surfaces were not coated with ice. It was fun to slide on the icy surfaces!
Once we arrived at Mondragon bookstore, we were warmly welcomed by the owner, SJ, who explained where different kinds of books were in the store and showed us where to look for the prices inside the cover of each book. While the children shopped, they had to make choices about who they would buy books for, what kind of books to buy, and how many they could buy. “If I buy this hunting book for my dad, I will still be able to buy these 2 books, but if I buy this one, I can only buy one more because it cost 6 dollars.” Before they purchased their books, they told me the total cost of their purchases, and if they were getting change back, how much change they should get back. SJ was super generous with her time and gave the children bumper stickers and gifted the school a beautiful, huge book from Life Magazine published in 1955 called The World We Live In.
The children loved this experience and the empowerment they felt buying presents with their own money. As a teacher, it was rewarding to see how this curriculum emerged so naturally from the children’s play and natural interests and provided the children the opportunity to learn important and practical math skills.
“Curriculum should help children make deeper and fuller understanding of their own experience.”-Lilian Katz, Ph. D.