Teaching Kids About Money

Counting Money Games

Teaching kids about money can be a lot of fun because it is such a practical skill and kids are so motivated. Counting money makes first graders feel rich and powerful! Take advantage of your 6 year old's love of money as you help teach these valuable life skills.

What Kids Need to Learn

  1. First graders should be able to compare groups of coins to say which group has the greater amount.
  2. They should be able to count coins by starting with the largest and adding on to make a total.
  3. They will learn to use the least possible number of coins when counting to a total amount (making 45 cents with a quarter and 2 dimes instead of 9 nickels, for example).

Putting the Math in Context

In kindergarten, children learned the names and values of the most common coins, counted coins up to about .20 cents, and compared small groups of coins to say which was greater.

In first grade, kids will count using all coins, and will use skip counting and adding on to count money instead of counting each cent individually. They will count and compare larger quantities and learn to use the least number of coins.

In second grade, children will count money up to $5 using a combination of coins and dollar bills. They will learn to add and subtract money and make change from a dollar.

Why It's Important

From an early age, kids see money everywhere, and know that having money is essential to getting the things they want and need. In addition to learning more advanced counting strategies (counting on and skip counting), they will become flexible as they learn to count to the same number in different ways, with different groups of coins. Teaching kids about money also offers an excellent opportunity to help kids practice place value skills.

Math Challenges Kids Might Face

When teaching kids about money, you can expect to see some of these challenges in first grade:

  • Counting coins randomly. When 5 and 6 year old kids are counting money, they go in any order: a penny, then a nickel, a few more pennies, a quarter. They need to learn to start with the highest value coins and work down to the smallest, so they first count the quarter, then the dimes, and on down to the pennies.
  • Counting one by one. First graders can skip count by 10s and will start applying this to counting money. So a child with a quarter and two dimes would count 25, 35, 45 and not have to count each number individually on fingers.

Math Help That Could Make the Difference

  • This is a great time to start saving your family's spare coins in a large jar. Not only will you give your child a concrete example of saving, you will also build up a number of coins readily available for counting.
  • Practice skip counting by 5s and 10s and go up to 100. You can do this in the car, waiting in line, or anywhere you think of it. Count by rote sometimes, and other times physically count nickels and dimes.
  • When teaching kids to count on using skip counting, start with just pennies and dimes. When they get good at this, add nickels, then add quarters last.
  • Show kids how to count quarters up to a dollar: 25, 50, 75, 100.
  • Play fun money games together. Kids will get important math practice almost without realizing it!

Whiz Kids

Is your child itching for more challenging counting money activities? Add more coins to count, and help kids count money up to $5. Throw in a couple of dollar bills to mix it up a bit. Make two piles of coins, count them, see which is greater, then add the piles together. Play counting money games to encourage their joy in their newly acquired money skills.


One final thought: remember that teaching kids about money does not happen overnight. If your child is struggling with some counting money concepts, don't push it. Just keep offering lots of opportunities for your child to play with coins at his own pace, either on his own or in fun math games. The last thing you want is for your child to start feeling anxious about what he does not understand, so keep it fun and lighthearted, give plenty of practice, and he will start to get it when he is ready.


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Thanks to Seattle Red Cross for the use of their photo.



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“ Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. ”
~Rabbinic saying