Susan Wilkerson's fifth grade classroom at Stand Watie Elementary School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma might be the only place on earth where anyone enjoys making mortgage payments and paying taxes.
Each week, the class role plays various personal money management activities they will face as teenagers and adults. Students start off by picking careers, which determine their salaries. They also make choices about where they'll live, how they'll get around, how big a family they'll support, and what other expenses they'll have.
Volunteer mentor Linda Vernon then assigns realistic salary and wage figures to students' career choices to make their choices practical and real to every student. "The students see that the jobs that require a good education offer more opportunities for financial success," she says. That's crucial, Ms. Wilkerson points out, given how many of the students come from a low-income background.
Once their "career" is started, the focus turns to paying taxes using a checkbook, budgeting, and planning for emergencies. Ms. Wilkerson and Ms. Vernon help them pay special attention to their spending choices, and they explore various options and help them understand the impact of their spending.
"The students get so involved in paying bills and making choices that they don't realize how much they are learning, or how this will benefit them later in life. The practice they get in reading and math at the same time is just a bonus," she says.
Because all the activities use real-life amounts, budgeting can get tricky. "They pick from a grab bag that either gives them extra money to work with or an unexpected bill. They find out how quickly they run out of money with only regular expenses. When a surprise bill comes along, they learn how frustrating it is to try to make ends meet," Ms. Wilkerson says.
She also notes, "It's so rewarding to see the kids' faces when they start really understanding money and making life choices. Linda and I both believe that kids are never too young to learn about taking care of their money."