This is my unsolicited, child-less advice about what kids should learn about money. Many PF bloggers have been talking about how to teach children about finances, and I think an important issue has been left out of the discussion: basic math literacy.

**An understanding of basic mathematics is needed to understand all aspects of personal finance**: how to balance a checkbook, how to figure the price of an item on sale, how a coupon works, how credit card interest is calculated, how to compare car loans, etc.

By no means do children need to be math prodigies, but **one of the best ways to prepare a child for financial success is to encourage confidence and comfort in basic calculations** — addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Yes, division is also important, but you can get by with weak long division skills because of calculators.

As a young child, I thought I was horrible at single-digit multiplication. Since my mother did not want me to grow up thinking I was bad at math, she found fun ways for me to work on my math skills. In the car, we sang along to tapes about multiplication (I can still sing some of the songs). And now I have a Ph. D. in Applied Math from an Ivy League university — thanks, Mom!

Here are some fun activities and games for children to work on fundamental math skills:

**24** – pick four numbers and try to make the number 24 out of them.

Example: 2,3,4,5

4 * (5 + 3 – 2) = 4 * 6 = 24

**Buzz** – This game can be modified to nearly any level of difficulty.

Easy version: Stand in a circle, and each person counts the next number. If I say “1,” the person to my left says “2,” and so on. Whenever the current number is a multiple of 5, the person with that number says “Buzz” instead of “5” (or “10” or “15”), and the next person goes back to saying a regular number, like “6” (or “11” or “16”).

Difficult versions: Make up 2 or 3 rules. For example: (1) Multiples of 6 — spin in a circle. (2) Prime numbers — clap your hands.

**Estimate how much the grocery food costs** – I think you know how this game goes.

**Sing songs** – Multiplication Rocks has some cute ones.

**Make fake homework assignments** – I do not know why, but little kids love fake homework assignments. Give a few addition or multiplication exercises to the kids just before dinner.

**Mathcounts** – “The mission of MATHCOUNTS is to increase enthusiasm for and enhance achievement in middle school mathematics throughout the United States.”

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Excellent point. I think even if people have a head for things like paying off credit cards on time, etc, they’ll feel overwhelmed by PF without basic math skills.

When I was a kid, my mom was determined I’d know math in my sleep (I wasn’t having any problems, she just wanted to be sure). So she had my dad write a computer program that generated random math worksheets. I’d then do one a day and be timed for accuracy & speed. Started with addition and subtraction, moved on to multiplication and division. At first it was single digits, but I believe they started throwing in double digits…I don’t remember if it ever got to triple.

I wasn’t sure about it at the time but now I’m very grateful. We also had “mental math” days. And “show your work” days.

And as a 4-year-old I had a song about how “equalling [my word for adding] is fun”….this is a whole post in itself.

Comment by Mrs. Micah — August 24, 2008 @ 5:21 pm |

You’re welcome. But 18 years later, some of those songs are still in my head, too. It’s what advertisers aim for.

Comment by Mary Bold — August 25, 2008 @ 5:20 pm |

What a sublime thread

Comment by Alize Christian — August 27, 2008 @ 12:42 am |