Too many kids learn about money where they learn about sex - any place but home.
Fidelity Investments, the giant Boston-based discount brokerage, is fighting back with a special program designed to teach children about money.Called "You and Money," the program is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds and uses a series of simple work sheets to hammer home concepts like budgeting, inflation, banking, even career planning and investments.
Originally pitched to elementary school teachers, the free program has been revised for parents who want to use it at home. Copies are available by calling Fidelity toll-free at 1-800-544-5977.
"The message we want to drive home is the meaning of money, and the importance of planning and managing their money in a responsible way," said Robert McGary, manager of the Baltimore Fidelity Investor Center, who has been involved with the program in Baltimore.
It is a message that has proved popular with teachers looking for a way to introduce children to economics. Fidelity distributed "You and Money" to 10,000 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers nationwide last January.
Jennifer Wilkins, who teaches a fifth-grade class at St. John's Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City, Md., used the program in her social studies class this past spring.
"I think this was probably the unit they were most interested in this year in social studies," Wilkins says. "This is real. They like that. These kids are starting to hit that age when they're interested in what's going to help them in the world."
The program grew out of Fidelity's investor education program. The company worked with Curriculum Targets, an educational consulting company, in coming up with a series of teachers' lesson plans and work sheets for classroom use.
Fidelity pitched the program at fourth- through sixth-graders, "about the time most of them begin to earn money through paper routes, baby-sitting," McGary says. Each activity was intended to take up two to three days.
The revised program for home use features a four-page sheet of background material and six catchy work sheets, each of which teach a different lesson.
"What we're trying to do is teach them financial responsibility," says the Fidelity manager, who goes through about one lesson at each week at home with his two children.
The program starts with a unit that helps children define the meaning of money itself. It includes illustrations of different forms of money through the ages and a simple crossword puzzle with clues like "100 pennies" (six letters).
The second work sheet is aimed at making children aware of how much things cost. Working with their parents, the children are asked to fill in the costs of a pair of shoes, a trip to the dentist, a movie ticket and weekly groceries.
After that, the children are introduced to budgeting. They keep a record of their spending over five days, breaking down their expenses for lunches, entertainment, school supplies and other items.
That teaches the difference between spending on essentials and discretionary spending - a tough lesson even for adults.
"We want to get them away from instant gratification and toward setting goals," McGary says. "It gets them initially into the concept of money management."
Another unit introduces children to the concept of inflation. They look at typical prices and salaries in the 1960s and how those items have risen since then. Parents help by telling their children how much cars, gasoline, movie tickets and candy bars cost when they were young.
The children are then taught the basics of banking, working with a sample passbook and learning about interest.
The worksheets wrap up with a section on financial planning and investments. Children are asked to list the special training, equipment or education they would need to become a rock star, Olympic athlete or lawyer. They also get simple definitions of stocks, bonds, earnings and other investment concepts.