Maybe After A Million Words

words“Maybe after a million words.” That’s a quote from Anne Sullivan in the movie, The Miracle Worker. The movie is about Helen Keller and the governess, Anne Sullivan, who helped Helen learn to communicate through sign language. In the scene Anne Sullivan is explaining to Helen’s mother that signing is like “baby gibberish” and that children do not understand language in the beginning but somehow learn it if they hear it often enough. Anne Sullivan predicted that Helen would be able to communicate, “…. maybe after a million words.”

That’s a lot of words!

I mention this because I believe financial literacy is like any other language and like any other language we need to hear it often to understand it. Young children learn best by observing and mimicking adults. Our children may not understand the concept of credit, money, or savings but they are very good observers and they learn from us. This process is called financial socialization and research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau indicates that children form personal financial habits as early as preschool and these attitudes often carry into adulthood.

So how can we help our children learn appropriate financial behaviors?

Parents are often the biggest and most positive influence of the financial socialization of their children. They can help their children by providing opportunities to learn and interact with money. Have children create shopping lists and help them to comparison shop and select grocery items. Include children in family financial decisions, planning, and saving for goals such as vacation and college education. You don’t have to have a lot of money, in fact children often learn best when choices are limited and they can observe the difference between needs and wants.

Consider reading to your child about money topics. Some good choices are; The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money, (Stan & Jan Berenstain), or A Bargain for Frances, (Russell Hoban)

mary w kayak

A great resource for families and libraries is the Money as You Grow Book Club guide which provides several family activities and more reading suggestions. Also, childcare providers can learn about hands on lessons and receive Childcare training credit by joining us for “Munchkins & Moolah: Teaching Preschoolers to Share, Save and Spend” classes.

Mary M. Weinand is a Human Sciences Family Finance specialist who works with individuals to help strengthen their ability to make informed judgments and make effective decisions regarding the use and management of money.

Mary likes to save for rainy days but carries an inflatable kayak in the trunk of her car for the sunny ones!


Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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