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Teaching the Concept of Money, Part 2

A photo of three train toys, each with a small piece of paper in front of them. Each piece of paper has a different coin and amount on it, such as a picture of a penny and the text "1 cent."

One of my favorite college courses that I teach is about the transition from high school to adulthood for students with autism. One of the topics that we discuss in this class is financial and money-related skills. Many of the students in class shared how they start teaching this skill at elementary ages by having students earn “classroom dollars” for positive behavior that students can use to “purchase” items or privileges from a classroom store. As parents, we often do this too, such as by allowing our children to make small purchases from the store with their allowance money. I think these are great ideas to give a meaningful context to money, rather than just learning it as a “rote” skill (for example, with flashcards). I find that my students learn a concept much faster (and retain it better) if they use it on a regular basis for something that is important to them.

For one of my tutoring students, when I come to his home, I bring with me a box of toy trains that he likes to connect together and play with.

We're working on the values of coins and money, so I started labeling the toy trains with "price tags" and letting him "pay" me for each one (one at a time) and then he likes to connect each one together. After he's "bought" all of the trains, he gets to have some time to play with them.

I started by just using one coin (a penny) and putting out two toy trains, each with a penny label. I also put a penny in front of the student at the table for him to use to "pay for" the train.

A picture of two toy trains, each with a "price tag" in front of them. Both "price tags" have a penny printed on them with the text "1 cent."

I say to the student, "Do you want the blue train or the brown train?" When he answers, I point to the price tag and say something like, "OK, that one costs one penny. Can you give me one penny?" I'll hold out my hand and prompt as needed for him to hand me the penny. As soon as he gives me the penny, I'll praise him and give him the train. Then, I'll replace that train with another one from the box and repeat the process until he has all of the trains he wants. Note: I started by having both trains "cost" the same amount just to get him used to the concept of giving me a coin and getting a train.

Once the student mastered this, I added two different coins on the next day we practiced. I started with a quarter and a penny because these look very different, so it would be easy for the student to tell the difference. I used the same process as above.

A photo of two toy trains, one with a price tag of one cent and one with a price tag of 25 cents.

After the student is successful with this, you can start adding more trains and more coins.

A photo of three toy trains, each with a different price tag in front of them (one cent, 25 cents, and 5 cents).

I like to use real coins for the student to "pay" with, so that he gets experience with real money.

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