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Money-Smart Kids/Role-playing with your kids

Published 12:57 pm, Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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What child doesn't enjoy playing school, store or doctor? Imaginative play lets kids learn about the people in their world by recreating real-life people, places and situations.

Studies show that role play is a key component to learning, allowing our children to acquire confidence, build social skills and conquer problem solving. Additionally, children can use make-believe to overcome their fears and visualize their long-term dreams. It's a safe environment to explore the world.

It drives me crazy when my kids whine, "I have nothing to do!" But getting them redirected to something other than the television, computer or video games is often challenging.

I've found that parents can be better prepared to inspire their kids to play make-believe if they keep a prop bucket. A prop bucket is a ready stash of interesting objects: art supplies, fabric scraps and blankets, toilet paper rolls, pots and pans and old clothes. The more unusual, the better they pretend.

Let your kids sift through the bucket, asking them to figure out what sort of game you can play using the items inside. The goal is to get your kids to pull out different props and invent purposes for them in a wonderfully unpredictable game of make-believe

One of our readers had a great make-believe topic that has a direct tie into teaching our kids about money. This father was paying some bills when his young daughter asked him what he was writing on "that colorful paper." Actually, it was a checkbook and he started to explain how he pays household bills every month by writing checks.

He explained that he writes the check and sends it to the electric company. The electric company then submits that check to his bank in return for money. She continued to ask follow-up questions, including "how does the bank get his money?," which led to him asking if she'd like to actually learn how to write a check.

The father soon realized that if he didn't jump on this opportunity to teach his first-grader more, he might be losing a golden opportunity. The father then asked, "Would you like to play make-believe bank?"

Her eyes lit up, so he stopped what he was doing and quickly became the banker. He tore out a few checks from the checkbook, wrote one and then she used that as her template for completing the other two. She then filled out a deposit slip using those three checks and a 10-dollar bill so she could also be depositing cash. He then went behind the island in their kitchen and pretended to be serving another customer while she waited in line to make a deposit.

The benefits of playing this game are many. Pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas. It builds social skills, allowing them to play different characters, in this case a bank customer. Acting as the customer will enhance her language skills concerning money, too, such as the proper terms associated with the bank: deposit, withdrawal, checking and savings accounts.

Finally, it allows them to problem solve by exploring money, a fearful topic for many. They become comfortable role playing and asking questions. And believe me, I've seen many people that have made terrible money decisions because they were fearful of the subject and decided to bury their heads in the sand instead of facing that fear.

Adding make-believe games that center around financial literacy is an amazing way to give your child a hands-on experience in a manner that's both safe and entertaining.

Tom Henske is a Westport resident and partner with Lenox Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York and Stamford. His "Money-Smart Kids" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at thenske@lenoxadvisors.com.