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Talking to children about money and poverty

calendar28 October 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Talking to children about money and poverty

Many of the ideas and beliefs that filter how we see the world are formed in childhood. More often than not, these ideas come from our elders; our parents, our grandparents and other wise adults we meet as we make our way through our lives. The secret joke of adulthood, however, is that we find out we aren’t magically made wise when we become adults. Most of us are just trying our best with what we already know and making it up as we go along. So, what do you say when you have to explain to children something as sensitive, complicated and nuanced as poverty in the UK?

This is the challenge faced by Mike Haslam of The Family Trust, who has begun running CAP Money Courses for nine to eleven year olds in the primary schools he visits. Often, as with most things, the first step must be to teach empathy.

‘Making the material personal is what engages the children, when they see that it is not just theory but part of our life,’ Mike explains. ‘There is a roleplay about a family who get into debt when the single mum has an accident and has to stop work. It looks at the effects of debt, asks how people get into that situation and how it might feel.’

Activities like this help the children to empathise with the family situation and also understand that, with the help of organisations like CAP, there is a way through the difficulties.

‘We mention that debt is not an issue for just a few areas of society,’ Mike continues. ‘People may have a big house and car, but for whatever reason they may be struggling to keep up the payments for them. We mention about mortgages and rent and how these are priority payments, along with food on the table, because, as some children have said, they may lose their home. Some children taking part in the roleplay have actually mentioned “the men who came to the house and took things away”. We know from our own familiarity with the areas we work in and conversations with teachers that there are always children somewhere in the school for whom debt is very real.’

Beyond empathy, the children also learn a lot of basic, practical financial skills.

‘We have designed a leaflet for each child to keep after the sessions, with a diagram of the key points of income, expenditure, saving, etc.,’ says Mike. ‘It has some fun activities to do with money. They get to rip bits out of a catalogue, plan and budget for a holiday weekend, play a savings game with ping-pong balls and coffee cups, with an element of competition by earning points for their team. The material is pitched at an appropriate level, so all the concepts introduced are understandable. However, it does come as a surprise to some that, if you want to buy something, you can’t just go to the bank and get the money out – it has to be earned and put in there first!’

At the schools Mike visits, many teachers recognise that they were rarely taught about money in their own childhood schools, if at all. Many say they would have appreciated such lessons in school, outside the basic mathematics taught. Financial capability and understanding is a skill that’s vital to everyday life. That’s why here at CAP, together with people like Mike, we’re doing our bit by training people to run the CAP Money Course for kids and bringing money education to the forefront.

Find out more about what’s involved in running the CAP Money Course.

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