A Website to Teach Your Kids About Money

Last Updated Jun 22, 2009 2:28 PM EDT

Last week I observed a bunch of three-year-olds in my daughter's preschool class playing a game I'll call "ATM Machine". The children basically took turns taking cash out of a book shelf and one boy even managed to position himself as banker. Seeing this little exchange only hammered home the point for me that kids develop a curiosity about money at a very young and it's never too early to start talking to them about finances.

The trouble is most of us don't know how to start "the talk" -- especially if our own mothers and fathers never had it with us. The problem is so bad that parents tend to feel more comfortable talking to their kids about drugs, alcohol and sex than money, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive.

In past blog posts I've tried to offer some conversation starters by mentioning useful books and websites that can help parents navigate this topic. This morning I came across another resource that you may want to check out. ING DIRECT just redesigned Planet Orange, a site which uses space missions to teach elementary school aged kids about money.

I took a "space mission" of my own earlier today was fairly impressed with the website. The graphics were pretty sophisticated and the site itself offered both learning activities and an arcade with fun games to keep kids with a relatively short attention span fairly engaged.

Planet Orange's focus is on teaching kids how to earn, spend, save and invest money. "Young astronauts" learn these valuable lessons by traveling to different space cities where they can earn money by completing educational activities.

While it looks like this is the type of website kids are supposed to use on their own, I actually think it works better -- at least in the beginning -- if parents play the game with their children and so they can better explain some of the concepts to their little ones.

What I liked: Planet Orange stresses the need to budget and reminds kids that they need to keep earning money for future expanses. It also does a particularly good job giving kids a basic understanding of investing. While they won't necessarily become little Warren Buffets after this tutorial, they should have a better understanding of what a stock certificate represents and why we buy shares in one company versus another.

What I disliked: I really doubt that any first or second grader is going to fully understand all the concepts that are introduced on the website. I think six and seven-year-olds could use a more basic version of the site. I also believe Planet Orange would benefit from a lesson on giving to charity.

Having said that, Planet Orange is really no different from other educational websites that are out there, whether they teach reading or mathematics. We all know our kids won't learn to read simply by playing a computer game. The software is best used to reinforce lessons taught by parents and educators. But there's still a place for them and ING DIRECT's site, especially if parents don't know how to broach the money topic.

How do you teach your kids about money? Would you use a website? Or do you prefer more serious conversations around the kitchen table? I'd love to hear your take.

Money image by Digital Sextant, CC 2.0.
  • Stacey Bradford

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