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Kids and Money: Fun Games That Teach

Games that teach kids about money must be accessible and enjoyable. That's rule No. 1 for the sudden multitude of developers hoping to spur (and cash in) on the financial literacy movement.

I've given a bunch of online and off-line financial games a whirl and have consistently found that those requiring a lot of note taking and or tedious calculations just won't hold a young person's attention long enough to matter. You're better off getting your kids a simple game of luck like the Game of Life, which may at least leave them with some notion of the value of, say, car insurance.

The exceptions are games that are generally played as part of a school program, where there is a fee and students are motivated to learn. Such online games -- chiefly from MoneyU -- are engaging and highly effective.

But if the goal is to reach millions of kids in their free and fun time and in a way that promotes greater understanding of financial concepts, then the game must be free as well as enjoyable and effective. One of the leading lights in this area is Doorways to Dreams, which is closely linked to RAND, a nonprofit research group that promotes better policy and decision-making in many areas including financial education.

At the first meeting of the Financial Literacy Research Consortium -- dubbed the Mega Conference -- D2D created a stir at its booth. Here's what Dartmouth professor and financial literacy expert Annamaria Lusardi had to say in her blog:

"One of the most popular presentations and exhibit booths was that of Doorways to Dreams. D2D has developed a casual video game, called Bite Club, to teach financial literacy."
D2D and RAND take playability seriously, and they have enjoyed much acclaim with online games like Celebrity Calamity and Groove Nation. Bite Club was inspired by one of the most popular online games ever, Diner Dash, which simulates real-world tension between managing debt, consumption and savings. In Bite Club, Lusardi writes:

"Players must manage a 'day club' for vampires which demands they successfully pay off debt, meet current consumption needs, and save effectively for retirement. The core instructional design teaches the value of three important real world behaviors: (1) saving for retirement, (2) paying down debt, and (3) managing current consumption."

Bite Club and another D2D offering, Farm Blitz, are scheduled for release any day. I'm a little tired of the vampire craze (movies, TV, books, pre-paid debit cards) but eager to nibble at these new games and judge for myself.

Photo courtesy Flickr user derricksphotos.

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