Teaching Preschoolers About Money: An Interview With Beth Kobliner


A while back, I got to interview Dr. Brad Klontz about H&R Block’s new Dollars & Sense program for teaching kids about money. While not everyone agreed with him, most readers did agree that we need to be doing something, whether it’s through the schools or at home, to educate our children about smart money practices. (See also: 6 Random Things I Have Taught My Kids About Money)

Beth Kobliner, author of “Get a Financial Life” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, is taking another tactic. She’s the brains behind Sesame Street’s latest efforts to help parents teach even their very young children basic financial principles. I got a chance to talk to her about the importance of financial education, how to start early, and what it was like working with Elmo.

Sarah Winfrey: Why did you feel the need to create a video like this, highlighting personal finance for young children?

Beth Kobliner: Financial education is so important right now! Americans are still reeling from the recession. Most adults are baffled by personal finance. And new research shows that even preschoolers can learn about money. So Sesame Street, in partnership with PNC, worked with experts in the field like me to find a way to help families. The final product, "For Me, for You, for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing, and Saving," includes videos, guidebooks for parents, and activities for kids — all for free.

Where do you think most parents struggle the most with teaching their kids about money?

I think the biggest roadblock is fear. Parents think: "How can I teach my own kids if I don't know it myself?" But you don't have to teach your 3-year-old about derivatives! You don't even have to be good at math. Sesame Street's initiative isn't about four-quarters-equal-a-dollar, it's about how you spend, share, and save that dollar.

What is the most important lesson parents can teach their young kids about money?

Two words — delayed gratification. The best way to explain it to children is to tell them that sometimes you have to wait. Remind them that you wait for the swings, you wait for your turn in line, you wait for your birthday…and sometimes, when you really want something, you have to save up until you can buy it.

What is reasonable to expect young children to learn about money? How much can parents effectively teach them at this age?

Kids as young as 3–5 years old can learn so much! Parents should look for everyday teachable moments. Going grocery shopping? Explain needs (half a dozen apples for $4) versus wants (a bag of cookies for the same price). Having a playdate? Encourage your child to share his shovel in the sandbox, and you’re planting the seeds of charitable giving. On the way home? Tell your child that you're going to a gas station a few blocks away because it has a better price.

How did using Sesame Street characters add to the personal finance lesson you're teaching?

Sesame Street characters like Elmo and Cookie Monster add so much levity, joy, and value to this project. After all, who better than Sesame Street, trusted by millions of kids and adults worldwide, to teach young kids and put parents at ease — especially for a topic like this, which many find overwhelming.

And last but not least, what was it like working with Elmo?

I know it’s a cliché, but it really was a dream come true!

Watch Beth’s video, "For Me, For You, For Later." Watch it with your kids, and see what they get out of it. Then, try out some of these discussion questions:

  1. Why does Elmo like the Stupendous Ball?
  2. Why does Elmo try to get more money after he sees Stupendous Ball?
  3. What are you saving your money for right now, or what would you like to save for?
  4. What do you save your money in (piggy bank, jar, etc.), or what do you want to save your money in?
  5. Why doesn’t Elmo buy ice cream after the machine is fixed?
  6. Why is Cookie Monster sad?
  7. Why does Elmo give Cookie Monster $1?
  8. If you were Elmo, would you give Cookie Monster $1?
  9. Why does Elmo choose to buy the Fantastic Ball instead of the Stupendous Ball?
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Meg Favreau's picture

I'd love to hear whether anybody has watched the video with their children, or if you have another way you've used to teach your preschooler about finances.

Guest's picture

My parents taught me about finances as a preschooler. Mom just had me put stamps on envelopes while she did the bills, and carefully explained how the bills worked, and about checking/ saving accounts. She repeated this many times until I could explain in my own words to Dad how everything worked. It took a while, but I am continually amazed that most people never get this explanation from their parents by high school.