This week I took a Coin Toss Journey with our 12-year-old granddaughter. We went out the front gate, flipped a quarter (it was heads) and headed left. Then whenever we came to a turning point, we flipped the quarter to get our direction: heads, left; tails, right. We spent a fun hour walking along a highway, meandering into a local business, trudging along a railroad track, then slip- sliding down into an arroyo and muddying our shoes while ducking through a viaduct under the highway. Eventually we wound up threading our way between cactus plants and mesquite bushes through a strip of desert between the railway and the river, and we ended up along the east bank of the Rio Grande.
Kids are so fascinated with money, families don’t even have to spend it to enjoy it. Kids just like money itself. Pocket change can be just as interesting to the younger ones as $20 bills—sometimes even more interesting.
And parents, fortunately, can take advantage of that fascination to help children learn basic math, motivate them to do chores, or just spend time together having fun—cheaply.
Real money math teaches basic arithmetic
When I first started home schooling our son Matt for first grade, I went to the bank and got about $8 worth of change, plus a couple dollar bills. I kept this hoard in a special place to use as a math manipulative. Before I knew it, the two older children (both still in regular, classroom school) volunteered to join our math lessons! So, I worked with them, too, at a more advanced level in real money math.
At first Matt and I simply counted small amounts of money and did simple addition and subtraction with pennies. Then Matt learned to sort the money into piles of nickels, dimes and quarters. After that he learned to count in multiples of 5, 10, and 25.
Real money can be used to teach kids how to make change.
The older children first learned how to count a pile of money, and then they learned to make change. I learned, along with them, not to do the subtraction problem mentally. The secret to making change is to count from the price of the item up to the amount the person paid you.
On a very simple level, then, if an item cost 7 cents and someone paid for it with dime, you state the price (7 cents) and start counting pennies into his hand (8 cents, 9 cents, 10 cents). For more complicated problems, you use pennies to count to a multiple of five, then nickels and dimes to count to a multiple of 25, and quarters to bring the amount of change to a dollar.
Here’s an example: Someone gives you a $5 bill to pay for an item costing $2.31. You state the price ($2.31), then count pennies into their hand (32,33, 34, 35), then add a nickel ($2.40), then add a dime ($2.50), then count quarters ($2.75, $3), and then use dollar bills to count the rest of the way ($4, $5).
Panning for gold is fun for a party activity or a simple day brightener.
Bury pennies in the sandbox and give your children sieves to find the buried treasure.
You can make the pennies look like new by dropping them into a solution of 4 tablespoons vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon salt in a soup bowl. For best results, heat the solution 30 seconds in the microwave before you drop in the penny. If a penny doesn’t immediately become clean, stir it around with a wooden spoon. Then drop a little vegetable oil onto the penny and polish it with a soft cloth to make it shiny.
You can also use bright pennies as rewards for good attitudes or completed chores.
Playing Quartermania can help kids cut down on screen time to pursue more creative activities.
The object of the game is to move all the quarters ($15 or $20 worth) from Jar A to Jar B. The children decide beforehand what the family will buy with the money when it’s all in Jar B. Children earn a quarter for reading for half an hour, for example, and they also are rewarded for cutting down on screen time (they get 2 quarters for one hour of screen time, 3 quarters for only half an hour, and 4 quarters for no screen time all day). Parents can also take a quarter out of Jar B and place it in Jar A for bad attitudes and other offenses. (But remember: penalty behaviors should be discussed beforehand).
Playing Coin Toss can serve as an Anywhere-Anytime Game
Show your child how to flip a quarter with his or her thumb. Once children can do this, they can start seeing how high they can toss it into the air before they catch it. (Two rules to this game are that the coin must spin in the air and that a person must catch it in his hand before it hits anything).
For fun together, you can make this a competitive game for two. Or you can flip quarters back and forth for a game of catch. Or you can take turns spinning the quarter and count seconds to see how long the spinner-player can keep it rotating.
Taking a Coin Toss Journey adds suspense to a simple walk.
Let a quarter be your guide around the neighborhood when the weather is nice, and you have an hour or two to spend. As you step out the front door, let one of your children flip a quarter. If it’s heads, turn left. If it’s tails, turn right. Keep going from there, taking turns flipping the coin to decide which way to go.
Starting a basic coin collection is interesting and easy
Show your child the four main kinds of U.S. coins in use today (pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters). Then go through all the change in the house to try to find one coin in each category dated during the last 10 years. Tape each coin to a piece of cardboard and label it. After that, keep track of the change that passes through the household and try to fill in the missing dates and categories.
If children enjoy that activity, they may also want to start collecting the different quarter designs that the U.S. Mint began producing in 1999 with their 50 State Quarters Program. That campaign produced new designs for quarters over a 10-year period, with each quarter honoring one of the nation’s states. The Mint produced each design for about 10 weeks and will never produce that design again. All the quarters display an image of George Washington on the “heads” side and the individual state design on the “tails” side. The U.S. Mint then produced a new design for the District of Columbia and each of the U.S. territories. These ventures were popular, so the U.S. Mint then began their America the Beautiful Quarters Program in which they began issuing new quarter designs picturing national sites and parks.
Finally, don’t forget that foreign coins & bills fascinate kids, teens included.
When grandparents, aunts, uncles and other friends travel to other countries, ask them to collect samples of coins and bills from those foreign places to give to your children.
A Word of Warning:
Keep coins away from small children. They may put them in their mouths and choke on them.
Resource: For American coin information, history and coin collection encouragement, go to the U.S. Mint Coin Collection’s kids’ page
© 2021 Becky Cerling Powers
Reprint with attribution only (www.beckypowers.com)
You can find more parenting insights from Becky Cerling Powers on this website (www.beckypowers.com) and in her book Sticky Fingers, Sticky Minds: quick reads for helping kids thrive
On Sundays… Remember that if you don’t get rid of garbage from your past, it’s going to stink up your present. So seek God’s help for resolving resentment, hurt, and anger over past experiences. Insight isn’t enough. Negative feelings and attitudes don’t disappear just by realizing they are damaging. It takes God’s help to get rid of garbage: to face it, feel it, forgive it and allow God to fill the emptied space with love, joy, peace…all His spiritual fruit..
On Mondays…keep in mind that consistency is the toughest part of parenting. Everyone has to work at it. If you can be very consistent with a new routine for six weeks, however, it usually becomes set enough to survive inevitable slack periods.
On Tuesdays… try to calm down the family atmosphere by reducing stress from background noise. When the family is in the car, turn off the radio and talk. At home, turn off the TV and talk.
On Wednesdays…remember that children will do better in school if you train them to develop good work habits at home. So limit screen time, teach children to do regular chores, and set a regular routine for schoolwork, meals and bedtime.
On Thursdays… save yourself laundry by making sure children have enough space to put away their clothes. If clothes are left on top of a drawer in a stack, they fall on the floor, get trampled on, and wind up back in the dirty clothes hamper during pick up time, all without ever being worn.
On Fridays…ask yourself if your children have lots of informal (nonprofessional) contact with good adult role models. Positive social development depends more on adult contact and less on contact with other children than previously thought. Children learn social skills through imitation. So spend time with your children and encourage them to develop friendships with good adult role models through family, church, and neighborhood connections. Children develop maturity by being around mature people.
On Saturdays… work on developing the art of recognizing teachable moments. For example, if your child makes a remark about a field of cows as you drive by, stop the car. Take time to observe, to count, to sketch. Whenever you can, grab the teachable moments to keep children’s love of learning alive.
© Becky Cerling Powers 2021 Reprint with attribution only
Becky Cerling Powers is a veteran homeschool grandma and the author of Sticky Fingers, Sticky Minds: quick reads for helping kids thrive and Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage. She also compiled and edited the faith based stories in My Roots Go Back to Loving and other stories from Year of the Family. She blogs at www.beckypowers.com You can find her books on her website and at Amazon.
What does “no” mean?
It depends on who says it.
I was drinking tea and chatting at a friend’s kitchen table when her 7-year-old wandered in and started taking a piece of candy from the candy bowl. “No, Susie,” my friend said. “No candy. It’s too close to supper time.” And we both went back to talking.
After a couple minutes, the child edged back to the candy bowl and started to take a piece.
“No, candy,” Mom said. “Go watch your TV program.”
Susie wandered off for a few minutes and then came back. Her mother watched her take a piece of candy from the bowl. She rolled her eyes, shrugged, and kept on talking to me as her daughter walked off with a mouthful of candy.
This little girl’s mom didn’t realize it, but she was teaching her daughter that “no” means “yes, if you just keep trying.” And she had just helped strengthen her daughter’s will to “just keep trying” next time.
It doesn’t seem important.
Who wants to interrupt a guest to move the candy bowl high out of reach? Or battle a child over a silly piece of candy in front of another adult?
It is important, though, because the issue this mom and daughter are dealing with isn’t really “No candy at dinner time.” It is, “What does Mom’s ‘no’ mean?”
A child figures out what “no” means by testing.
Do the no-sayer’s actions match their words? If “no candy” actually means “yes, if you keep on trying,” then what does it mean when Mom says, “Never cross this busy street by yourself”?
Children need to lose the contests on the minor, “unimportant” issues like “No candy means no candy even when I have a guest” so that they will be less apt to try dangerous contests like crossing a busy street by themselves after they’ve been told no.
When our children were small, I was tempted to sit and yell at them “Don’t- don’t-don’t!”
But all that did was to make me frustrated (and hoarse). I learned that when children are testing your words, the only effective response is to get up (now!) and match your words with action.
I vividly remember giving myself pep talks when our children were small: “Come on, Becky. Get up off your rear end and deal with this.” It was hard. But it got better over time as we convinced our children that we meant what we said.
A phrase that helped me came from Jesus:
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’” (Matt. 5:37a) He was explaining that you shouldn’t have to swear oaths to emphasize “Now I really mean what I am saying.” Your character should be such that people know they can count on whatever you say. Your life will match your words.
I needed to work on making my yes mean yes and my no mean no for the sake of my own integrity in all of life. And my children needed my yes to mean yes and my no to mean no for the sake of their safety, so they didn’t move their testing into dangerous territory.
They also needed it for their security.
It’s a scary world when you can’t trust what your parents say. The most insecure children are those whose parents’ yes or no means something different every day, depending on the parent’s mood (cheerful or depressed) or the parent’s condition (sober or soused).
Making your yes mean yes can be just as challenging as making your no mean no.
One day my daughter, who was about 14 at the time, asked me to drive her someplace. I didn’t want to do it but had no good reason to refuse. “Oh all right,” I said in an exasperated voice. “Let’s go!”
“But Mom,” Jessica said, “I feel so guilty!”
Her words made me see what I was doing. I was saying yes and then punishing her emotionally for my yes.
That was dishonest. That yes did not mean yes.
That kind of yes undermined my relationship with my daughter. It made her reluctant to approach me and ask for what she wanted or needed.
So I apologized.
Another time our teenage daughter told me a story about an incident she observed at a church picnic where some men were playing softball. A 6-year-old came up with a friend, dragging his bat and asking, “Dad, can we play?”
“Sure,” his dad said. But he winked at the other men.
The dads continued to play at an adult level until the two little boys’ eagerness vanished and they drooped off the field, discouraged. The men finished their game in good spirits.
This dad held a position of authority in the church, and I doubt that he realized that the trick he played on his son with a dishonest “yes” cost him his credibility with one of the church youth.
If “Yes, you can play” really meant” “No, we don’t want to be bothered with you,” then what about the other words he said from the pulpit? Did those words mean what they appeared to mean? Or did they mean something quite different? How could you tell?
The simplest solution was to ignore him.
If parents want their children to pay attention to them, they must let their yes mean yes and their no mean no. It’s that complicated, and it’s that simple.
© Becky Cerling Powers 1997
Originally published in the El Paso Times March 2, 1997
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