Tips for playing store and learning economics with children


Playing store with preschoolers teaches personal finance lessons of saving, spending, wait until later, and opportunity cost. These are lifelong lessons that go beyond shopping.

Turn a shoe box into a cash register. Then add some real or play money, things to buy and sell, small box attached to a string for a scanner, shopping bags, sale signs and clerk's name tag. Children can draw signs or make a little newspaper ad.

Learning economics

Practice playing store at home or at a children's museum play store. Stuffed animals and dolls can go "shopping" with you and also learn to make wise economic choices.

You can make rectangles of paper marked with $1 for easy counting and bring a handful of pennies for the register. For store merchandise use Play Dough or real food items, toys, Lego construction, books, dolls, stuffed animals, anything around the house.

Together, put prices on items and display them in columns and rows on a counter top. Sort materials according to categories - certain colored cars go together, etc. Keep it simple. Each item is worth $1 or a few cents to start. Have a conversation about what items will sell the best and why. Conversation is a key ingredient in preparing children to read.

Now take turns choosing items and checking out. Purposely, have enough money for some items and not enough for others so you are forced to make choices. Play act that you are disappointed you don't have enough money but handle that disappointment well. Practice saying, "Oh, well, maybe later. I will save up my money." What a useful economic phrase to teach! It's also a good way to teach preschool children to work through a disappointment without a tantrum.

You are also teaching opportunity cost. This is choosing one thing between several equally desired ones. This important concept teaches children that sometimes you can't have everything you want. Sometimes you must give up the opportunity now.

When interest wanes, pack up the store for later. The key to preschool care is a variety of short activities varying between active and quiet times with rest and nutritious snacks.

Learning responsible personal finance begins in preschool. Teaching opportunity cost and "maybe later" helps with other experiences in life when children must make difficult choices.

Esther Macalady lives in Golden. Grandparents Teach Too is an organization that helps families prepare young children for success in school and a lifetime love of learning. More information and podcasts at and

Esther Macalady


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