Scarcity is the most fundamental principle in the study of economics, and it's a simple enough concept that you can introduce it to children even before they're old enough for more detailed lessons on economic theory, patterns and policies. Using food and personal activities helps students grasp the idea and develop sensitivity to the human toll when food is in short supply.
This practical demonstration of scarcity will engage students' attention and emotions by applying the principles of scarcity to their snack time. Provide a simple snack like popcorn or crackers, allowing one row of children to come up at a time to take as much as they want. When the snack runs out, apologize to the children who didn't get any. Discuss what options are available when there aren't enough snacks to go around, such as sharing, getting more snacks or some kids doing without. Apply this to the decisions societies face when resources are scarce.
This game simulates a simple economy using construction paper to represent resources and products. Define a few construction paper "products," such as a multi-colored paper chain for clothes or a square glued to a triangle for shelter. Fill large envelopes with combinations of glue, scissors and construction paper such that no one envelope has the materials needed to make all the products. Group students and have each group attempt to gain food, clothing, shelter and other essentials. Discuss what solutions students had to find, such as trading products or "raw materials," tearing instead of cutting -- representing innovation -- or forming alliances.
Opportunity cost is the loss of something we could have done when we choose something else. For example, if you watch one show, you cannot spend that time watching a different show. Since it's involved in every choice, opportunity cost is a form of scarcity even young children have a context to understand. Begin by defining opportunity cost for students, then ask them to think of opportunity costs in their lives, like wearing one outfit instead of another or choosing homework over games.
Food scarcity means that much of the world's population lives without enough nutrition. The WHO reports that 0.7 percent of the world has high food security, 33 percent has marginal, 50 percent has low and 14 percent has very low. You can demonstrate this by holding a pizza party or class meal, but dividing the students into groups and giving them the proportional amounts of food that represent what the world population has to live on. For example, one student could get a pizza to herself, while 10 students share two pizzas, 15 share one pizza and four share a single slice. After the discussion, redistribute the food for a more equitable and enjoyable pizza party.
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