How to Teach Children to Recognize Coins

Young children putting coins in piggy bank
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A penny, a nickel, a dime, a quarter -- for a young child, these are just shiny objects until you put meaning to them. Hands-on activities that engage the young child's mind and body can help her to develop financial literacy and learn to recognize different types of coins.

1 Pretend Play Shopping

While coins are pretty to look at, they also have a purpose. Help teach your students to recognize coins, their values and what they can buy using a pretend play activity. By first grade, most children are skilled at acting out imaginative stories and using props, according to the PBS Parents' website. Set up a mock grocery store, shopping mall or market. Write down the prices of the items. Have the students use large paper or plastic coins that look like the real version to buy what they need. For example, if a banana costs 44 cents the students can pay four dimes and four pennies, eight nickels and four pennies or another combination of coins that equals 44 cents. They can offer 45 cents and get one cent in change.

2 Make a Coin

Get your students to truly look at coins by having them copy them in an artsy activity. A simple first financial art project that's easy to make is a coin rubbing. Place a thin piece of printer paper over a penny, dime, nickel or quarter and have the students rub an unwrapped crayon horizontally over the paper to reveal the coin's design. Up the art ante and have the students create their own mega coins. Cut softball or soccer ball-sized circles from cardboard. Have the students draw the front of the coin, and then flip it over to draw the back. Cover the drawing with modeling clay or compound. Stretch the clay out over the drawing, building it up into a relief-like sculpture. The children can then paint the coins with bronze or silver metallic paint.

3 Read a Book

Take the financial literacy lesson to the child's level and use an age-appropriate book that shows pictures of coins or tells a story about them. For example, Don Freeman's book "Corduroy" features a little girl who uses coins from her piggy Bank to buy the stuffed bear. Other children's books include "The Coin Counting Book" by Rozanne Lanczak Williams and "Lots and Lots of Coins" by Margarette S. Reid and True Kelley. Point out the coins and ask the children to identify them as you read and re-read the book.

4 Sort the Money

Help your students to distinguish coins from one another and from paper money. Give the children a plastic tub of play money. Use play money that looks like the real thing, including dollar bills, pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. First, have the children sort the dollars from the coins. This shows that they understand and can identify the difference between a coin and paper money. Next, have the children sort the coins by type into piles. Place the piles onto individual pieces of construction paper. For example, the pennies will go on a yellow piece of paper, the nickels on a green sheet, the dimes on a red piece and the quarters on a blue one. Help the students write the name of each coin type on the paper.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.