How to Teach Children the Difference Between Wants & Needs

Teacher speaking with children.
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Children often have a hard time wrapping their head around needs versus wants, such as wanting candy versus the need for good nutrition. Explain how needs and wants are different, using images of items the children can relate to. Discuss these images with the students to figure out which category the image falls into.

Get the students’ attention by showing a combination of pictures on the board. Display images such as video games, candy, toys, clothing, fruits, vegetables and a house. The point is to have pictures that represent either a need and or a want.

Tell the students to select one image from the board they would like to have. Tell the students to keep the picture with them while you begin the lesson.

Ask the students why they chose the images they did. Some students may tell you they selected that picture because they need the item the picture represents. You will probably see many students stating they need something when you know they actually want that item. Start a discussion about why they need those items, so that they will start to think more deeply about these "needs."

Define needs. Explain that a need is something you must have such as food, water and shelter. These are essential for survival. Other needs are necessities for daily life, such as making sure the family car has gas to get to work and to take the kids to school. Students need school supplies and school clothes.

Define wants. Explain that a want is something you'd like to have but it isn't necessary for physical survival or to function in daily life. Give examples such as toys, fancy clothes or expensive trips.

Give the students a moment to think about the items they chose. Tell them to think about whether their item is a need or want. While they do this, divide the board into two sections, using a marker. Write "Needs" on one side and "Wants" on the other. After the students have made their decisions, ask them to tape their picture on the correct side of the board. If necessary, restate what constitutes a need and what constitutes a want. By the end of the activity, the students should have sorted their pictures into the correct category.

Audrey Akins began publishing articles in 2002 as a contributing writer for her college newspaper. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and also has a master's degree in education.