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Pupils learn what counts
Kids Marketplace is an adventure in finances for third-graders

 Volunteer Chris Colonna (left) chats with Robert E. Lee Elementary School students as they pull cards at the 'Chance' table.
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Date published: 3/25/2008


Most third-graders know two things about money: you need it to buy a Wii, and it doesn't grow on trees.

While those are important things to understand, they don't really capture the complexities of a financial world that can baffle the brightest business school student, and they certainly don't prepare a youngster for the challenges that await them after graduation.

Consider this: For two hours last week, the Robert E. Lee Elementary School gymnasium tried to recreate the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Two classes of third-grade students were bouncing between "stores" manned by parent volunteers. This wasn't your normal classroom chaos--this was an organized attempt to teach a lesson in personal finance.

The Kids Marketplace is a program offered by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, designed to give elementary students their first taste of making ends meet in the real world. This was the program's debut in a Spotsylvania County school.

"I think it will help them see just a little bit of what their parents go through," third-grade teacher Kim Branham said. The sentiment was echoed by most of the parents who were taking part.

Each student was handed an envelope containing a job title, a month's salary, and a pamphlet listing all of their monthly expenses. Salaries varied commensurate with job title, so one student might start out as a lawyer with $400, and another might be a librarian with $150. Each student was required to fulfill all monthly expenditures, and they had to keep at least $5 in the bank at all times.

"Shops" sold necessities like medical coverage, transportation, groceries, and housing. The students had to decide, based on their income, what to spend on each option. To save money, students were allowed to pair up and live as roommates, splitting some expenses. It didn't take long for the kids to realize the difficulties involved in keeping a budget.

The transportation shop was busy right off the bat. Some students jumped on the top-flight sports car, and some went for the bargain and rode away on an imaginary motorcycle. By the end of the exercise, some sports car drivers were taking their rides back to the lot in order to pay for healthcare or groceries.

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