I still remember the giant tootsie roll piggy bank that held all of my pennies for college. I’m pretty sure that those pennies didn’t pay for more than a semester’s worth of books but they did create some very fond memories of my childhood. When I was a little girl, my dad was the best playmate I ever had. Sometimes I think he had more fun playing than I did. One thing we did was play with pennies. Nope, I didn’t lack toys. It was just something different to do. Somehow he knew, without formal training, ways to incorporate math into play. Here are a few penny ideas (with lots of credit to my dad):
- Count them . . . So this is obvious! But, since the value of a penny is 1 cent, it’s a perfect item to count. Starting a penny collection is both interesting to kids and financially responsible!
- Stack them in towers of 5 or 10 . . . This reinforces skip counting which is a vital skill to counting mixed sets of coins (down the road). It also shows the difference (in height) between 5 and 10 and lends itself to the idea of 5 being half of 10. Build two 5 towers and one 10 tower, then let your child explore what happens when the five towers are combined. Compare with the height of the 10 tower.
- Build structures with them . . . Pyramids, mazes, designs, anything! This activity helps kids see what can be done with circular objects and consider structure. After building, count the pennies to see how many it took to build each structure.
- Tell stories . . . Young children can solve simple word problems, especially about food and other things at their interest level. Money is a bit trickier because it doesn’t mean to kids what it means to us. If you use pennies to solve word problems, focus on the coin, not the value. For example, say, “Lilly had 5 pennies. Then she got 2 more. How many pennies does she have now?” instead of, “Lilly has 5 cents. Then she earned 2 more cents. How much money does she have now?” At early ages, coins are more about collecting the object than the financial value they hold for adults.
- Pretend to “buy” things around the house . . . You can help your child develop the idea of using money to buy something. They see you buy things all the time but what are you usually using to pay? Even if it isn’t your credit/debit card, you’re probably not paying in coins! But kids idea of money and what they will learn about money early in school revolves around coins. Set up a store with things around the house. You can even label items with their value (5 cents, 2 cents, etc.). This would help them with recognizing numbers and connect the numeral to a quantity (the fancy word for that is cardinality).
- Build a penny staircase . . . So this is similar to the idea of using pennies to build different structures. The important thing about the staircase is the increase by 1 nature. This visual shows kids clearly how our counting sequence refers to quantity (cardinality again) and how when we count forward, we are actually adding and when we count backwards, we are subtracting.
Can you think of other fabulous things to do with pennies? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your ideas!