Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different classroom management strategies but I keep going back to the same system of classroom money. It is easy for me to manage, helps develop responsibility and, best of all, the children really enjoy it. I’ll get into more about how it all works in another post but for now I’d like to focus on our swap meets.
Most kids have things at home that they no longer use or need so this gives them an opportunity to do something we feel is very important: to reduce, reuse, and recycle. With permission from their parents, students bring in items they want to sell and set up a ‘store’ complete with price tags and, often, signage. I leave this all up to the children so that they can make decisions about what works well for them. It’s a great opportunity for real problem solving, especially because we have several swap meets throughout the school year.
It’s interesting to see how they adjust their salesmanship from month to month. They make lots of discoveries about consumer demand and how to price things, often mirroring things they see in the stores – or even deals they wish existed in the stores. They partner up with friends they know they can trust and work together to create appealing displays. Sometimes they bundle items that logically go together and call out things like, “Don’t miss this great deal!” and “Who wants to take home this awesome game?”
These swap meets (and the money system in general) are a great way to teach students about economics in a very real way. They repeatedly count money and make change, offering the children a chance to practice valuable math skills. At the start of the year, they can set up a store for free but, as time passes, I ask them to pay for their sales space – just as you would do if you were going to rent a stall at a real swap meet. Most of them become very good at managing their money and learn the value of saving so that they’ll have lots to spend when the next swap meet comes up. They also have to make decisions about what they really want to spend their money on and can actually afford.
Some are very focused on sales and on earning as much money as possible, while others enjoy the shopping aspect of it. They are also incredibly generous with each other, offering freebies as selling time runs out and often make purchases for siblings and parents ~ excited to bring joy to someone else. They walk around the room, proudly sharing their bags full of treasures. It’s all so great to watch and teaches me a lot about them as well.
For some real life, hands-on learning in mathematics and economics, consider having a classroom swap meet yourself! Even if you don’t use a money system, you could try it out as a shorter-term project. Students can learn a lot from the experience but also really look forward to it. And that enjoyment goes a long way toward creating an engaging classroom environment.