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How To Teach Kids To Count Money & The BEST Way To Motivate Them

We currently homeschool 3 kids, and all math curriculums we’ve used from kindergarten on up have touched on how to teach kids to count money. But what I hope that you’ll see is that you don’t need a math curriculum to do this! In fact, we usually fly through money units when homeschooling because the kids are just whizzes at counting now. It’s no secret, and it’s not hard. Read on to fill your toolbox with some ideas to try right away.

I don’t think there’s one magic ticket to teaching kids to count money. Some kids will be more interested than others, and all kids seem to have their own timeline if only we’ll pay attention to it. In this post I’ll share some money counting activities we do based on age, things that seem to make kids “money aware”, and games to play that include money (no…monopoly isn’t on that list and I’ll explain why ;-)!

Money counting activities for coin sorting and cash and coin piggy bank for kids.

What kids should know before they start learning to count money

Just like you don’t start writing letters before scribbling, kids will need to build some skills before you bring out the coins and bills.

1. Teach them to count to 100

This is an end of kindergarten milestone. However, kids enter “kindergarten” at different ages, sometimes almost a year apart. So developmentally, watch your child. See what they can do, and don’t push it if they’re not ready.

It’s not required to know how to count to 100 to start learning the value of some coins, or even to start counting pennies. But if they can’t yet count that high, then just wait. Or, use pennies as a tool to teach counting!

Once they can count to 100 they’ll understand that 60 is more than 20, and that there’s a pattern within numbers. And of course, they’ll eventually be learning to take a pile of coins and count on as they add them up.

2. Skip count by 5’s and 10’s, (and 25’s to make counting quarters easy)

Skip counting by 5’s and 10’s will make learning about nickels and dimes SO easy! Learning to skip count is as simple as saying it over and over as a chant. My kids have started this around age 5-6 or so.

But again, if you’re child isn’t ready just wait. They’re not behind. They’re right on their own schedule, and pushing something too early makes it frustrating for everyone.

3. They should have a general idea that money is used to buy things

Take your kids to the store with you. Talk about prices you see. It’s ok to say, “We can’t get that, it’s too expensive.” They’ll start to see higher numbers mean something.

Maybe they’ll wonder why there’s a dot in there (the decimal). Let them gain curiosity to real life money usage, even at age 5.

  • “O, that cereal says $3.99 but this one says $5.99. Let’s get the one on sale.”
  • “Everyone can pick out a treat at the gas station, but it has to be under $2.00”
  • “Mom is sending in our rent money to our landlord so that we can live here.”
  • “Here’s $3 to spend at the dollar store. How many things can we buy?”

Teach them to sort coins

Sorting is an excellent skill to teach kids!

Preschoolers can sort coins, without even knowing the name or value. They’ll learn to look at color, size, and the person’s face on the coin.

Kindergarteners can learn the value of each coin, the name, and also sort them. My current kindergartener sometimes gets the names and value mixed up of dimes and nickels…and that’s ok.

When he first started learning about coins, he always thought the dime was less valuable because it’s the smallest. This shows you how kids think! It takes being a little bit older to understand that’s not how it works.

It’s the same reason I used to want 20 $1 bills instead of 1 $20 bill! Ha.

Here’s one coin sorting sheet in my coin printables pack on Etsy. I firmly believe you don’t need a sheet to learn this skill. However, I made a tool that can help kids visualize where coins go, and also a tool that can give you a solid math activity for a rainy day!

How to teach kids to count coins

When your kids have a pile of coins (or different bills), it’s helpful to teach them to “count on”. Just start with the biggest coin, and add the next one to that, until you are adding the smallest coins.

If you have 2 quarters, 1 dime, 2 nickels, and 3 pennies it would go like this:

“25, 50, 60, 65, 70, 71, 72, 73.”

There’s no wrong way to count the coins of course, if they can keep track and do the math quickly in their head. But counting on is likely the fastest and most error free way to learn how to count money.

How to count coins when you have a LOT of them

If your kids are like mine and occasionally wanting to count up their coin stash (probably to make sure nothings gone missin 😉 …) it might be helpful to group like coins together into larger amounts first.

For example:

  • sort all the coins
  • group like coins into an amount they can quickly count again, like quarters into stacks of 4 to make $1, dimes into stacks of 10 to make $1, etc.

How to motivate kids to count money, and often

The best thing we have done to get our kids to start counting money (for fun) has been to get them their own stash of cash and coins.

It’s better than any math curriculum I’ve seen so far, and more relevant to them than playing games that use fake money.

They count it up. Then recount it…

They organize it…and compare who’s got more quarters or pennies, etc.

Sometimes they’ll trade with me for larger bills.

They’ll make dreams of what they’ll save for, and try to figure out how much more money they need to get that item.

What age do we start to let our kids save money

I’d say once they’re interested. And once you’re ready to enter the rat race of “Mom what can I do to earn a dollar?” Haha, but for real.

We didn’t start giving our older 2 kids money until they lost their 1st teeth, but our 3rd boy seems to have become interested in having his own stash to be like his brother and sister. So he’s earned money doing extra helpful things for me.

My 5 year old has started his money stash, but he gets more excited about having a jar full of pennies than double that value in quarters…if you see what I mean.

So he’s a little young but we’re going with it so he can feel big and important and have a stash like his big sister and brother.

Buy them something to store their money in and keep it safe

Get a container that’s easy to access, but won’t spill coins. My 5 year old likes his red wallet, and my 7 and 9 year old have a Sterilite container from Target that has a perfect spot for bills and coins.

I think it’s made for pencils but works perfectly for storing money.

Two thin, plastic containers used to store kid's allowance in leu of a piggy bank.

You can check the price for it on Amazon here.

Have your kids trade you real money

This is an excellent way to teach them the value of coins and bills. Because let me tell you it’s hard for kids to hand over a wad of 1’s for a $10 bill in return!

As my kids have collected money for various things (losing teeth, extra chores, birthday money, etc) they end up with a lot of $1 bills. I’m usually short on $1 bills because it’s what I use to give the kids for extra chores.

So occasionally, I’ll ask someone to trade me from their stash.

Same with coins. If I’m short on quarters I’ll ask them for some of theirs and either give them smaller coins for a few, or bigger bills if a need a lot!

It’s hard to sometimes SEE what’s $1. I created this sheet in my coin counting pack on Etsy as a visual for kids to see how many of each coin it takes.

Take them to a candy shop and pay with coins

So we did this, but didn’t count coins in the store…let me explain!

I promised my 3 bigs I’d take them to the epic gas station store and they could buy their own candy. You’d think we’d entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!

They could pick one thing, or else they’d have spent their life savings in there.

Since I have 3 kids, and each kid would have to check out on their own (which would mega hold up other customers and make me anxious)…I paid for all of them and had the kids pay me back at home!

They had to count their coins as they gave them to me, and then could proudly open their candy! So fun, and I’m sure we’ll do this again and again.

Money games for kids (gameschooling math)

My favorite thing is seeing my kids have fun playing games where they’re also learning something at the same time.

There are days we ditch our math curriculum (and other subjects too) and just pick a game to play instead. This is especially helpful when I’m feeling burnt out on homeschooling and need a break. Here are games to look for that use money and improve money counting skills.

Money Bags by Learning Resources:

This game is pretty popular although I haven’t personally played it. Players collect, count, and exchange money till they get to the finish line. 2-4 players, ages 7+.

P.S. We don’t use Monopoly in our family because it’s just way too competitive. I loved that game as a kid, but as a parent…I don’t think I can currently handle my kids fighting and tears over getting pummeled during and after a long game. I just can’t. If your kids can handle this better than mine, go for it!

Printable play money free from the U.S. Currency Education Program

I somehow discovered this free play money and printed out several color pages to use with our math curriculum! It’s great!

A math money game board from Math With Confidence 2nd grade plus printable play money used to play the game.

I never have as many bills as needed in my actual wallet to do some of the math activities, so we printed these out and put them in my 2nd grader’s weekly homeschool binder.

If you wan’t to skip the work of printing and cutting, this Melissa and Doug play money set is what I’d use.

More resources for kids wanting to learn about what’s on US bills

If you want to do a more in depth money study with older kids (or younger curious ones), the U.S. government also has these free educational pages describing all the parts of a $1 bill. They have these for all U.S. bills, including the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100…pretty neat!

You can also check out their entire page of free downloads.

Math With Confidence curriculum does a lot of work and review with money

As a side note, I noticed that my 5.5 year old’s math curriculum Kindergarten Math With Confidence used coins right away! We counted to 5 and 10 with pennies, then learned the value of nickels and dimes and “played” store making different combos.

I highly recommend this fun math curriculum for kindergarten and wrote a full math review of it here. We have also used the 1st and 2nd grade versions as well, which have a lot of hands on money math.

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