This is the second article in a new series 'Ask A Montessori Teacher'! In this series we put a question to one of my favourite Montessori Teachers, Meg Hicks. Meg has experience and training in birth to 12 years, she also home-schools her two sons. So please feel free to ask a question you would like Meg to answer in upcoming weeks. Today's question is all about Pocket Money!
Q: Do you give your children pocket money? We don’t but our children get almost everything they want. Sometimes we save a big gift for their birthday. How to I teach them about saving and donating when they don’t have pocket money? Should I consider giving them pocket money so they have some control over their spending/saving/giving? Pocket money feels valid but not as an external reward? What do you think, what is the Montessori view on this? My kids are 8 and 12.
A: I think every family will be pretty unique in this regard, as we are all influenced by our own childhood experiences and how we were taught to manage money.
From a Montessori perspective, with such a large focus on practical life skills, I think that money management is a valid and important life skill. In classrooms children are given lessons about the mathematics of money, it’s relationship to the decimal system, and later on in the Elementary years, we learn about the history of migration, trade and economics. So money as a topic is definitely well covered in the Montessori curriculum. As a Montessori teacher I have often found myself recommending that parents allow their children to have more exposure to money handling, simply because this generally leads to excellent mental arithmetic skills in children who might otherwise be less than enthusiastic about mathematics lessons! After all, who wants to be cheated out of a dollar or two when making a purchase - certainly not a child who has learned the value of money!
So yes, I think that pocket money could play a role in this learning, and on the other hand, I think that family finances can also teach these lessons just as well.
Let’s start with the pocket money scenario... It’s my personal opinion, that getting money from your parents, for doing nothing, is not a great way to learn about the trade of services. No adults that I know, get money without the exchange of skills, goods or services! I think that there is some value in the popular spending/saving/giving jars, but I think it all becomes more meaningful when the money that goes into those jars is earned.
I agree with you that pocket money should not be used as an external reward. This approach really sets the child up for failure at some point, because if the pocket money is dependent on a particular behaviour, then it follows that if the child doesn’t do what is asked of them, that the parent must respond by withdrawing the money.
So, my suggestion to the families I work with is to offer money in exchange for services that fall outside of the normal range of contribution that each member of the family makes to the running of the household. As an example, we pay our 9 year old $5 to wash our car, $10 if he details the inside of the car as well. He doesn’t do this job with any regularity, but he does seem to be pretty good at it, so when he is saving for a future purchase, this is generally his way of raising the money he needs. I spent some time teaching him how to wash a car, how to detail the inside, and how to keep his work standards high. He takes pride in his work, and he takes it seriously. He knows that I will hold him to some fairly strict standards about the quality of work that I expect in exchange for my money.
On occasion we have had a gingerbread man sale in our front yard. We are fortunate to live in an area with lots of kindly neighbours who love to support cottage industry! The kids enjoy baking, and selling their wares, and they get to eat whatever they don’t sell!
Now when it comes to children in the Third Plane of Development, things start to change a little. Suddenly teens become very motivated by money - Montessori recognised that teenagers are striving for economic independence during this plane of development. This is why she developed a high school system that centres around the management of a micro-economy. Montessori teens all around the world plan, actualise and manage small businesses of all descriptions. They learn how about profit and loss, how banks work, about supply and demand, about work health and safety, about employment laws, customer service, and about the manufacturing process. They are motivated to learn these skills, because the drive of this plane is economic independence, and when your natural instincts are met with a well-matched environment, you have success!
So your older child is not likely to be enticed by car washing, and anything that feels patronising. They will want real opportunities to manage money - something a little more high stakes. Can you help to find them some part time work? A paper round, a gardening job, do they have a special skill that they can teach others, do they have a great idea for a small business, could they make a product to sell at a local market? My 14 year old has earned money in many ways: mailbox advertising drops, dog-walking, pet-sitting, teaching ukulele to young children, working as a teaching assistant for his piano teacher, umpiring at amateur sports games. Your teen will be motivated to work when he feels that he is being taken seriously, and that his contribution is valued and worth something. Being answerable to someone outside your family gives an extra layer of responsibility to the task.
Generally speaking, you can also have some fun playing some money oriented games: The Game of Life, Monopoly, Pay Day, Stock Market, and Pocket Money are all favourites.
You can send your child to purchase a short list of groceries and pay for them with cash. You can sell items at a market day or garage sale, and support your child to make change.
So pocket money plays a role in learning how to manage money, but is really only one small part of the bigger picture. If you focus on real life money skills as the goal, you will choose the best way of getting there for your family.
Thank you to Meg for this thoughtful answer. Pocket money and teaching our children about money are so relevant to my family right now and this has given me some things to work on. You can also read Simone's (from the Montessori Notebook) approach to pocket money here. Do you give your children pocket money? How and when did you make the decision?