Being moderate with oneself and generous with others; this is what is meant by having a just relationship with money, by being free as far as money is concerned. And there is no doubt that it is less difficult to educate a child so that he has such a sense of proportion, such a freedom, in a family in which money is earned and immediately spent; in which it flows like clear spring water and practically does not exist as money. Things become complicated where money exists and exists heavily, where it is a leaden stagnant pool that stinks and gives off vapors. ~Natalia Ginzburg
It was a bug store. She had built a sales counter from wooden blocks and had arranged a selection of our giant insect models as her products. Kneeling behind her counter, she waited.
The play ebbed and flowed around her, but for a long time no one even paused to consider her wares. Finally, she went to the costume rack and selected some colorful scarves which she used to decorate her display. When this didn't attract customers, she began to call out, "Bugs for sale! Bugs for sale!"
This worked. Her first customer tried to abscond with the ladybug, but she snatched the bug back, saying, "You have to pay for it!"
"But I don't have money."
"When you get money, you can buy." The boy sulked away, but this was an obvious flaw in her plan. She asked me to watch her store while she scoured the classroom, returning with the large tub of cookie cutters that are normally used with play dough. These she offered to her next customer to use as money. The system she devised involved the customer asking, "How much?" Then she would reply, "Two moneys," or "Five moneys," then the buyer would count out the correct number of cookie cutters (or, in some cases, a close approximation; no one was keeping track) then trade them for the bug of their choice.
Within minutes her sales counter was bare, leaving her with that tub of cookie cutters. Around her, the children played with their new purchases. She had enjoyed the process of buying and selling, but now she looked glum. She again left her station, returning this time with a clutch of stuffed animals, which she arranged as merchandise.
"Animals for sale! Animals for sale!"
In the flurry that followed, a boy walked away with the entire tub of cookie cutters, carrying them to a corner where he sat with an impish expression. "Hey, you can't have all the money!" she shouted at him, but he just sat smirking. A few of the kids tried treating him like a bank, asking for two or three "moneys," but he refused. Things began to get heated. I moved closer, just in case.
The game of commerce had turned into a stand-off. A few kids appealed to me to make him give the money back, "Teacher Tom, he has all the money!"
My goal, as always, is not to solve problems, but to support children to solve their own. I conveyed the message to the boy hoarding the cookie cutters, "She says you have all the money."
By now, what had started, I think, as a misguided joke, had turned into something more serious than he had anticipated. He grimaced and glared, his arms crossed over the tub.
"I think he should give them back."
"We were using them."
The boy shouted back, angrily, "I'm using them too!"
"But we were using them first!"
As a classic preschool dilemma emerged, children assembled themselves into a rough semi-circle facing the boy who was hoarding the money, urging, arguing, and appealing to his sense of fairness. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper, who had once more left me to mind her store, returned with a large basket of clothes pins. "I have new money," she announced.
Her customers turned as one, clamoring to purchase this or that stuffed animal. Before long, the giant insects re-entered the burgeoning economic system as an acceptable form of currency. The store was doing a bang-up business as bugs, stuffies, and cloths pins changed hands in a joyful flurry.
The hoarding boy glowered in the corner for a time, but soon the burden of hoarding became too heavy and the cookie cutters re-entered this game of commerce. And it all flowed like clear spring water.
"I recommend this book to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here.
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