Have a jar full of coins just waiting to be dumped into Coinstar? Wait! They can serve a higher purpose than a Starbucks card. Why not use those coins to teach your child about math and money?

While you don’t want your children worried about money matters at too early an age, it's still important for them to know the value of money and how it's used in society. That’s not to say you should sit down with your second grader and talk interests and APRs, but there are ways to introduce money through math that can be fun and educational.

“For the youngest learner,” says kindergarten teacher Meagan Kalchbrenner of Arlington, VA, “Money can be a tricky concept.” She explains that having one coin represent more than one, for example, one nickel equals five pennies, is tough to grasp. The more practice kids get with money the better. Kalchbrenner recommends these money-based activities to teach your children math, fractions, and the value of money:

  • Coin rubbings. Place a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter under a white piece of paper and have your child rub the side of a crayon over each (use a color that matches the coin, or let your child choose the color). Discuss the amounts each coin is worth. You can also fold a piece of paper in half and place five pennies on one side and a nickel on the other and talk about how they are the same or "equal." Then mix it up. Place the nickel and a penny on one side, four pennies on the other, and talk about subtraction. Five minus one equals four. Try it several ways, but keep it fun.
  • Real life experience is always helpful. Go a bit further by taking your child to the store. Many dollar stores have some cheaper toys, etc., that a child could purchase with the coins with which he or she has just practiced.
  • For older kids, the concept of fractions is the difficult nut to crack. Using coins to help them learn about fractions is a great way to practice. Twenty nickels, ten dimes, four quarters and one hundred pennies are all ways to make one dollar. You can talk about how one quarter = ¼ of a dollar, ten nickels = ½ of a dollar, two dimes = 2/10 of a dollar, and so on. Challenge your child to make fractions by combining different coins as well. For example, one quarter, two dimes and a nickel = ½ a dollar. Then take away the quarter and you have a quarter. You can see why it’s tricky!

Use real coins when possible (instead of flashcards) and let your child pay for his or her purchases as a separate transaction from your lot of groceries. She’ll see that money really does have value when she gives those coins to the cashier and receives her toy, candy or crayons, in return. And in a day where the cashier need only look at the digital read-out to provide change for a purchase, it's still invaluable to be able to do the math in your head. Even machines make mistakes! Okay, now you can go get your no-whip, sugar-free vanilla latte.