Teaching Economics in Primary School can be fun!

“Thanks to my granddaughters for letting me know what is important to them.”

Economics is derived from the Greek, home and rules, or management of the home which is the foundation of economics at the micro level. Home economics, as taught in the past in schools and universities, dealt with cooking, needlework, cleaning, and managing the home generally performed by the ladies of the house or their servants, if they had any. Today, both sexes act as managers, workers and servants to their children. Currently, universities offers a much broader range of home economics topics including information technology, but a glance at the many course offerings at UBC reveals little associated with the discipline of economics. I suggest that a basic understanding of economics would be a useful addition to the home economics curriculum, and that the concepts used in economics can be introduced at a much earlier stage of learning, at least in the later years of junior school (grades 6,7 and 8).

The daily lives of young children incorporate many examples of economic concepts, especially in microeconomics. There is no need to introduce the jargon, like opportunity cost and demand elasticity, but when children use their time going to the movies at the expense of playing baseball, or splurge their allowance on a particular item, opportunity cost underlies these decisions. Demand and supply is illustrated when they offer their services washing cars, delivering fliers and babysitting where they have to decide how to set their fees. I know of children who sell drinks and cupcakes on the sidewalk, and think about how best to market and price these goods. They also become aware of government regulations regarding things like the minimum age for babysitting, and what needs to be known when offering this service.

Aspects of demand and supply fill children’s lives, and the underlying principles can be introduced at an early age. It can be an appealing topic as it deals with activities familiar to children. There is no shortage of topics to discuss, such as what goods and services are delivered to the home, who provides them and how they are paid for. Ownership of cellphones familiarizes children with the various payment plans offered, and how to extract funds from their parents to purchase them. A book like Richard Scarry, What People Do All Day, is an available textbook providing illustrations for discussion purposes. In a Dec.  2010, I posted a blog on this topic. To review past work, see the 2007 paper by Rodgers, Hawthorne and Wheeler, “Teaching Economics through Children’s Literature in the Primary Grades,” at http://econkids.rutgers.edu/images/pdf/final_draft_reading_teacher.pdf .

More generally there is so much relevant to economics in running a home and dealing with the different goods and especially services purchased. The market for TV cable services, the internet, telephone, utilities like gas, electricity, water, garbage collection and recycling, newspapers, letters, paying bills, managing bank accounts, trading securities are among the items traded, for which the consumer has to read the terms of the agreement, and select an option knowing exactly what is being purchased. I received my new Visa card this week and it incorporated the latest wave technology so a purchase could be made without a signature or PIN. Anyone who picks up the card could complete a transaction. There is a no liability provision for purchases made by an unauthorized user, but this does not apply if the card is used at an ATM where the card owner is liable up to $250 per day and $1000 per week. So why would anyone consider accepting this risk? On inquiry, you are told that wave technology is not used at ATMs. That may be the case now but what about the future?


See Posting from website of the Conversable Economist for Oct. 15, 2012.


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