How do you help kids understand money? Encourage them to create it themselves.
Explaining the workings of money and finance to
children would seem to be a virtually impossible task. After all, how many adults can say that they grasp the mechanics of stock and bond trading or currency speculation, let alone the opaque realm of credit derivatives and insurance swaps?
As the language used to describe the world of finance suggests, however, money and markets possess fantastical, imaginary elements with which children have a natural affinity.
Conjuring up a gallery of enchanted figures that might have emerged from the pages of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, or Stephenie Meyer, financial metaphors speak directly to the imaginations of young people.
And this affinity is not simply a matter of language. We talk about finance in these ways because the abstractions of money and other credit instruments so often strike us as imaginary or make believe – qualities with which children are more at ease than most adults.
Children are fascinated by the distance between fantasy and reality. Not necessarily more credulous than grown ups, they’re nonetheless willing and able to grasp how things that don’t
really exist may have powerful effects on the ways in which people think, feel and behave. As such, they may be better placed to understand finance than their parents.
That’s the thinking behind “Show Me the Money,” a free smart phone and tablet app targeted at children and teenagers that aims to stimulate thinking about the imaginative aspects of
Tied to the exhibition, “Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present,” which opened at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland last month, the app allows users to create their own bank notes, test their nerve in a stock market investment game and design outrageous outfits like the ones worn by pro traders on the floors of futures exchanges.
The design of money is more important today than it has ever been. Because, since the 1970s, currency has not been “backed” by gold, central banks like the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve have had to try all the harder to convince us that money is worthy of our belief: that it is based on strong, solid, dependable foundations.
Bank notes call on the power and authority of presidents, queens and even God. They showcase respected historical figures, carry resounding Latin mottos, bear the signatures of important officials and feature grand buildings and proud national emblems like flags, crests and symbolic
As the “Show Me the Money” exhibition makes clear, artists who use money in their work often mock banks’ attempts to produce notes that command belief and respect. Artists scrawl political slogans over real notes, create fake notes bearing their own faces or cover their designs with the names of invented banks or denominations that are crazily high or low.
By providing a fun and intuitive means of designing money for the “Bank of Me” (complete with “selfied” portrait), the “Show Me the Money” app encourages users – young and old – to think about how symbols and icons generate or subvert value, and harnesses their creativity and imagination to help them become savvier about the financial values in which they are more and more obligated to believe.
Children’s love of role play also lends itself to learning about money and finance. Within the app, “Bulls and Bears,” a simple stock investment game, gives users an opportunity to experience the unpredictability of the trading floor and the surge of “animal spirits” that can turn an optimistic “bull” into a pessimistic “bear” in a heart beat. And “Dress for Success” allows users to kit themselves out for the role of City slicker or Wall Street mogul by designing one of the garish trading jackets worn by futures traders, and encourages them to think about how the ways in which financial professionals present themselves shape how they are perceived in the wider world.
Users of the app can share their bank note and trading jacket designs with friends and with the “Show Me the Money” exhibition. Selected submissions will appear in the gallery and on the exhibition’s web site. So to “show me the money!” let me add another exhortation: show us your money!
The exhibition, “Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present” is on view at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland until 30 August, and then tours. More details at imageoffinance.com.
The “Show Me the Money” app is available to download for free for iPhone and iPad from the Apple App Store and for Android devices from Google Play.
Dr Paul Crosthwaite
@p_crosthwaite and @imageoffinance