Fitting Financial Literacy into Elementary Library Experiences

When thinking about literacy in your elementary library, foundational literacy is probably the first thing to come to mind. Other literacies such as media literacy, digital literacy, and visual literacy likely also have a strong presence, but have you thought about incorporating lessons around financial literacy? Getting this type of literacy into your curriculum doesn't have to mean revamping the whole program. In fact, there are opportunities to integrate financial literacy hiding in activities that are already happening in your library.

Connecting Financial Literacy to Traditional Literacy

We often encourage our students to dive into a great piece of literature and in the process, guide them to wonder and ask questions about what they read. Incorporating and modeling questions around financial literacy can encourage thinking that students may not be accustomed to doing. Directing them to resources that can answer those questions, giving them a better understanding of the text and the story, is another key step.

In Dan Gemenhart's The Honest Truth, the main character travels from Wenatchee, Washington, to Spokane by bus. In the first chapter of the story, he purchases a ticket for $44, comparable to what a ticket would cost today. When sharing this first chapter with students, I think aloud, "I wonder if this was really the cheapest way for him to travel. He had to be concerned about the money he spent." We take a quick look online to look for alternatives and pricing and discuss why he might have chosen to travel the way he did.

These short moments of exploring financial aspects of a story help some students make connections, give others exposure to new concepts, and encourage all students to view elements of a story differently than they might otherwise have. What books from your collection contain a financial literacy connection that you could build upon?

Exploring Financial Literacy in a Historical Context

In our library, you can see examples of students building their financial literacy in some of our explorations of history. When looking at Thanksgiving traditions, third grade students specifically look at the role that the Thanksgiving meal plays in tradition. I pose the question, "What might you have eaten for a Thanksgiving meal one hundred years ago? What can we tell about what it would have cost?" In pairs, they explore advertisements in historical newspapers available from the Library of Congress (for example: They put together a menu and prices. They can then look at a current advertisement from a local grocery store and go through the same process.

This gives students who may rarely go to a grocery store some idea of the prices for different items. It also gives everyone the experience that prices on items go up over time. In fact, advertisements in historical newspapers, when explored regularly, often cause students to ask how much that same item or a similar item costs today. This first step to financial literacy, an awareness that there are prices attached to items in their everyday lives, is an important one that can be fostered in the elementary library. If you want to try this activity in your library, take a look at my lesson plan, "What's for Dinner? Comparing Change Grocery Costs."

Building Financial Literacy While Building the Library Collection

I give my upper elementary students real-world financial literacy experience through participation in collection development for the library. I do this in small and large ways throughout the year.

Toward the end of each year, I have always had discussions, with kindergarten through fifth grade, about nonfiction topics that they would like to see in the library. In the last few years, with older students, I have also been sharing catalogs, asking them to look at available titles and series. I also share the budget that I have for nonfiction titles.

Fiction and graphic novel titles are discussed by a smaller group of interested fourth grade students that meets with me once a week during recess and lunch. Anyone is invited. We explore new titles that are going to be released as well as the average amount I have budgeted for newly released titles.

In both cases, discussions are initiated by students about pros and cons to making specific purchases. We explore inquiries about discounts from publishers and local book sellers. Possible purchases are evaluated based on the current collection and the likelihood that they will be checked out by students in the future. Through all of this, students are discussing the financial aspect of prices and budgets. These discussions are not hypothetical. While their decisions are not final, the students do strongly influence what titles are purchased for the library.

You likely already have experiences in your library where students build their financial literacy. The book Teaching Life Skills in the School Library: Career, Finance, and Civic Engagement by Blanche Woolls and Connie Hamner Williams considers more ways that elementary students can explore financial literacy and other life skills in the library. Continuing to look for those moments for your students can bring new experiences and new ways of thinking to your library community.

Works Cited

Woolls, Blanche, and Connie Hamner Williams. Teaching Life Skills in the School Library: Career, Finance, and Civic Engagement in a Changing World. Libraries Unlimited, 2019.

About the Editor

Tom Bober is a school librarian, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the book Elementary Educator's Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He is a Digital Public Library of America Community Rep, a member of the Teachers Advisory Board for the National Portrait Gallery, and a co-chair of the Education Advisory Committee of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Tom writes about student learning on AASL's Knowledge Quest blog and publications such as School Library Connection and American Libraries and has given workshops and spoken across the country. His foundation is built on over twenty years in public education, with six years as an elementary classroom teacher, seven years as a building and district instructional technology specialist, and over eight years in school libraries. Find him at and on Twitter @CaptainLibrary.

MLA Citation Bober, Tom. "Fitting Financial Literacy into Elementary Library Experiences." School Library Connection, April 2019,

View all citation styles

Entry ID: 2196805

Back to Top