In light of the upcoming holiday, I wanted to reach outside the traditional leprechaun fun (although that will be coming up this week!), and do a few other “lucky” activities with my kids.  The kindergarten teacher inside of me loves using every playtime as an opportunity to learn. Penny play was not only fun for my kids, but really lent itself to a variety of teachable moments. We had a wonderful morning playing and learning with these coins that are all too often taken for granted and thought of as “worthless.”  Well little penny, you are worth far more than one cent to me…You are math, literacy, dexterity, discrimination, and sensory play….and I thank you.

I am so excited to share these simple learning activities with you. Even moms who typically shy away from crafts and projects can embrace these EASY and educational activities.

1. How many pennies?

Ask your child how many pennies they think it takes to make one dollar, a dime, a nickel, a quarter…Allow them to guess. Learning to estimate is a very important skill. To be most effective in this demonstration, have examples of the other coins, and a dollar bill as well. Exposing your child to the different types of money, and teaching them the names of the coins is wonderfully educational, and can help your child have a leg up in school. With the dollar, after your child has guessed, tell them that you need 100 pennies to make one dollar.  Ask them which way they would rather carry a dollar in their pocket and why. (Do this with the other coins as well. Take the time to make 25 cents/10 cents/5 cents both ways!) Then, ask them how you might be able to best count out 100 pennies. If they do not come up with the idea to count by 10’s, suggest it. Show your child how to make a stack of ten pennies. As my daughter and I began making the stacks, we would stop every few stacks and count by 10. (If your child doesn’t know how to count by tens, MODEL it! Every exposure to a new skill helps and DOES make a difference!)  As we got closer, I would say, “Okay, we have 70 pennies, and we need to get to 100. How many more stacks do we need to make?” My daughter would then count, “80,90,100…3 Mom..We need 3 more stacks.” It was really fun to see her make the connections.

What your child learned:

1. Counting by tens

2. Money value

3. Basic algebraic addition/subtraction (Solving for the missing number  ie- 100-70 =?)

4. Estimation

5. Logic

2. Make a penny

Find some fun orangeish/copperish paper. We like to use scrapbooking paper for projects at our house, because it is just more fun to look at. While this humble little craft may look well…humble…there are SO many learning opportunities wrapped up in this little circle of paper! Allow YOUR CHILD to cut out the circle, and do not get upset if it is not perfect. You would not believe how many children come to kindergarten that have never held a pair of scissors before. (The goal of this craft is NOT to have your child replicate a penny, so any offended coin enthusiasts (numismatists  for you vocab lovers) I apologize..) Have your child draw a one on each side of the circle. (On my teacher’s soapbox, I beg of you to not teach your child to make the “fancy” number one. Please teach them to just draw a straight line. On a side note, I am also vehemently opposed to the fancy four and the seven with the line through it.) Okay..feet are clean…Next, have your child spell and write the word “one” at the top and bottom. This will help cement the coin’s worth. Finally, have your child write the word “penny” in the center. While I do not approve of telling your child how to spell words during journaling or writer’s workshop, during an activity like this, where you are trying to teach a specific idea, it is okay to teach them correctly, rather than have them sound it out and do approximated spelling.

What your child learned:

1. Coin value

2. Small motor dexterity (scissoring and writing)

3. Coin name

4. Spelling practice -(My daughter has been walking around with her penny saying “O-N-E” for a few days…She KNOWS how to spell “one” now)

5. Writing practice – EVERY opportunity to get your child writing should be taken!

3. Spot the difference

Dump out a large amount of pennies. (I will put out the warning, that if you have children or animals around that are prone to putting things in their mouths, that you should not do this activity.) Tell your child that a certain number of coins in the pile are NOT pennies, and ask them to find them. It’s like your little home-made version of I-Spy. I had 3 different coins in my pile (2 dimes and a nickel, but any combination of other coins will work.) At first, my daughter would give me the really tarnished pennies, and that allowed us to talk about a myriad of other things. Then, she spotted a dime. We were able to talk about what a dime was and how much it was worth. She asked why it looked different. I said it was made out of a different material. I asked her what she thought the coins were made out of. First she guessed plastic. Then she guessed metal. When I told her she was right, she was very excited and ran with a penny to the fridge. She wanted to see if it would stick. It was really fun to see her brain go there. She knew that metal and magnets were somehow correlated. We were able to then talk about how magnets worked…(I’m not making this stuff up…playing with your kids WILL lead to learning opportunities!)  It was great fun, and from such a simple activity.

What your child learned:

1. Visual discrimination

2. Coin differences (size, metal, worth)

3. Coin values

4. ??? So many other connections and conversations can happen when you play with coins!!

4. Penny drop

Okay, who didn’t play this at a birthday party when they were a kid? (You know, back before birthday parties were a big elaborate event?!) I knew my kids would love this simple little game. I pulled out a few pint jars from the garage and a stack of pennies. I had my kids kneel on one of our dining table chairs and try to drop their penny into the jar. The kids had to learn to adjust their trajectory, their aim, drop height etc. Without really thinking about it, their little minds were really working! Each of the kids stopped to adjust the jar, or change the way they were sitting…where they held their arms, etc. Try this one out!

What your child learned:

1. Trial and Error (a very valuable thinking process that can be translated into many different subject areas)

2. Estimation

3. Cause and Effect (ie- If I hold my hand this way….If I put my arm lower….If I move the jar out this way…)

A few other ideas for penny play…

Create a penny sensory table. Fill a tub with pennies, shovels, scoops, and containers of various sizes. Just allow your kids to play and explore with the pennies. Touching is learning! Ask any early childhood educator, and they will tell you just how important a sensory table is!

Teach your child the old rhyme, “See a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.” Having your child learn to memorize is a very important and useful skill. Kids have great memories and can retain a lot of knowledge. Talk about what luck is. The conversations that can happen from this are priceless!

Have a penny drive. Collect spare pennies and have your child choose a local charity to donate them to.

Similar to the penny drop, have a penny toss. Set up a few buckets, and have your child attempt to throw their penny into the buckets. They will again have to adjust their trajectory, etc.

Have fun, and next time you see a penny..pick it up! You may not have “good luck” but you will have an incredible little teaching tool!!