Thinking Money for Kids

Helping libraries become sites of financial learning.

by Rebecca Joy NorlanderBennett AttawayJoanna Laursen BruckerElliott BowenShaun Field
May 1, 2023

For many Americans, money is a complicated subject. Despite studies showing that financial knowledge is a key part of financial wellbeing, many across the US lack opportunities for acquiring this knowledge. Particularly is this true when it comes to youth, who are growing up in a world of increasing financial complexity. In order to successfully navigate present and future financial challenges, it is imperative to create pathways for helping today's children become knowledgeable about a range of subjects that can increase their financial capabilities.

In recognition of this need, in 2007, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation) and the American Library Association (ALA) began a partnership called Smart investing@your library®. Its goal is to help public libraries build capacity for advancing financial capabilities in their communities, and one of the ways it's sought to achieve this is through a traveling exhibition called "Thinking Money for Kids." Between 2019 and 2023, 50 US public libraries hosted the exhibition, which uses games to teach children and their parents and caregivers about money in ways that are both understandable and fun. Each library hosted the exhibition for six weeks, and supplemented this with their own money-related programs or events. The goals of the project were to:

  • Increase patrons' understanding of financial subjects that play, or will play, a vital, everyday role in their lives.
  • Build the capacity of public libraries to deliver inspirational and effective financial literacy learning experiences for their communities.
  • Advance our understanding of effectively reaching underserved and underrepresented library populations in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and disseminate project resources and evaluation findings.

What Did We Find?

To determine the extent to which Thinking Money for Kids achieved the above goals, we used a variety of assessment tools and activities. These included patron surveys, site visits, analysis of library reports, and a series of interactive wall activities that gave children an opportunity to share what they learned from the exhibition. On the basis of the qualitative and quantitative data we collected and analyzed, we found that Thinking Money for Kids was both highly successful and incredibly effective. Specifically, our evaluation revealed that:

  • Children and their parents / caregivers found the exhibition and its associated library programs to be both engaging and informative. Many appreciated how it helped break down barriers to talking about money and topics such as spending, saving, investing, and budgeting.
  • Library patrons acquired new knowledge on a range of financial topics. After participating in the program, many patrons also expressed an intent to commit to financial goal-setting and other new financial behaviors. Families were especially motivated to help future generations become better money managers.
  • Library staff also benefited from the project. Hosting the exhibition helped them add new financial resources to their collections, while also improving their ability to help patrons with financial questions and design financial education programs for their communities.
  • The exhibition reached a wide variety of audiences. It appealed to both kids and adults, and promoted intergenerational learning. It also reached communities with a high proportion of low-income families, helping to close gaps in financial education among underserved groups.

As all of this indicates, Thinking Money for Kids met each of its goals. The program shows how libraries can position themselves as sites of financial learning, and provides a foundation for future financial education programs at all kinds of cultural institutions. It serves as a promising model for child-centered financial education initiatives, and is a highly effective example of the kinds of programs needed to improve financial knowledge across the country.

To read more about the program's impacts, click the link at the top of the page.


These materials were produced for Thinking Money for Kids, a project supported by the American Library Association and the FINRA Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Library Association or the FINRA Foundation

Cover image by Braňo @ Unsplash

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