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Real-World Math Class for Homeschoolers and Educators

Denise homeschooled her 4 children and has stories. She provided art lessons for many children in the homeschool community for many years.

My homeschoolers studying.

My homeschoolers studying.

When Will I Ever Use That?

When I was homeschooling my four children, we had some discussions on “When will I ever need math in the real world?” This is a really good question. I explained that it is good to know how to figure out the cost of things when there is a 25% sale. It is always nice to go to the grocery store and figure out how much you are spending before you get to the checkout counter.

But as I got to thinking about it, I needed my children to be able to write checks, balance a bank account, handle credit cards and interest, fill out their own tax returns, and create their own budget. They don’t teach that in schools these days. It would have been nice to know how to write a check before I had my own checking account. And don’t get me started on the pitfalls of handling credit cards with the banks targeting college kids before they even know how to hold down a job and make money.

Fake driver's license and debit card

Fake driver's license and debit card

Handling Finances

With this in mind, I spent the summer before our second year of homeschooling creating a financial curriculum I called “Real-World Math.” The kids were 11, 12, 13, and 14 years old that year.

I started by creating a fake ID/Driver’s License for each of the four kids using the future date when each would be 24 years old. I assumed by that time they would be finished with college and possibly working a job of their own. I made each of them apply for a fake credit card as if it were real and then presented them with my rendition of what one would look like. Each of them received a fake job and fake income and a fake bank account with a fake debit card.

Learning How to Manage Spending and Pay Bills

To this, I gave them each a fake address and a sketch of their apartment. I told them their dad and I gifted each of them with a bed and dishes but the rest of the furniture they would have to buy on their own. So once a month they went “shopping” in the ads and circulars that came to the house for furniture, high-fi sets, computers, appliances, and anything else they wanted.

Once a month I printed their “bills” based on our own household bills. Electricity, cable, phone, and Internet bills came in the mail back then, so I printed versions of those for the kids, taking into account that each would be in a smaller home than ours and their electricity/gas would be a fraction of ours. Then they needed to tithe to the church (if they wanted), write checks for their bills (rent, electricity, cable, Internet, phone), buy food with a check, buy gas for their car, balance their bank account, and buy something on the credit card and then pay the bill the following month.

Places to shop

Places to shop

Surprise Bills

After the first month, the kids pranced around saying real-world stuff wasn’t so hard. That’s when I decided that real life is always throwing us curves that we don’t expect. So I created “Dilemmas” for them to solve and pay for. Things like traffic tickets, accidents, appliances breaking, health issues, vet bills for the pets, birthdays, parties, car repair, flat tires, hair cuts, beauty appointments, dresses for special events like weddings, etc., happen to everyone.

I printed these up randomly each month with the total cost they had to pay for each. The rest of their money they needed to put into a savings account or invest. I always suggested that they save 10 to 25% first before bills and then live on the rest, but each had the option of doing as they pleased.

Credit card debt is easy to get into.

Credit card debt is easy to get into.

Credit Cards and Interest Rates

They learned how to write numbers out longhand and to get good at it. They learned about credit cards and interest rates and the benefits of paying back what you spent in full if at all possible to avoid larger interest costs. At first, I gave each of them one credit card. Then I decided to be "realistic" and each month I kept sending them new credit card applications. It was up to them to decide to accept or decline the offer. Those who chose more than two soon discovered the hidden fees and the problem of balancing too many credit cards.

They learned to balance their own bank account and keep track of check entries. The one thing they didn’t really get to experience was using their debit card; however, if I were to do this again, I think I would have them pay for their groceries and gas with the debit card and then make sure they made a point of recording that expenditure.

Tax Time

Around March, I went to the library and got some income tax forms for each of the kids to fill out. I had to create some W-2s for each of them in January but that wasn’t so hard. They had to create their own filing system and save those for tax time. They had to figure out how much they would each owe to Uncle Sam and write a check for that if they had it in the bank. This opened up discussions on taxes and government and bills before congress that would impact them in the future. We got more out of this than any textbook civics class ever taught me.

Tax time

Tax time

Results

At the end of the school year, each of them showed how they did, how much fake money they had saved in the bank, how well or badly an investment did, how their apartment looked with their chosen furnishings, etc., in a drawing or a 3-D shoe box. One of my daughters saved the most and was very proud. She had decided to shop at a thrift store for her furniture and saved a bundle. She didn’t want a stereo system or a TV; although I thought this was unrealistic, I let her make her own decisions. Today, 20 years later, she still has the largest savings.

My son married a girl who knew how to save and economize. He kept telling me that she reminded him of me. They were able to buy their first home with cash and pay off all their student loans from college. He has a master's degree in divinity from Dallas Theological Seminary and she has a doctorate in Student Development. I’m very impressed with them.

A couple of the kids in my daughter's pool.

A couple of the kids in my daughter's pool.

Final Thoughts

It has been many years since I created this little exercise in the real world of math, and my daughters and son still tell me occasionally that they are happy we did it because they weren’t afraid of their first real checking account or credit card. They know how to budget and to save money. They understand that using a card isn’t free money but something they will have to pay back. Isn’t that what real math is supposed to do? Be used for everyday life? I always thought so.

I would love to know your thoughts on this. Feel free to share this with anyone homeschooling or just someone with teens who need to be prepared for the future of finance.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 03, 2020:

Devika Primić,

That is very true. I enjoyed homeschooling my children and hope this lesson comes in handy for other people as well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 03, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

Yes, it was. I'm hoping it will be helpful for other people's children as well. Maybe someday clever people will write a curriculum and incorporate it into the public schools. That would be awesome. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 03, 2020:

Peggy Woods,

I appreciate that. I had a savings account as well. I would deposit half my babysitting earnings every month and when I was 18 and wanted contact lenses and my father assured me I wouldn't wear them and he wouldn't pay for them, so I bought them myself. It changes the determination to make them work when you are using your own money. I'm glad my mom made me save too. We have a lot in common, you and I. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 03, 2020:

Denise you share valuable points and I admire how you put together lessons to kids. It is interesting, informative and well tackled from your side of it. After all, every learning lesson begins at home.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 02, 2020:

Your real world math class sounds like an excellent idea, Denise. It's a great way to teach children about money. I'm sure it was very helpful for your children.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 02, 2020:

My parents always taught us the value of saving, and we each had our real savings accounts as children. I remember looking at those old savings books to see how the amount would grow over time with interest. It was something tangible to have in one's hands back then.

You did a great job teaching your kids the value of money, saving, etc. with your lessons.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Diana Carol Abrahamson,

I certainly tried my best. I'm certainly not a perfect mother or educator but I tried to make it fun and interesting. There are a lot of things I did poorly but I think I handled this okay. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Anupam Mitu,

Thank you. It was a bit unique but it sure worked for us. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Linda Lum,

Good point. Me either. I would have to go into science or the medical field to use that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Bill Holland,

You know, I was prepared to just do what was required by the state until they got me to thinking about math they could use in life. It was a lot of work on my part to create all this but you are right, it made a big difference in their attitudes and their lives. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

Thanks. I appreciate your kudos. I know it sure helped my son when he went off on his own several states away from us to go to seminary. He was too far for us to cast any kind of safety net and yet he was able to take care of everything himself, from car to insurance to budgeting and even found a place to live rent-free. He was a night manager at a semi-assisted elderly apartment complex while going to school during the day. It was genius really because he was within walking distance of the seminary so no gas spent in getting to class each day. I am so proud of him. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Diana Carol Abrahamson from Somerset West on September 01, 2020:

You really prepared the children for the real world. Well done, Denise.

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on September 01, 2020:

A great teacher you are apart from being such a lovely and innovative artist.

It's such an interesting perspective of yours which might help many teachers as well as parents to train their kids the practical mathematics

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Mary Norton,

There are probably lots more things I couldn't think of that a creative person could add to this. It was a long time ago that I taught my kids. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on September 01, 2020:

Denise, this is absolutely genius! This is what every child needs to learn because absolutely every one of us has to live in the real world. I have not found one use for trigonometry in my day-to-day activities.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Eric Dierker,

Yes, I was lucky too. Homeschooling turned out to be as much an education for me as it was for my kids. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 01, 2020:

Marie Flint,

Now isn't that a hoot? My kids still sing my praises about teaching them about checking, banking, and credit cards. They wouldn't have gotten that in school. Thanks for the insights.

Blessings,

Denise

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 01, 2020:

Brilliant, and the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Well done, Mom, and I'm sure your kids are grateful. As an old teacher, I loved the lesson.

Lorna Lamon on September 01, 2020:

There is nothing as important as real life lessons and this is a wonderful example of how to deal with the realities of finances. I feel it should be taught in school as it prepares kids for a world that can be difficult to navigate.

My mum was always a great saver and she passed on the importance of budgeting (even our pocket money). She never had a credit card,however, made sure we knew how to manage one. The lessons in your article are invaluable Denise, and you can see the results first-hand in your children's lives today. Real lessons for the real world - excellent advice.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 31, 2020:

What a great idea. I have always pushed for kids to have financial literacy, but you shared how to go about it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 31, 2020:

Excellent. I am lucky i get to concentrate on this part as the teachers and mom handle the other.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on August 31, 2020:

Great idea. When I substituted as a teacher near my hometown area, I found that the "special needs" students were getting more practical life training than the "normal" students.

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