June 2003 // Volume 41 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Money on the Bookshelf: Using Children's Books to Reach Limited Resource Families with Money Management Education

Helping families develop financial management skills and improve their communications about money is the goal of Money on the Bookshelf, a program built around children's books and used by Nevada Cooperative Extension to target limited resource audiences. Results showed significant improvements in how often parents: (1) talked with their children about things that relate to money, (2) included their children in talks about how family money is used, and (3) used everyday events as opportunities to talk with their children about money.

Patricia A. Behal
Area Family Resource Management Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Reno, Nevada
Internet Address: behalp@unce.unr.edu

Kymberley K. Bennett
University of Nevada, Reno
Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Social Psychology
Reno, Nevada
Internet Address: kym@unr.nevada.edu

Alice M. Crites
Extension Educator
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Logandale, Nevada
Internet Address: critesa@unce.unr.edu

Dan Weigel
Area Human Development Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Reno, Nevada
Internet Address: weigeld@unce.unr.edu


Money often is not an easy topic for families to discuss. How family money is used can be a sensitive topic in communications between parents and their children and may evoke conflict between them. Parents and children who learn to work together to improve their abilities to cope with scarce financial resources and to increase their skills to better manage these resources may avoid or reduce some of the money-oriented problems that cause conflicts (Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1988).

Providing families with money management education to enhance their abilities to cope can be challenging using traditional program delivery methods. A more successful approach may be to teach this topic to parents indirectly by helping them teach it to their children. In fact, it has been demonstrated that when parents teach their children they also learn and practice the concepts taught (Darling, 1992; Mochis, Lawton, & Stampfl, 1980; Myer, Crites, & Haldeman, 1995). Money on the Bookshelf (MOTB), a family financial literacy program, was developed based on this strategy.

Program Design and Delivery

The purpose of MOTB is to provide parents and children with opportunities to discuss the use of financial resources and to enhance the financial skills of both parent and child. It helps parents and their children enhance their knowledge and application of money management concepts, including:

  • Allocating resources,
  • Making decisions,
  • Setting goals,
  • Prioritizing,
  • Solving problems,
  • Recognizing resources,
  • Recognizing success, and
  • Saving.

Parents and their children learn to engage in positive interactions as they develop the language processing and communications skills related to money and its management. The program was designed particularly with limited resource audiences in mind.

Children's books about money topics are the foundation on which the MOTB curriculum is built. The program uses a series of four family workshops to teach parents with children ages 4 through 10 how to read and discuss these books with their children. Books selected for use in the program include:

  • A Bargain for Frances,
  • A Chair for My Mother,
  • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday,
  • Just Shopping With Mom,
  • My First Job,
  • Ox-Cart Man,
  • Sheep in a Shop,
  • Something Good,
  • The Berenstain Bears' & Mama's New Job,
  • The Berenstain Bears' Trouble With Money,
  • The Purse, and
  • Tight Times.

Guides for workshop facilitators and guides for parents were developed for each book. The guide content includes:

  1. A statement of the program's goal,
  2. A list of financial concepts and objectives for each book,
  3. A brief summary of the book,
  4. Suggestions to parents for things to think about before they read the book with their children,
  5. Suggestions to parents for things to talk about as they read the book with their children, and
  6. Extender activities that help families practice what they have learned.

The MOTB workshops are built around teaching parents reading techniques such as previewing a book, having children predict, and linking the book to life rather than on teaching money management directly. The modeled reading techniques are the vehicles used to highlight the financial concepts presented within the context of the stories. This indirect approach allows the money management concepts to be taught in a way that makes it easier for both parents and children to grasp. During each workshop, families:

  • Receive a parent guide,
  • Learn about the financial concepts covered in the day's book,
  • Learn several parent/child reading techniques,
  • Participate in a group reading session/story time that models the reading techniques,
  • Discuss the book's financial concepts,
  • Engage in the extender activities, and
  • Check out one of the program's books to encourage continued discussion and reading at home.


To date, 110 families have participated in the program. Forty-four percent of the participants had incomes of $35,000 or less. Almost 37% of the participants were ethnic minorities, and 40% had educational levels of trade school and below. Over 51% of the parents were between the ages of 22 and 35. To reach the target audience, workshop sites included family resource centers, elementary schools and libraries in at-risk neighborhoods, and housing authority sites.

Parents completed a survey prior to beginning the first workshop and an evaluation at the end of the last workshop. Overall, parents showed statistically significant gains in how often they:

  1. Talked with their children about things that relate to money,
  2. Included their children in talks about how family money is used, and
  3. Used everyday events as opportunities to talk with their children about money (paired t-tests, p < .05, n = 44).

More important, when parents were compared by income levels, ethnicity, and education, it was those with the lower annual incomes ($35,000 or less), those who were ethnic minorities, and those with less education (trade school or below) who showed statistically significant gains (p < .05). Parents with higher incomes and more education and who were white showed improvements, but not at statistically significant levels.

It is often challenging to reach families with basic money management education. MOTB is a backdoor method for helping families gain basic financial management skills and improve their communications about money. Approaching the subject by appealing to parents through their children appears to be an effective means of educating parents and children on the topic. Although the program's evaluation is at an early stage, results suggest that MOTB is helpful to limited resource audiences--an audience in particular need of money management skills.


Darling, S. (1992). Family literacy: Parents and children learning together. Principal, 72, 10-12.

Mochis, G. P., Lawton, J. T., & Stampfl, R. W. (1980). Preschool children's consumer learning. Home Economics Research Journal, 9, 64-71.

Myer, P. A., Crites, A. M., & Haldeman, V. A. (1995). Annual report of Extension program impact (Unpublished Report). University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Voydanoff, P., & Donnelly, B. W. (1988). Economic distress, family coping, and quality of family life. In P. Voydanoff & L. C. Majka (Eds.), Families and economic distress: Coping strategies and social policy. New perspectives on family (pp. 97-115). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.