Calvin, Math, and Allowances

Every so often Calvin and I bake together. Usually it’s something unhealthy like cookies or brownies. For some reason, they’re usually more fun. Plus, they don’t tend to require as many sharp objects in preparation as entrees do. The more I cook, the more I’m convinced it is one of the best practical forms of math for children. I remember fractions being a really hard concept for most of the people in my elementary school. Yet, fractions are all over the place when cooking.

When Calvin “helps” me cook, I usually measure things out but then let him pour whatever the ingredient is into the mixing bowl. A couple of days ago we were making a dessert and I was doling out the cocoa powder. He put the first tablespoon of cocoa powder in. Then, I told him that we needed a total of 3 tablespoons and asked if we already put one in, how many more did we need? To my mild surprise, he correctly answered 2. Yes, a very simple problem but I hadn’t seen him do anything more complicated than basic counting before. A little later on in the process, we needed to add a 1/4 cup of something. I told him we were adding “a fourth cup” and asked him, if we wanted 1 cup, how many fourth cups should we do. He responded with “four.” I can’t guarantee this answer wasn’t a fluke but I still thought it was interesting.

Several months ago I contemplated an allowance for Calvin but, after a bit of research, decided he probably wasn’t ready for it. Most of the books I read recommended starting at school age because it’s hard to understand money without understanding quantities. At that time, Calvin wasn’t exhibiting much numeracy other than some very basic counting so I abandoned the idea. However, my recent cooking experience with Calvin made me think it was perhaps a good time to reconsider the allowance concept.

A rule of thumb I’ve seen several places is to give a child $1 per week per year of age. Since Calvin would be turning four in March, I decided to start with $4/week because it’s an easier number to deal with than $3. My tentative plan is to pay him on Fridays and give him $2 with no strings each week with $1 to go into a “giving” and $1 into a “savings” categories. With giving, I’m hoping to find some child-friendly charities he might be interested in and give him a choice. Then for savings, I’m going to give him an interest rate of 5% compounded monthly. My reading suggested that interest rates have to be fairly high for children to understand the value of savings. I’m not sure if he’s young enough to really understand interest yet but I figure it can’t hurt to start out with it and than backpedal if it confuses him too much.

I picked Calvin up from preschool and as he was getting in the car, I asked him what he’d like to do that afternoon. I suggested reading, playing with legos, or an art project. Calvin informed me that he wasn’t interested in an art project because he was out of glue. Then he asked me if we could go buy some more glue. I figured this was as good a time as any to discuss the concept of an allowance with him. I told him that we couldn’t go buy glue today but we were going to start giving him an allowance on Fridays of $4, two of which he could spend immediately. I also told him that if, once he had the $2, he wanted to go buy glue, we could go do that. Calvin seemed very excited by the idea of allowance and mentioned that when Jaeger got home he wanted to “tell daddy the good news.”

We got home and Calvin immediately wanted to find something he could use to put his allowance in on Friday. I had actually been hoping I could stick to virtual money. I don’t remember when my parents started an allowance with me, probably around school age. However, until I was a teenager, it consisted of a ledger where mom would enter our regular allowance and then subtract anything we bought. I was hoping the same system would work with Calvin but from what he was saying, it was obvious he wanted tangible money he could touch. I gave in mainly because it made sense that at this age he would better understand the concept of money if he could hold it.

Having resigned myself to giving allowance with physical money, which also means I need to make sure to have physical money on hand, we needed to figure out what he was going to store it in. Calvin suggested a piggy bank which I thought was a little odd because I don’t remember talking about piggy banks with him before. Though, maybe there has been some mention in some of his story time books. However, I didn’t want to spend the money to buy a piggy bank, didn’t want to deplete his allowance before he even got it for the cost of one, and didn’t have a convenient container that could be retrofitted as a piggy bank. We searched the house for some sort of minimalistic zippered wallet but came up empty. Finally I settled on the idea of using duck tape to make a duck tape wallet. They’re pretty popular so it was fairly easy to come up with instructions for making one. Calvin started out “helping” me make the wallet but wandered off before it was completely finished. That may have been for the best. It turned out reasonably well. It has a place for dollar bills, a tiny ziplock-like bag that I duck taped in for his change, as well as one credit card slot to hold his library card.

Since Calvin hasn’t had his first allowance yet, all it has at the moment is his library card, which I had been carrying around in my wallet. I showed the wallet to Calvin and he seemed excited by it. I wrote his first name and my phone number on the inside and then he “decorated” the outside with a black sharpie. I told him that to make sure he didn’t lose the wallet, he needed to pick a safe place in his bedroom to store the wallet anytime he wasn’t taking it to the store to buy something.

Tonight, as Calvin went to bed, he sung to himself to sleep with, “money, money, money.” I’m not entirely sure why he’s so excited by the idea of an allowance but he definitely is very excited. Jaeger is dubious but I think I’ve more or less convinced him, at least for the moment. Truthfully, I’m a little dubious too but it should be interesting to see how Calvin handles the concept of an allowance.

2 thoughts on “Calvin, Math, and Allowances

  1. Yanthor

    My theory is that he’s so excited by this concept because it gives him some small measure of control over his life.

  2. Kiesa

    Yes, you’re probably right. In general, I find it so much nicer to be an adult than a child just because of how much more control I have.

    I handed out his 2nd allowance yesterday. He seemed excited by it, and wanted to count it. However, he did not immediately ask to go to the store as I was a little afraid he would. Maybe he just doesn’t want anything in particular at the moment like he wanted the glue.


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