The participants in the Financial Literacy Experience aren’t the first people to work up a sweat over paying bills.
But they probably giggle and smile more than any others.
The FLEX program, taught in the Whitehall City Schools, combines lessons on money with physical activity, said Latisha Chastang, financial literacy manager for IMPACT Community Action, an organization dedicated to reducing poverty.
Chastang said she felt the after-school program is more appealing to kids because it has a different feel than the classroom.
“They don’t feel like they’re in school,” she said. “We meet them where they’re at.”
During a recent visit to Kae Elementary School in Whitehall, Chastang had the students play a version of freeze tag that involved balancing a budget.
The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders had fun and seemed to grasp the concept that you can’t spend more money than you have.
“You have to decide between needs and wants,” Wayne Blackshear, 10, said. “The rent is a need. An Xbox 360 is a want.”
When kids understand the difference between needs and wants, they have more realistic expectations of what their families can afford, Chastang said.
“It’s something people need to be honest with their children about,” she said. “Our kids are bombarded with stuff that they want. Sometimes parents can’t do that. It gives them a bigger picture.”
The FLEX program teaches important life lessons while helping students gain an understanding of financial literacy, which is going to become an area of study in Ohio schools. The Ohio Department of Education has added a financial-literacy component to students' education beginning with the class of 2014.
The FLEX meetings, which occur twice a month, address budgeting, setting career goals and the importance of saving money.
Financial literacy is key to helping young people become successful adults, said Charlene Simmons, an employee at Fifth Third Bank who volunteers with the company’s Young Banker Club, which is another local financial-literacy program aimed at elementary-school children.
“Your first job probably won’t be at the level of income of your parents,” Simmons said. “Kids have to learn to live a different life. They have to spend within their means.”
Simmons encourages parents to talk openly with their children about what it costs to run a household.
“Start the conversation. Talk about utilities,” she said. “All the uses in our home have a bill associated with it.”
Teaching financial literacy works best when parents start discussing money matters while their children are young, Simmons said.
“It’s an ongoing lesson,” she said. “As students mature, you can have a more detailed dialogue.”