Financial literacy for preschoolers
Award-winning teacher takes lessons about money to preschool

By Eric Oliver - Enterprise Staff

Nov. 25, 2015

Jennifer Guenther, program manager of Early$tart=Money$mart, poses with the puppets she uses to teach young children about financial literacy.  
Submitted photo

OCONOMOWOC — Preschool is a time for learning about shapes, sounds and if you’re Early$tart=Money$mart Program Manager Jennifer Guenther, money.

Guenther recently retired from the classroom after 21 years to pursue her ultimate vision — to educate students throughout the state on the importance of financial literacy.

She developed three programs under the umbrella of Early$tart=Money$mart.

The programs are targeted at different grade levels and teach a range of topics. For example, her program targeted for students in preschool to third grade uses four finance-themed puppets, a story, arts and crafts and acting to teach kids about money.

Nationwide, financial literacy programs are largely introduced at the high school level. Teaching basic money skills to younger students rarely occurs.

Through a partnership with EconomicsWisconsin she is introducing these programs to area libraries, schools, churches, banks and community centers, among others.

The idea started as a passion project when she first started teaching. While in her elementary grade classroom, she introduced a classroom currency system where students earned money, had expenses and ultimately learned basic financial literacy.

When she went back to school for her master’s degree, she worked her ideas into a capstone business class she took. It was noticed.

EconomicsWisconsin awarded her with an Excellence in Teaching award in 2006. Then in 2009, she received a Herb Kohl Fellowship award, denoting excellence in teaching, and then in 2011, she capped off her award portfolio with a Governor’s Award from the Governor’s Council for Financial Literacy.

That’s when her school started reorganizing. She was taken out of elementary school and placed into an English class.

She did that for a while, until last summer. She approached EconomicsWisconsin with the idea to flesh out her courses and start pursuing them. They agreed and she left behind the classroom in September, took two months to develop her programs and is now getting ready to start presenting them.
 

The collaboration

The three programs are targeted for students from preschool through sixth grade. She then has a separate program for adults raising children from age 4 and up.

But that’s not all Guenther is a part of when it comes to financial literacy and students.

She was approached by a representative of BMO Harris Bank to be a part of their partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education and their two initiatives, Talk to Your Kids About Money Day and the money fair.

Talk to Your Kids About Money Day is exactly what it sounds like and is set, annually, for the last Wednesday in April. They want parents “to have the talk with their kids,” Guenther said.

The money fair is very similar to the science fair, but instead of solving a scientific problem, students would be given an economic problem to solve.

Both of those things and her Early$tart=Money$mart program are driving Guenther’s ultimate vision: to blend the two programs together and help kids from preschool to high school to understand the importance of money.

“I’d love to see the money fair take off,” Guenther said. “When they were telling me about this I immediately thought it was great. ... If I can see the money fair happen throughout the state of Wisconsin and if I can be a catalyst for any part of it I’d feel really good about that.”

Guenther chose Oconomowoc to be one of the first places she starts her programs.

Guenther calls the Town of Erin her home. She graduated from Oconomowoc High School in 1989 and attended the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire for her teaching degree. She was a recipient of a scholarship from the Oconomowoc Scholarship Fund and is trying to return the favor by serving the Oconomowoc area with her services “to give back to the community that supported me many years ago,” Guenther said.

To learn more about financial literacy and Guenther’s programs, email her at
Guenther@EconomicsWisconsin.org.