Economics: Needs and Wants

Everyone has wants.  However, students need to realize that people can not have everything they want.   Choices have to be made.  Some choices are made based on our basic needs, which include food, clothing, and shelter.  The following books are intended to be used in a kindergarten or first grade classroom. (SOL K.7a, 1.8)

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The Bag I'm Taking to Grandma's

The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s written by Shirley Neitzel and illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker is one of the best books I read that illustrates the difference between needs and wants.  In this story a young boy is packing his bag to spend the night with his grandmother.  He packs so many of his favorite toys that the bag breaks when his mother picks it up.  While trying to sort through all the items the boy has packed the mother asks “Is this flashlight something you really need?”  She also tells him that he needs to “choose one car. You can’t take them all.”  Students should easily relate to this story as most have probably had to pack a bag for a vacation or sleepover.  The story is written and illustrated so that while reading the text a picture is inserted to represent the word, allowing non readers to follow along and participate.

A Chair for my mother

The book A Chair for My Mother written by Vera B. Williams is full of economic lessons.  The story is told by a young girl that lives with her mother and grandmother.  After a fire destroyed everything they had, neighbors donated many items to help refurbish their new apartment.  Even after the generosity of the neighbors, the family still lacked a comfortable chair to sit in and the money to buy one.  The family works together to collect and save their change in a jar until it is full enough to go buy a new chair.

How much is that doggie in the window?

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?, based on the words and music of Bob Merrill, is a story retold and illustrated by Iza Trapani.  The story starts with a young boy who hopes to buy a dog.  Unfortunately, he does not have enough money.  He decides to sell lemonade to earn enough money for the dog.  However, it rains and he does not sell any.  Then his younger sister gets hurt and to help her feel better he buys her a frozen yogurt.  He then proceeds to buy something for his mother and father that he thinks they need.  That is why a week later he has even less money than he started with.  He is saddened when he goes to the pet shop to visit the dog only to find that it has been sold.  When he gets home there is a surprise waiting for him.

if you give a pig a pancake

The story If You Give a Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond is more about wants then needs.  In this cleverly written story “If you give a pig a pancake, she’ll want some syrup to go with it,” is just the start of many things the pig will want. This story circles around from the beginning of wanting syrup, a bath with bubbles, and many other things to building a tree house and finally wanting pancakes with syrup at the end. The pictures are colorful and depict the chaos that follows the pig and all her wants.

jam & jelly by holly & nellie

Jam & Jelly by Holly & Nellie is a heartwarming story written by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen.  Holly and her family live in northern Michigan “where the winter wind lays hold of you and the snow falls until everything is like a sheet of white paper.”  Holly’s mother, Nellie, realizes that Holly will need a new winter coat.  If Holly does not get a coat, then she will have to stay inside all winter and miss school.  Holly and her mother work hard all summer picking wild strawberries, Juneberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries to make jams and jellies to sell on the side of the road.  Winter comes and Holly gets a coat, but what keeps her the warmest is all the pleasant memories from the summer.  The illustrations are wonderfully done with vibrant colors and realistic people and countryside scenes.

Web sites:

The Council for Economic Education has a few lessons and interactive tools for k-3.  At the bottom of the lesson titled “Toys for Me: A Lesson in Choice, in the Resources section, is an interactive game called Health Wants vs. Fun Wants.  The student will determine if items such as water, a bike, medicine, a kite, a house, and a doll are health wants or fun wants by clicking and dragging the items to the appropriate box. (SOL K.7a)

Most schools have a subscription to Kidspiration, if not then there is a 30 day free trial period.  Within the Social Studies section, there is a graphic organizer where students can click and drag different pictures to put in the “needs” and “wants” boxes. (SOL K.7a)Kidspiration Wants and Needs activity.

Students that have a  Webkinz account may not realize it but they are making decisions based on needs and wants when they play.  Once you adopt your pet, you are given a room (shelter) for them.  You are then responsible for earning KinzCash to buy items for your pet.  If you do not feed it and take it to the vet occasionally, then it gets very sick.  With your KinzCash you may purchase clothes, toys and items for the house. (SOL K.7)

Suffolk Teaching Activities & Resources (STAR) website has two interactive games for students.  The first one is the “Wants and Needs Sort,” a game created in Excel.  The second game is “Wants and Needs,” an interactive Power Point activity.  This second game may be best done as a class.

Teacher resources:

The Council for Economic Education has a few lessons and interactive tools for teaching economics in the k-3 classroom.   In the lesson “Toys for Me: A Lesson in Choice”  there is a story poem that can be read to the class and discussion questions to go along with it.  The poem is about a girl named Scarcity who wants many things.  Her mother tells her that she must choose one because it is “this OR that” not “this AND that.”  If Scarcity can not choose one or the other then she will get nothing.  The lessons on this site cover SOL’s K.7, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, and 2.9.

Suffolk Teaching Activities & Resources (STAR) website has several lessons and activities for SOL K.7.  It is also a great resource for just about any SOL.

Putting lesson content to song is a good way to reach many students.  The Kid’s Econ Poster site has two songs about wants (SOL k.7a).  The first one is called Be Careful of what you want and the other is the Wanting Song.”  These songs are sung to the tune of familiar children songs.  There are many other songs on this site that tackle other economic lessons.

The Junior Achievement organization has a fantastic program designed for first graders that covers several economic concepts and map skills (K.5, K. 6, K.7, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9).  A business professional would come into the classroom for 30 minutes for five weeks to cover the content.

  • Books

To find books that correlate to the lesson topic there are two sites that are helpful.  The first is from Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences and it will list the top five books for your economic topic.  The other site is called Connections: Connecting books to the Virginia SOLs.  

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