Teaching Economics With Children’s Literature: The Hard-Times Jar


The Hard-Times Jar written by Ethel Footman Smothers and illustrated by John Holyfield explores the exciting ideas of economics by following the life of Emma Jean Turner and her family.  The Turner’s were migrant workers who had to follow the crops, so money was often difficult to come by in their house.  Emma’s mother, whom she referred to as “Mama”, created a jar that was called “the hard-times jar” to collect every little bit of change possible.  The hard-times jar was only supposed to be used in an emergency if the family runs out of something important before payday.  This colorful books explains  Emma’s desire to spend the money in the hard-times jar on a store-bought book.  The Hard-Times Jar teaches students  the importance of working hard for money and valuing the money they have.  The Hard-Times Jar also explains the idea of scarce resources and how those scarce resources can effect a family.  The students will enjoy following Emma as she leaves the family apple picking group, attends school, and eventually buys her first store-bought book.

Here are a few excerpts from the book.

  • “Mama’s hard-times jar lay tucked between blankets.  It was just about half full of loose change.  Solid nickels.  Rusty red pennies.  Thin Dimes.  And every now and then a fat quarter.” (pg. 5)
  • “There were lots of boys and girls just like Miss Miller had said.  But none were chocolate- brown like her.” (pg. 17)
  • “That’s what the hard-times jar is for.  For hard times.” (pg. 29)

Curriculum Connections:
The Hard-Times Jar
is an easy-read with wonderful illustrations to help students in second grade or third grade to learn about economics.  For second graders, this book will help students explain that scarcity requires people to make choices about producing and consuming goods. (VA SOL 2.9)  For third graders, this book will help students understand that because people and regions cannot produce everything they want, they specialize in what they do best and trade for the rest.  (VA SOL 3.8)

Additional Resources

  • This interactive poem is great for teaching students about scarcity and how people have to make choices because they cannot have everything they want.
  • This quiz provides some good questions for students so teachers can test students’ knowledge of the material.  The quiz is multiple choice and the majority of the questions test the students knowledge of vocabulary words and overall economics ideas.
  • This interactive activity from beacon Learning Center helps students learn the difference between goods and services and producers and consumers.

Book: The Hard-Times Jar
Author: Ethel Footman Smothers
Illustrator: John Holyfield
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: August 2003
Pages: 32 Pages
Grade Range: Second Grade and/or Third Grade
ISBN: 978-0374328528

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