Talking about money is often considered a taboo, but many Canadian elementary schoolchildren may soon find the sensitive subject on their curriculum, part of a broader effort to encourage financial literacy among the young.
The Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, in a program financed by lender Bank of Montreal and announced Thursday, wants elementary schools to devote classroom time on April 17 to teach money management skills, with a focus on Grade 7 students.
The program, dubbed "Talk with our kids about money day," is being rolled out first in the Toronto and Montreal areas but is to expand nationally over the next three years, when it will be observed on the third Wednesday in April at participating schools. It is supported by a website (talkwithourkidsaboutmoney.com) and free lesson plans for teachers.
Foundation president Gary Rabbior said teaching students about money will help them make better financial decisions later in life and should allow children to develop more realistic expectations about wages, for example, or how much money is needed to buy a home.
Research cited by the foundation has found that 20 per cent of high school students expect to be making more than $100,000 annually within a decade, although Statistics Canada figures showed that only about 6.5 per cent of individuals crossed the six-figure threshold in 2005 and that the median family income in 2010 was $69,860.
The foundation says half of high-school graduates are in debt. "We have to, in schools, help them set appropriate expectations … and really understand what 'living within your means' means so they don't get themselves into trouble and find out after the fact," Mr. Rabbior said.
The classroom discussions will look at practical aspects of budgeting and money management, and how these are a personal responsibility.
"We were looking to provide a baseline of money management to every child," said Carolyn Ball, a Grade 5 teacher at Sprucecourt Public School who has been having money-related discussions with her students.
The foundation's program was announced at Sprucecourt, in the Cabbagetown area of downtown Toronto.
Part of the classroom effort will be to integrate learning about money into other subjects. The most obvious is mathematics, but it will also include science, music, art and social studies. Those involved said they want parents to also set aside time to talk to their children about how to manage money.
Ms. Ball said students in Grade 5 surprised her by asking questions about investing in stocks, while some Grade 7 students went home and encouraged parents to open savings accounts. She said students are keen to learn about money; she found that "engagement on financial issues, money learning, was tremendous."
Jacques Ménard, chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns and vice-chair of the federal government's Task Force on Financial Literacy, told an assembly at the school "that one can't start early enough" to learn about money management.
He said the bank is financing the effort because it wants "to help Canadians gain the knowledge and the skills and the confidence to make responsible financial decisions … at all stages of their lives."