By Deanna C. White
With so many vital lessons to instill in their preteen children in just a few short years, it's no surprise many American parents confess they often overlook teaching their children one of the most basic and practical skills they'll need to live productive lives – how to handle their money.
Since 2008, however, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Ad Council have been working to fill that void, bringing an offshoot of their award-winning Feed the Pig financial literacy campaign, specially tweaked for the "tween" set, to classrooms across the country.
The AICPA and the AD Council created Feed the Pig for Tweens in 2008 in the hopes of creating a nation of young savers by teaching a financial literacy campaign specifically targeted to fourth through sixth graders.
The program is an extension of the original Feed the Pig campaign, which helps those age twenty-five to thirty-four take control of their finances by saving. Benjamin Bankes, an adult-sized pig who evokes memories of the piggy bank, is the icon of the original Feed the Pig campaign.
AICPA Senior Manager – Communications and Consumer Education Melora Heavey said creating the Feed the Pig for Tweens program was the perfect way to dovetail financial literacy lessons to both children and adults.
"Many in the target audience have young children and launching the tweens program helps promote our savings message to both children and adults", Heavey said.
Feed the Pig for Tweens is designed to introduce students age nine to eleven responsible financial decision making by reinforcing math skills with real-life financial scenarios, like tracking expenses, budgeting, and balancing a checkbook.
Instead of looking to Benjamin Bankes as a financial role model, however, tweens are encouraged to follow the "Bankes Piglets", twelve dynamic and diverse "savers and spenders", who help tweens analyze financial habits and create responsible financial plans.
Feed the Pig for Tweens includes The Great Piglet Challenge, an online interactive game, and a take-home activity, Feed the Pig Family Goal, which serves as a springboard for students to discuss financial literacy lessons at home.
Those family financial discussions are especially critical around today's dinner table, according to a 2012 AICPA survey, which found that money is among the lowest priorities in conversations between parents and their children.
The telephone survey, conducted for the AICPA by Harris Interactive, found parents are more likely to discuss such issues as the importance of good manners (95 percent), good grades (87 percent), and the dangers of drugs and alcohol (84 percent) than the value of money management.
"The AICPA believes that children need to learn the basics of smart money habits from an early age to establish positive saving behaviors that will continue through their young adult and adult years", Heavey said. "It is our hope that through the fun and engaging components of Feed the Pig for Tweens, teachers, families, and volunteers will begin to develop in young students a foundation of regular saving that will grow into a life-long habit."
Heavey said the program's components – the Teacher's Guide, online games, and the take-home family saving activity – have remained unchanged from the original launch, but the way the program is implemented has evolved.
Many teachers continue to use the program as it was designed, but today, some teachers are also incorporating it into high school financial education classrooms.
In addition, several state CPA societies partner with local nonprofits to present the program outside of a typical classroom session, Heavey said. CPA volunteers often select a single lesson from the Teacher's Guide to present to children, whether on a classroom visit or at a community event.
"It's always fun to learn of another new way the curriculum is being used", Heavey said.
Liz Julin, deputy director of the Colorado Society of CPAs said the curriculum is always a hit at educator workshops in Colorado.
"There is a lot of interest from the teachers, particularly in the teacher's guide", Julin said. "Teachers felt this information could be easily adapted into lessons for middle school students, and could be introduced into special education classes as well."
Since August 2009, tens of thousands of Feed the Pig for Tweens kits have been ordered, reaching over a million students, AICPA officials say. The program has received multiple honors, including a 2010 Learning magazine Teacher Choice Award and it was named Curriculum of the Year by the 2009 Excellence in Financial Literacy Education (EIFLE) Awards.
Teachers may order printed copies or download the curriculum free of charge at the Feed the Pig for Tweens website. Resources for volunteers are available on the AICPA website, or they can visit their state CPA society.