Parents, the national coin shortage is a chance to teach our kids about history, economics

My children’s questions were about the monetary value coins hold, and the American values our country has branded onto coins’ heads and tails for centuries — both values now becoming outdated.

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The coin shortage is a chance to teach our kids, Gina Caneva writes.

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Go ahead, find that Mason jar of change, flip over those couch cushions, and empty out that piggy bank.There’s a lengthy coin shortage, Chicago, and if you have kids, it’s something they can do as the weather turns dreary this winter.

Last weekend, out of sheer determination to abide by New Years’ resolutions from 2020 — yes, 2020, we’ve all been a bit delayed — my husband and I decided to open up bank accounts for our children. In doing so, we wanted to make their first deposit consist of all of the coins they had piled up, given to them by relatives or found on a playground and brought home with sheer joy.

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Perfect timing, as we ventured out to light festivals, the movies, and grocery stores together this winter break, all of us reading the signs posted about the national coin shortage. My kids had many questions that I barely could answer at the time.

“What’s a coin shortage?”

“Why is there a coin shortage?”

“Can’t they just make more coins?”

“How much does it cost to make a coin anyways?Is it more than the coin itself?”

After looking up several of these questions, I gave them some answers. At the start of the pandemic, in spring and summer of 2020, many American businesses closed, and the thoroughfares from which people used to get their coins were halted as well.When the country reopened, the government produced more coins, and companies and banks incentivized bringing in coins. These actions were supposed to stop coins from going obsolete.

But the actions didn’t work. Two years later, the coin shortage is still here. And since one of the reasons I told my kids it was still happening was because people were hoarding coins, we decided to turn our coins in.

We went to the bank, and they sent us back home with paper rolls for coins and some encouragement to open up the accounts online.We made the task into a project — counting and rolling coins with the kids, answering myriad other questions which included the following:

“You mean people have to roll their own coins in a coin shortage?Shouldn’t banks be doing this?”

“Why are there only men’s faces on these coins?” (We didn’t have any Maya Angelou quarters yet at our house.)

“Is a nickel made of nickel?”

“Can you still turn this one in?” (Asked about a coin where the back had been covered by caked-on dirt, gum, or some other gross substance.)

“George Washington, was he a good president? What about Thomas Jefferson?”

My children’s questions were about the monetary value coins hold, and the American values our country has branded onto coins’ heads and tails for centuries — both values now becoming outdated.

On the one hand, it’s intriguing to me to move away from a currency branded by only the white, male leaders in our society—two of whom, Washington and Jefferson, owned slaves. It’s also highly ironic that as women start to appear on them, coins go out of use.

Yet, on the other hand, it concerns me to start to teach my kids that money can be a digit on a screen, not a tangible, clinking object that can fill up a clear jar, or an object that can be lost.

As parents, our job also becomes different. For example, the way we teach them about finance changes as banking interactions become primarily digital, and we have little help from our own parents or our nation’s schools.During my childhood and adolescence, my parents never taught me and my sibling about banking on a screen. And both of my kids attend a school with a Common Core math curriculum that uses coins to teach about money.

As we rolled our 50th penny into another paper cylinder, it hit me: Our country is changing the way it deals with coins, with little recognition of how we need to change our conversation about money.

So parents, like with most other things we have no control over: This one’s on us. Get counting.

Gina Caneva is the library media specialist for East Leyden High School in suburban Franklin Park. She taught in CPS for 15 years and is Nationally Board Certified. Follow her on Twitter @GinaCaneva

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