New Iowa Children's Museum exhibit promotes financial literacy

University of Iowa Community Credit Union collaborated with museum

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CORALVILLE — Kids swarmed a new section of the Iowa Children’s Museum on Saturday that is meant to promote financial literacy.

“This is an opportunity to teach kids how money really works,” said Deb Dunkhase, executive director of the museum.

The new $25,000 exhibit, City Money, is a collaboration between the museum, at 1451 Coral Ridge Ave., and the University of Iowa Community Credit Union. Dunkhase said the museum also received money from a federal grant and the Community Foundation of Johnson County.

The City Money exhibit includes a station where kids can fill out fake checks, a magnetic board where they can learn about denominations and a wheel that helps differentiate needs versus wants. There’s also a fake ATM and a miniature bank teller window that children can “drive” up to.

Children also will be able to use new cash registers at the grocery store and pizzeria exhibits, Dunkhase said.

City Money is only one part of the museum and credit union’s initiative to promote financial literacy. The two groups have been collaborating on free financial workshops for parents and children for two years. They also plan to start outreach to local schools this fall, including after-school workshops and involvement with boy and girl scouts.

“Overall financial literacy is important at all ages, but especially if they can learn it as they’re growing up,” said Jean Knepper, public relations director for the UI Credit Union.

The push for financial literacy is coming at a crucial time, said Tahira Hira, a member of former President George W. Bush’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy and a professor of personal finance and consumer economics at Iowa State University.

“I think it is wonderful that they are recognizing the importance that money plays in our lives and the importance of us learning to manage our money,” Hira said. “It is so important that we ... introduce those kinds of concepts to children at a very early age because what we learn early on becomes our way of doing.”

One overriding aspect of the Iowa Children’s Museum’s City Money exhibit is the focus on parent-child interaction, Dunkhase said.

“A lot of times you see parents sitting on the sidelines and letting the kids play, which is wonderful, but [City Money’s] interactive games are really compelling,” she said. “Our goal is not just to educate the kids, but to empower parents.”

In an ever-changing society, parental inclusion in financial literacy programs is essential, Hira said. Both generations have much to learn, she said, and group learning fosters reinforcement at home.

As Coralville resident Jessica Kalin watched her two boys play with the fake ATM and “donate” money on Saturday, she talked about how the exhibit mirrors lessons they’ve been learning at home.

“Once their piggy bank’s full they know can get something with it,” she said. “But they know they have to save first.”

Another main lesson of the exhibit is that money doesn’t magically appear in an ATM, said Dick Noble, director of operations at the UI Credit Union.

“They learn you have to make that deposit before you can make a withdrawal,” said Noble, who was dressed as “Mayor Moneyworks” on Saturday to pass out pennies to children so they could donate them.

For some kids exploring the new exhibit, the lessons were already clear.

Lillian Warbasse, 9, of Cedar Rapids, who was playing with magnetic coins and dollar bills, said she thinks the exhibit is important.

“It helps you to learn how to save and not spend on bad things,” she said.


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