If you came into the art room lately, you may have heard kids talking about whether they could afford to buy bottle caps or a balloon, or asking whether I take returns. You may have seen kids in deep discussions about what supplies they really need and what they could live without. You may have seen me handing back change after they handed me a dollar and thanking them for doing business with me.
So what’s the deal? Have I started actually charging kids for their supplies?! YES!!!!
Economics in the Art Room
All too often students waste their supplies, leaving papers, paints, tape, and whatever else is available half used and discarded. This bothers me, as a teacher who tries to be responsible with my budget and as a person of this Earth. Wasting my supplies is a real pet peeve, and it’s something I’m always trying to prevent.
So as I was planning my newest hands-on project, I knew I had to try SOMETHING to curb this terrible habit my kids have. Not to mention, I was stockpiling supplies from my own home for weeks leading up to it- boxes, bottle caps, rocks…. and spent my own money on other supplies (things that don’t normally pop up in an art budget like straws and balloons). I’LL BE DARNED IF I’M GOING TO SEE YOU WASTE MY CHEEZE-IT BOX, KIDDO!
Then it hit me- make them pay. Make them pay for every supply they get. Make them actually care about the waste they create by making the resources scarce and forcing them to budget just to make ends meet. Stop treating my supplies like we live in a world where money grows on trees! I love it!
Scarcity is a Good Thing!
In presenting this project to my kids, I first gave them a challenge and told them they’d be competing against their classmates. I’m a teacher that loves a game, and pitting tables against each other makes the challenge more exciting for everyone.
Next, I gave them a list of supplies they could use. But not in unlimited quantities… each item had a price next to it. Kids weren’t expecting this, and they quickly began asking questions. I let them wonder for a minute, and then I present the teams with their money. $10 per team.
The price list puts a high value on some supplies, and a lower value on others. Due to the nature of the challenge, certain supplies hold a higher value for their capacity to help the team win. (I’m not yet telling what the challenge is- not all of my classes know yet, and I want the secret to be kept a bit longer!)
Why I Love Capitalism in Class!
The benefits just keep revealing themselves, and there hasn’t been a single downside that I’ve seen. Before starting their project, I’m seeing the teams of students engage in real planning without my even having to make them. Unheard of! The usual routine-kids want to start on their final project as soon as I mention what it’s going to be- has been turned UPSIDE DOWN! Instead, they circle together as a team, and I hear them really debating their options. I love it.
They are having to work together, come to an agreement, have a clear picture of what they want to build.
Then, sometimes, they realize their design isn’t going to work. They have to re-evaluate. They come back to me with items they’ve purchased and ask to make a return. I get to see as groups are revising and I get to ask questions about what is working and what isn’t working.
Rarely, but sometimes, a group leaves their money behind. I don’t save it for them. I treat it like I’d treat it in the real world. If you lose your money, you can’t go to a store and buy something on the promise that you really did have the money but you lost it. Sorry, no sale.
I’m now wondering whether this is a one-time thing or not. Can this be applied to all projects, or would it lose it’s magic? And at what point do I start being more a shopkeeper and less of a facilitator of learning? Is it my job to teach kids economics? Because this can grow and grow and grow…. with salaries and taxes and who knows what!
For now, I think I’ll let them enjoy the novelty of paying for materials in this one project. After that, kids, the balloons are on me. 😉