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December 19, 2007 > Make a holiday shopping game plan for kids

Make a holiday shopping game plan for kids

By Jason Alderman

Are you stumped for ideas on what to get your children for holiday gifts? Join the club. When I was a kid, my folks had far fewer gift choices for me: board games, a bicycle, or maybe the dreaded long underwear. Today, doing a search for "toys" on Amazon.com reveals more than 400,000 listings.

Now that I'm a parent, I understand why my parents and grandparents wanted at least some of our gifts to be "educational." The trick is to find toys or games that impart knowledge and that won't get tossed under the bed because they're boring.

Here are a few ideas for games for all ages that can teach your kids the value of money, the importance of saving, and planning for the future - and amazingly, they're fun too. Some are high-tech, some are more old-fashioned and many are actually free:

The Game of Life. This classic board game is designed for ages nine and up. Players navigate life's twists and turns, learning how various life events, education and career decisions impact their earnings potential, ability to buy a house, retirement planning and so on.

The new Twists & Turns Edition uses an electronic "LIFEPod" to store players' financial data and progress through the game. The game rewards players for earning "life points" - a mixture of wealth accumulation and life experiences - while pursuing life goals along four different paths: Live It (adventure), Love It (family), Learn It (college) and Earn It (career).

Stagecoach Island. If your high school or college-age kids enjoy multi-player video games, have them check out this online virtual world created by Wells Fargo. On Stagecoach Island they can explore the island and its hidden secrets, connect with friends and learn smart money-management skills. After registering for free at www.stagecoachisland.com, players earn virtual money they can "spend" on the island by answering questions about banking and personal finances.

The Stock Market Game. This game teaches students from fourth grade to college how investments work. Teachers can register at www.smgww.org for classroom materials correlated to national and state standards for math, social studies and other curricula. Starting with a $100,000 virtual cash account, competing student teams use real Internet research and news updates to create the best-performing stock portfolios in a live trading simulation.

Financial Football. Your family's sports nuts will like Financial Football, an online, interactive game developed by Visa and the National Football League. The game combines the structure and rules of the NFL with financial education questions of varying difficulty. Playing against the clock, teams gain yards and score points for answering questions correctly, and lose yardage for wrong answers. Parents, teachers and kids can play the free game, order a free CD-Rom or download the cell phone version by going to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/football.

H.I.P. Pocket Change. For elementary school kids, check out the U.S. Mint's H.I.P. (History in Your Pocket) Change website (www.usmint.gov/kids). Designed to generate interest in coins and U.S. history, the site features interactive games, stories, puzzles, cartoons and many other activities. Teachers can also download free lesson plans and other classroom resources.

No matter how you do it, sharing your financial wisdom is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children - you might as well make it fun in the bargain.

Jason Alderman directs Visa Inc's financial education programs

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