Teaching Kids About Bartering

Stacy Zeiger
Girl with piggy bank
Saving is not the only way to get what you want.

For ages, people have been bartering to meet their needs and wants. Teaching kids about bartering helps them understand how individuals got by before systems of currency existed and shows them that money is not always required to get what you need. Lessons about bartering should involve a lot of examples and hands-on practice so your students truly understand the concept.

Bartering Activities and Games

Help your children understand bartering by giving them a chance to barter themselves. As they complete activities and play games, they will learn the basic concept of bartering, and it may spur them to try some real-life bartering.

What Can I Do to Get What I Want?

Have your child create a list of skills that she has and another list of things that she needs and wants. Look at the two lists together and have your child figure out how she can use at least one of her skills to get something on her lists of needs and wants. For example, if she wants a toy that her older sister has, she could do one of her sister's chores for awhile in exchange for the toy. If she is having trouble in school, she could help a teacher clean up her classroom or file papers in exchange for a tutoring session one day a week.

Barter Party

Host a barter party. Invite children to come to the party with an item or items they would like to trade or index cards of services they can provide other children. During the party, children will be encouraged to barter for new goods and services. Make it clear at the beginning of the party that children will not get the items they brought returned to them, so they should bring something they are okay with getting rid of.

Would You Survive?

Play a game of Would You Survive, a printable card game where children barter to gain the supplies they need to meet their basic needs as settlers. At first, children may trade freely, but as they learn that items such as fuel are in short supply, they will learn about holding on to valuable items or increasing the value of a trade. The game is designed to be played with 4 to 8 players and will be best enjoyed by children in 3rd grade and up.

If you need help downloading the printable, check out these helpful tips.

Bartering Resources

Bartering Lessons

  • Scholastic's lesson "Bartering: An Early Form of Interdependence" goes through bartering in colonial times and illustrates some of the problems colonists faced with the system.
  • Donut Dinero, from the National Teacher Training Institute, incorporates a video about bartering to help children understand the concept.
  • BrainPop's Needs and Wants topic can serve as a complement to a lesson on bartering.
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland presents Escape from Barter Islands, a game where players have wrecked a ship and must find a way to trade oranges for a sail to help get back home.

Books about Bartering

Use some of these picture books to provide children with examples of bartering:

Bartering Websites

Teach children about bartering by having them do some bartering themselves. Visit a bartering website offer a good or service for trade, and then see what kind of response you get. Since this involves interacting with strangers, make sure children do not barter alone.

  • SwapTreasures gives users points for giving items away for free.
  • BarterQuest features items people have to trade and a section of items people want.

The Value of Bartering

Bartering can serve as more than a history lesson for kids. By learning about bartering, kids can learn a tool for meeting their needs and getting items they want without spending a lot of money. They will also learn that items do not have to have a specific dollar value attached to them in order to be valuable.

Teaching Kids About Bartering