Who knew how much fun money could be?
Organized by the Newark Museum and presented by JP Morgan Chase, “Once Upon a Dime: The World of Money” is a lighthearted, fun look at a very important topic.
The exhibit is currently on view at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, OH until April 1, 2008. The exhibit is great for families and is specifically aimed at kids 5 to 9 years old.
The exhibit begins with a look at the many different things that have been used as money. According to the exhibit text, “Money can be anything as long as people agree on its value and are willing to accept it as payment.”
Throughout history, many different things have been used, including tobacco (colonial Virginia and Maryland), cocoa beans (Aztecs), wampum and beaver pelts (Native Americans and Europeans for the fur trade), and cowrie shells (India, Thailand, China, West Africa – these shells are only found in the Indian Ocean). Each of these things are on display in a case at the entrance to the gallery.
To place money into context, visitors learn early on that bartering is far older than the invention of money. An extremely well done interactive called “Barter: A Big Haggle” explains how hard it was to barter.
It begins with a mother sending her daughter to the market with a chicken to trade for a fish for their dinner. The visitor controls where she goes, like a video game. First, we took her to the fish merchant. That would have been too easy! Of course we found out that he doesn’t accept chickens – he only accepts grapes!
So we went to trade her chicken for grapes, only to find out that the grape merchant will only accept jewelry. We searched the entire marketplace to find someone to take her chicken, so she could trade it for a necklace, so she could trade it for grapes, so she could trade it for a fish!
As the exhibit states, “There has to be a better way!” It goes on to explain how societies created a form of currency so you didn’t have to drag a live chicken all over the place just to buy something for dinner!
At first, money was actually precious metals. But soon people found out that wasn’t so convenient either. Kids can weigh silver nuggets at one interactive, learning that it takes too much time to weigh silver, you can be cheated if the silver you accept is not pure, and that scales and weights can be rigged.
The exhibit then explores how paper and coin currency were derived. We learn how money has changed in the United States over time, from the colonial era to the present. With a special light board, visitors can learn about the security features on our new money.
The exhibit also tackles the complex topics of inflation, the stock market, and buying on credit.
A panel explains that inflation is “when it takes more money to buy the same thing.” A chart shows how many cheeseburgers could be purchased with one dollar over the past few decades. (Today you can’t even buy one!)
The stock market is explained using companies kids are familiar with, including Hershey, Kellogg’s, Marvel Comics, Nike, Nintendo, and Toys R Us.
The danger of purchasing on credit is explained by showing a sneaker purchased one year ago. One character bought hers with cash. When it is all worn out, she says that she got her money’s worth on the shoe and talks about buying a new pair. The other character realizes that, with interest, he has paid much more than the original purchase price of his shoes. So he really didn’t get his money’s worth.
Another interactive is a touchscreen set into an ATM machine. It explains the life of a $20 bill from being in a birthday card, deposited into the ATM, and then moving into the bank vault – all from the money’s point of view! The interactive explains how banking works, including savings accounts and loans.
A complex interactive set up in a pretend cookie shop teaches visitors how to run a business. By making a series of decisions, you can see whether you will be successful or fail.
For example, another cookie shop opens down the street. They are selling their cookies for 50 cents a piece. You are selling yours for $1. Your chocolate chip supplier comes to you and says he can cut your costs by selling you an inferior chocolate chip, and therefore you can lower your prices to compete. You have to decide if compromising quality is worth selling more cookies, and what affect that will have on the long term health of your business.
This exhibit was a wonderful example of how museums can use technology and artifacts to teach young kids about complex subjects. Its lively, colorful graphics and fun interactives will be fun for the entire family!