- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

Money can be a powerful tool, especially for those who know how to use it. Unfortunately, the latest study from the National Council on Economic Education reveals that two out of three American high school students get a failing grade when tested on their understanding of basic economics.

A university program based in the “show me” state wants to change that woeful statistic with a colorful Web site filled with characters ready to explain the concepts of earning, spending and saving.

Wise Pockets World

Site address: www.wisepockets.com

Creator: Staff from the 25-year-old Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis developed the Web site with funding from Consumer Debt Counseling, MasterCard International, Money Management International and US Bank.

Creator quotable: “We created this Web site because children should learn — and begin to practice — personal finance skills early in life. Personal finance skills are essential. Yet most children are never explicitly taught these skills. Personal bankruptcies are at all-time highs. College graduates earn income but often leave school with credit card and student loan debt and no idea how to manage income and pay debts,” says Mary Suiter, director of the center.

Word from the Webwise: A cuddly koala named Wise Pockets and a group of his human and animal pals introduce 7- to 11-year-olds to the conundrums of cash in a site providing illustrative tales but little in the way of high-tech fun to capture its overstimulated audience’s attention.

Children first click on the Clubhouse for Kids icon on the opening page to move on to reading short biographies of all the on-screen helpers or entering the Library to find four tales on money management: “Heather Learns About Earning,” “Will Saves for the Stars,” “Tim’s Turn to Learn” and “Giving Vicki Credit.”

Offered in a slide-show-type presentation and similar to reading one-panel comic-book pages, each story averages about 30 screens. Each concludes with a simple multiple-choice quiz to reinforce learning and pays off with a printable activity.

In the case of “Tim’s Turn to Learn,” the child learns the 11-year-old soccer-playing video-game lover is trying to save his allowance while also trying to buy everything his heart desires. The difficult situation is explored with Wise Pockets and Money Mouse, who introduce Tim to a Spending Tale worksheet that will help him analyze his expenditures and come up with a budget to save and still have room to purchase some cool stuff. The child then can take a four-question quiz and print out a seven-day Spending Tale sheet to keep track of his own spending.

Ease of use: Thanks to an antiquated design that still gets the point across, visitors will not need any plug-ins to enjoy the pages. They can be viewed on almost any computer operating system with a Web browser.

Don’t miss: Families can work through the four rooms of Wise Pockets’ Treehouse: Income, Spending, Saving and Credit — to pick up tips, enjoy off-line activities and learn together about taking care of cash. Interactive opportunities range from Dividing Your Income, in which the parent and child create containers for long-term savings, short-term savings, charity, taxes and spending, to Halt, Plot, Do, Review, which enables parents to teach a decision-making process that junior can apply to a number of monetary situations.

Family activity: The lesson plans found at Wise Pockets Schoolhouse for Teachers focus on third- to sixth-grade classes and include 13 printable exercises used in tandem with popular books to teach fiscal responsibility. Colorful titles such as Paula Danziger ‘s “Not for a Billion Gazillion Dollars,” Betsy Byars’ “Bingo Brown and the Language of Love,” and Tom Birdseye’s “Tarantula Shoes” are supplemented with a page of instructions for the educator.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: The site lends itself more to family activities than keeping children busy through dazzling displays or online games, so mom and dad will have to motivate to keep junior learning within its unspectacular pages.

Overall grade: B-

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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