6 Methods for Teaching Money Counting Skills

Using Money Is an Important Functional Skill for Independent Living

A child playing with toy cash register and smiling up at the camera.

ktaylorg/Getty images

Counting money is a critical functional skill for all students. For children with learning disabilities but average intelligence, money not only gives them access to things they want to purchase, but it also builds a foundation for understanding the base ten systems of numeration. This will help with them learn decimals, percents, the metric system, and other skills that are vital for science, technology, and the social sciences.

For students with intellectual disabilities and lower functionality, counting money is one of the skills they will need for self-determination and for the opportunity to live independently in the community. Like all skills, counting and using money needs to be scaffolded, building on strengths and teaching the "baby steps" that will lead to independence.

Coin Recognition

Before students can count coins, they have to be able to correctly identify the most common denominations: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. For low-function students, this may be a long but worthwhile process. Do not use fake plastic coins for low-functioning students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They need to generalize coin use to the real world, and the plastic coins do not feel, smell, or even look like the real thing. Depending on the student's level, approaches include:

  • Discrete trial training: Present only two coins at a time. Ask and reinforce correct responses, i.e. "Give me a penny," "Give me a nickel," "Give me a penny," etc.
  • Use errorless teaching: Point to the correct coin if the student picks up the wrong coin or seems to waffle. Collect data and don't introduce a new coin until the child is at least 80 percent accuracy.
  • Coin sorting: After the child has succeeded with discrete trial training, or if the child quickly seems to be distinguishing the coins, you can give them practice by sorting coins. Place a cup for each denomination, and place the mixed coins on the table in front of the child. If the child recognizes numbers, put the coin value on the outside of the cup, or place one of the coins in the cup.
  • Matching coins: A variation of sorting coins is to match them to the values on a cardstock mat. You could add a picture if it helps.

Counting Coins

The goal is to help your students learn to count coins. Counting money requires understanding the base ten math system and strong skip counting skills. Activities with a hundred chart will help build these skills. The hundred chart can also be used to help teach counting money as well.

Money should begin with a single denomination, ideally pennies. Counting pennies could easily accompany learning to count, as well as introducing the cents sign. Then, move on to nickels and dimes, followed by quarters.

  • Number lines and hundred chart: Make paper number lines to one hundred or hundred charts. When counting nickels, have the students highlight the fives and write the fives (if they are not on the number line). Give students nickels and have them place the nickels on the fives and recite out loud. Placing the coins and reciting out loud make this a multi-sensory unit. Do the same with counting dimes.
  • Giant number line: This activity ramps up the multisensory element of money and skip counting. Paint a giant number line (or get parent volunteers) on a paved portion of the playground or school courtyard, with the numbers one foot apart. Have individual children walk the number line and count the nickels, or get giant nickels from a bulletin board set and have different students stand at different points to count off by fives.
  • Coin templates: Create counting templates by cutting out facsimile coins and pasting them on five-inch by eight-inch file cards (or any size you find most manageable). Write the value on the card (front for low-functioning children, on the back as a self-correcting activity). Give students nickels, dimes, or quarters and have them count them out. This is an especially useful technique for teaching quarters. You need only make one card with four quarters and the numbers 25, 50, 75, and 100. They can count multiple quarters in rows.