I've learned a lot in my year as a professional Fool.

  • Everyone looks good in a jester's cap.
  • Financial folks tend to go speechless when you tell them you don't know what the "Oracle of Omaha" is. (Hint: It's actually a who, and his initials are W.B.)
  • Buying lottery tickets does not qualify as planning for retirement.

OK. I already knew that last one. And I know that taking charge of saving for my retirement requires math skills. No problem. I like math. I'm good at it. But I'm interested in more than just getting my own. A year spent at least knee-deep in Foolishness has made clear the importance of giving everyone a familiarity with finance and investment basics.

And then there are the basics underneath the basics. I learned these long ago, but what about the kids of today? The ones who don't find it odd to pull a pre-made, crust-free PB&J from the freezer. (Talk about the easy life.)

The Washington Post recently provided a glimpse into an elementary classroom and a controversial K-5 math curriculum titled Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The father of an 8-year-old in one of the classrooms where it's used told the Post how his son's approach to adding two three-digit numbers included drawing lines connecting digits, and ended up with what amounted to an upside-down pyramid with numbers at the bottom.

Huh? I don't think there's enough room in my checkbook register to draw lines and pyramids. Granted, this third-grader probably doesn't have a checkbook to balance, but why complicate addition?

The Post reports that the math program "de-emphasizes memorization and drills and pushes students to use more creative ways to find answers, such as drawing pictures, playing games and using objects." It helps children understand the real values of numbers. I know third-graders don't have stock portfolios, either, but consider this outlandish scenario as I modify another classroom example from the Post article.

I have $28 to invest and have chosen a stock that sells for $4 per share. How many shares can I buy? I sit down at my desk, take out a pencil and piece of paper, and start drawing groups of hash marks. Nope, that's not working for me. So I pull out a set of 28 blocks -- perhaps made of wood and shaped like the state of Nebraska -- to get a 3-D feel for how this will work out. I'm going to need a bigger desk.

I don't know if Investigations will be a success in the long run or not. But one lesson stands out clearly: Look over your children's shoulders to make sure they're gaining the skills they'll need to manage their money for life.

At the Fool, we've recently renewed our commitment to financial literacy for people of all ages, but especially for young people. Join us at Foolanthropy to find out more about our quest to make sure everyone gets a solid financial education.

Online editor Kris Eddy welcomes your feedback.