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Children's Story About Money - How Now, Cow

Updated on February 26, 2008

Teaching kids about money doesn't need to complicated or difficult.

Kids learn well when the information is hidden in a story, and they are absorbed by the characters - they pick up money and business concepts effortlessly, as part of the process of understanding the character's dilemma.

Discussing the concepts with your child after you have read the story can help to clarify and cement the new knowledge.

This story is part of a series of teaching stories from the Cash-Smart Kids Program, and is copyright. All rights reserved.

Photo: Skinny De
Photo: Skinny De

How Now, Cow?

It was a few weeks before Uncle Bill came back, and Lina spent the time thinking about the inhabitants of the little village. What were they doing now? Had they recovered from their fear of losing their pearl shells? Were they happy? What had happened to Toby? He lived so much earlier in time that it would have been his great-great-great-great grandchildren who fell under the spell of the evil wizard and thought their lives depended on having pearly shells with them at all times. Lina tried to imagine the span of years and the numbers of people who had lived in the little town, but it was too much to hold in her head at once.

By the time Uncle Bill returned, Lina was bursting with questions.

"Uncle Bill! What happened in the village? Are the people OK? Can we go and see?"

Uncle Bill hugged her tightly, and whispered in her ear, "Later."

At bedtime, when he was tucking her in, she asked again, "Tomorrow?"

Uncle Bill winked.

"What's tomorrow?" asked Mom.

"Oh, we have a game to play," said Uncle Bill mysteriously.

"Going to tire them out again, are you?"

"Maybe, and maybe not."

Lina giggled.

The next morning, right after breakfast, Lina and Ray dragged Uncle Bill to their favourite hiding place behind the shed.

"Take us, take us!" pleaded Ray.

"Take you where?"

"Don't tease, Uncle Bill," said Lina sternly. "It's not nice."

"All right, then," sighed Uncle Bill. "If you insist ..."

The garden wavered and disappeared from view. In a moment, they were standing on a country lane.

"Is that Toby's farm?" yelled Ray excitedly.

"It was once, but that was many years ago," said Uncle Bill. "The farm belongs to a family called Brown, now."

"The cows look the same," said Lina.

"They are probably the great-great-grand-calves of Toby's cows," said Uncle Bill. "Breeding cows don't tend to go far from home."

"What are we going to do?" asked Ray. "Who are we going to save?"

"Well," said Uncle Bill, "I don't know about saving anyone this time, but Farmer Brown has a problem. Let's see if you can solve it for him."

"What problem?"

"Let's go see."

Uncle Bill and the children, invisible to the Browns, crept up to the farmhouse window and peeped in. Farmer Brown was feeding a tiny calf from a bottle, while Mrs Brown, big-bellied with child, rocked a strange-looking wooden barrel.

"What are you going to do when the baby comes?" asked Mrs Brown angrily. "I can't be making the butter and preserving the fruit and boiling up the copper to wash the cheese cloths with nobody to watch the child!"

"Other wives seem to do just fine," grumbled Farmer Brown.

"Other wives have their sisters and their mothers and their step-daughters and their cousins to help them. All we have is each other! Do you want your child falling in the fire? Or do we let the fruit spoil and the cheese turn poisonous?"

"If I don't tend the cows, there'll be no milk for cheese," said Farmer Brown, more loudly. "And no pearl shells from the grocer, either!"

"But you spend so much time with those cows," complained Mrs Brown. "The milking, the hand feeding, tending the sick ones, mending the fences - you're busy from before dawn till after dark."

Farmer Brown flared up even louder. "Other farmers have sons and brothers and uncles and cousins to share the load. I am alone with this, woman! What do you expect me to do?"

"Can't you get a boy to help you? Is there nobody in the village at all who could do what you do?"

"And why would any of them come all the way out here to help me, if they aren't family? Tell me that!"

Mrs Brown stopped rocking the churn, and rested her had on her swollen belly.

"Our child needs you more than those cows do. Can't you find a way?"

Farmer Brown looked at her, and then suddenly sighed. "I'll see what I can do."

She smiled. "You're a good man, Artie. It's a lucky babe to have you for its Da."

"Are we going to help him with the cows?" asked Ray.

"No," said Uncle Bill. "You need to be home for lunch. He'll have to find another solution."

"He's going to trade for it, isn't he?" said Lina.

"Shall we go and see?" said Uncle Bill.

"Go where?" asked Ray.

"Just a little forward in time," said Uncle Bill. He waved his hands and the budding spring trees shimmered and faded away, to be replaced by early autumn yellow and orange colours. Inside the farmhouse, a baby wailed.

They rushed back to the window, to see Farmer Brown walking the floor, holding the crying baby. Mrs Brown was stirring a pot on the stove.

"He needs medicine," she was saying to Farmer Brown. "My mustard poultice isn't enough."

"But the doctor will want pearl shells, and now that I'm giving half of them to the farmhand each day, we just don't have enough."

"Well, we need to get more. I'll sell the summer quilt, I know the spinner has had her eye on it for years, and she has plenty of pearl shells. But we can't keep selling things. We used to get 40 pearl shells a day, and now we only get 20. If we sell things to make up the difference, we'll have nothing left soon enough."

"Well, you wanted me to help with the babe," grumbled Farmer Brown.

"And I still do! But we have to have more pearl shells. You're always saying this farm could take more cows. Now you're free to travel to the markets, instead of looking after the herd, why don't you buy some more cows?"

"With what?"

"Let's sell the silver. Double the size of the herd. In a few years, with the extra pearl shells coming in, we'll be able to buy a new set of silver."

"I'll have to help with the milking again, then. One man couldn't milk that many cows alone."

"If that's what we need to do, so be it," she answered. "It's only for a while."

"That doesn't sound like such a good idea to me," said Lina. "He will have just as much work as he did before, and then who will watch the baby?"

"Very smart thinking," said Uncle Bill. "Shall we go and see if you are right?"

With a wave of his hand, he dissolved the early autumn landscape, and they were back in the early buds of spring. Cows were mooing much more loudly now, and they could see there were golden brown ones in some of the fields, as well as the familiar black and whites.

They crowded close to the kitchen window, to see Farmer Brown and a young man bottle feeding three calves. The baby, almost big enough to walk now, was perched on Farmer Brown's knee, trying to grab the bottle, while Mrs Brown hung clean clothes on a line in front of the fire.

"Can you .take him?" said Farmer Brown.

"In a minute," said Mrs Brown.

"I really need to get to the back fence," said Farmer Brown, "or we'll lose a few head of cattle to the neighbours before the week's out."

"I said, in a minute!"

"And I've got to check on the one in the barn. I think she's going to have trouble calving this time."

"Isn't that why you hired a hand? To do that sort of thing?"

"He's got to clean out the milking shed, don't you Sam?"

Sam froze, and looked warily at Mrs Brown.

"That should have been done hours ago!" she exclaimed.

Sam looked at the calves he was feeding and hunched a little lower in his seat.

"Well, the milking ran late because you needed me to watch the baby before breakfast, so poor Sam had to do it all on his own. We nearly missed the grocer's cart."

"Oh, this is ridiculous!" she stomped over and picked up the baby. "Give me the bottle, then, and go to the barn."

"Are you sure?"

"It's got to be done, doesn't it? A birthing cow can't wait long if she's in trouble. But I tell you, Artie - this can't go on! We might have enough pearl shells now, but you're busier than you were before, and the babe will be walking soon. We have to do something."

Farmer Brown sighed heavily, handed over the bottle, and stood up, stretching wearily.

"I was right, wasn't I?" said Lina.

"You were exactly right," said Uncle Bill. "So, what's the answer?"

"Sell some cows?" suggested Ray.

"That won't work," said Lina. "He was in trouble at the beginning, anyway, with fewer cows. They need to hire someone else."

"But won't that cost them pearl shells?" asked Uncle Bill.

Lina thought for a moment.

"In the beginning, they were getting 40 pearl shells. Then they were only getting 20 because they were paying the farmhand 20. Now they have twice as many cows, so they are getting 80 pearl shells each day, and they are still only paying the farmhand 20. That means they are making 60 shells each day. They could pay another farmhand 20 shells each day, and they would still be making 40 shells a day, which is what they were making in the beginning, and Farmer Brown wouldn't have to do any of the work with the cows."

"Very clever," smiled Uncle Bill. "How about I make you visible, and you can follow our weary farmer down to the barn and explain to him how to solve his problem ..."


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      8 years ago

      Another really great money story book is 'The Mother's Day Present' which can be read via

      It's helps kids learn about how to earn money by working for it, as well as subtly teaching them the concept of setting a goal, saving up to buy what they want and team work. It's actually one of a series of books feaaturing the same group of friends (the MoneySmart Gang). It's definitely worth checking out if you've got kids aged 5 to 8.


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