What do you do with your spare change at the end of the day? Some people throw their coins in an old glass jar. You might remember seeing such a jar on your grandparents’ or parents’ dresser. Generations of Americans have used the coin jar to save money. Perhaps you sorted through a jar of old coins and found something valuable, like a buffalo nickel or wheat cent. You might even have used a special coin to create a family heirloom, like a coin pendant or watch. Coins often hold nostalgic memories for our families. Here are some activities that will help your group rekindle a few memories.

  • Display some of the following props – coin collections, piggy banks, coin sorters, old coin jackets, squeeze coin purses, money bag, old coin jars. Jingle a handful of pocket change – pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Place the change on a table for participants to see. Ask: Were you a coin saver? What did you do with your loose change at the end of a day? Tell us about a favorite piggy bank from childhood. Do you remember smashing it to get your money? Did you ever roll coins and take them to the bank? What was the largest amount of coins you ever collected at one time?
  • Pass around some old pennies. Ask: What do you remember buying for a penny? (Examples: stamps, post cards, penny candy, bubble gum) Would you consider yourself a penny pincher? What helpful tips on saving money can you share? Tell us about the last thing you bought that “cost a pretty penny.”
  • Watch the 1967 comedy Who’s Minding the Mint? – about a young bachelor working in the U.S. Mint. The film stars Jim Hutton, Dorothy Provine, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, and Walter Brennan.
  • Listen to “coin” songs: “The Five Pennies,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “Penny Lane,” “I Found a Million Dollar Baby,” “Penny Serenade.”
  • Name some coin-operated machines of the past. Encourage participants to share memories of the following: juke box, Coke machine, coin laundromat, penny arcade games, parking meter, pay telephone, car wash, vending machine.
  • Tell group members to “put their two cents in”: Debate whether the U.S. Mint should get rid of the penny.
  • Invite a coin dealer to talk about the hobby of coin collecting. Ask participants if anyone collected rare or unusual coins. Did anyone inherit a coin collection as part of the family heirloom?
  • Define “commemorative coin.” Highlight the 50 States Commemorative Quarter Collection, which began in 1999 and ended in 2008. Try to locate someone who owns the entire collection and who could come and show the group. Talk about each state’s unique design on the back of the quarter. (Examples: North Carolina – First Flight; South Dakota – Mount Rushmore; Illinois – Land of Lincoln; Texas – The Lone Star State) Find large pictures of each state’s quarter to show participants.
  • Discuss the meaning of coin idioms/sayings: a penny for your thoughts, the other side of the coin, two sides of the same coin, a dime a dozen, dollars-and-cents, worth every penny, don’t take any wooden nickels, for two cents, lucky penny, nickel-and-dime to death, stop on a dime.
  • Intergenerational: Show some simple coin tricks. Make coin rubbings. Craft a coin keeper from an old coffee can. Have a treasure hunt for hidden coins.
  • Learn the history of the gold coin in the United States. Find out the price of gold per ounce during participants’ birth year and compare that to the price of gold today. Munch on gold-wrapped chocolate coins.
  • Show photographs of five-and-dime stores, like Woolworth, McCrory, Kresge, or Newberry. Reminisce about buying dime-store items like toys, candy, glassware, and Christmas ornaments.
  • Ask group members if they ever tried the coin toss at the county fair or carnival. Pitch pennies onto a dish/glass or in a can or muffin tin. Winning prize: Small stuffed animal
  • Share memories of coin drives and other fund-raising activities for charities. (Examples: March of Dimes, Salvation Army Red Kettle, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, Boy Scouts coin drive)
  • Display some old coin jewelry and coin gifts – coin necklace, pendant, money clip, key chain, cuff links, coin watch, or coin set from a person’s birth year.


  1. Which government agency produces and distributes U.S. coins? U.S. Mint
  2. What is the motto of the United States that appears on U.S. coins? “In God We Trust”
  3. Name the two sides of a coin. “Heads” and “Tails”
  4. Whose face appears on the quarter, as minted from 1932 to today? George Washington
  5. Complete the following saying by Ben Franklin: “A penny saved is…” A penny earned
  6. Which president’s picture appears on the five-dollar bill? Abraham Lincoln
  7. Name some synonyms for money. Dough, bread, cash, greenback, bucks, loot
  8. What kinds of reserves are stored at Fort Knox, Kentucky? Gold and silver
  9. John F. Kennedy’s portrait appears on which U.S. coin? Half-dollar
  10. If a coin bears a D Mint Mark, where was the coin made? Denver, Colorado
  11. What popular board game gives you an opportunity to buy property on Boardwalk with play money or to get a “Get Out of Jail Free” card? Monopoly

“COINS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2011 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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