ATM at Kidtropolis in the Houston Children's Museum

Here’s how it was advertised:

It’s a City for Kids, Run by Kids! Kidtropolis, USA marks a brand new spot on the map as a real-life kid metropolis complete with a skyline, city government, occupations and the systems that make a city work. Kids will keep the city running by taking on the roles of: city leaders; voters; workers; shoppers; and business owners.  They’ll participate in a sophisticated, simulated economy where they can spend money on items and experiences throughout the city. But, like in real life, they will have to get jobs to earn money.

Here’s what actually happened:

Zach ran around like a madmen, stealing money that he could deposit at the ATM with his KidCard, all so that he could withdraw large sums of cash.  He liked reading the sports report for the local news station, and he had fun in the grocery store and as a veterinarian, but none of it held a candle to transactions at the ATM.  He had no sense of working for a paycheck; he picked up random checks whenever he felt wanted to make a deposit.  He took money from the cash registers in the grocery store and the diner.  He took money and paychecks from spots throughout Kidtropolis.

Don’t get me wrong.  This was one of the best children’s museums I’ve ever been in.  And this exhibit was exceptional in all that you could potentially do with your kids while there.  But as soon as Zach figured out how the system worked, he wanted nothing more than to wait in line for his turn at the ATM.  The boy loves to get money.

Until very recently (within the past three months), Zach loved paying for things with his own money.  He begged to pay for groceries, laundry soap, anything.  Why?  Because he loved to get change.  Somehow, whenever the cashier gave him back his change, he thought that he or she was giving him money.  If he paid with a ten and got four dollars back, he was elated.  “She gave me FOUR WHOLE DOLLARS!”

Naturally I was worried.

But somehow it sorted itself out.  And I thought that he was really beginning to understand the relationships between work (chores), pay, savings, and spending.  I fear that Kidtropolis set us a back.  It’s certainly not going to help my ongoing effort to explain that credit cards are essentially loans, and that the money we take out of the bank is money we deposited after working for it.

But maybe it’s not as bad as all of that..  Maybe all kids are attracted to money.  To earning and spending.  To grown-up power, the kind of power exercised at the ATM and the check out line.  After all, Zach was not the only one pillaging the cash registers.

Come to think of it, I know a few CEOs who would have done quite well in the Kidtropolis economy as well.

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  • Jeff Barneson

    Ok… I want to start with a couple questions:

    1. What's going on down there in Houston anyway?

    2. Are you sure it's really a good idea to write this frankly about Zach rolling the shop owners and ripping off the cash boxes at the children's museum? I mean, people might start to ask questions about our fitness to be parents – Right?

    Probably too late for that anyway.

    I'm starting to think that we may need to revise our weekly allowance strategy. You know, maybe we should just send Zach up to Central Square to visit some of the local merchants?