Family Learning in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond


Best Practices to Help Wealthy Families Turn Life Lessons into Fun and Educational Activities

With most schools closed due to COVID-19, many parents have found themselves in a new role – substitute teacher. You’ve probably seen some of the video parodies and funny memes about homeschooling and how inept parents feel in filling the shoes of beloved educators. It’s no easy task. It’s no wonder most parents are discovering the value and benefit of incorporating new technology and different types of learning techniques beyond textbook.

This “lesson” discovered by parents similarly applies to modern families of significant means who desire to pass down valuable skills, family values, and ideals. To teach the top-of-mind topics, including family financial perspectives, values, and priorities, parents and older family members must expand their definition of teaching – incorporating a broader array of educational activities such as life lessons that can be shared based on personal experiences. With children becoming more accustomed to their parents serving as teacher, now is an opportune time to expand upon family learning – what Pitcairn defines as wealth education surrounding financial literacy, values and culture, decision making and communication, and philanthropy – for all generations.

Through our experience developing family curricula, our expert team has established innovative best practices to make family learning more impactful, relevant, and meaningful for children and future generations. A constantly evolving effort, the lessons recognize and celebrate the shifting world views, learning styles, technology, and mindsets of all ages.

The following are tips specific to family learning among generations.

1. Adopt age-appropriate discussions.

Family wealth impacts your children’s lives in countless ways, but their understanding of and attitude toward it will change over time as they develop. Plan your family learning accordingly by customizing lessons by age and building information onto lessons as the children get older.

Consider the stories that led to building the family’s wealth, for example. For elementary school-aged children or younger, start by sharing the basics – the who, what, when, and where. By the time children are in middle school, revisit those stories and focus on the why. By high school, focus on how those stories shaped the values of your family and the children’s role in shaping those values in the future.

Roleplay having hard conversations with real-life scenarios that they will undoubtedly experience at different life stages and adapt them over time. For a young child, ask what would you do if a friend wants to take your toy home? For a tween, ask what would you do if a friend wants to borrow lunch money? For a high schooler, ask what would you do if a friend asks you to pay for a concert or an activity they say they can’t afford? Wealth education is complex, but ultimately it has to “click” with all ages.

2. Start early with sharing and saving concepts – earlier than you think!

Many money habits are set by age seven. In reviewing studies about how children learn, behavior experts from the University of Cambridge found that money habits, specifically the ability to plan ahead and to delay gratification, are often formed early in childhood and difficult to reverse later. Instill the habits your family believes in by exploring concepts like sharing and saving with children as young as five. Talk about the different ways you can share by using your time, talent, or treasure – have your child make something and give it away as a gift. Use a story like “The Ant and the Grasshopper” to illustrate the power of saving and planning. 

Philanthropy is another great way to instill values at an earlier age. As children get older, encourage them to identify the causes they want to support. Begin by talking about what the family has supported in the past. Whenever possible, provide some tangible results of that support. For example, a family we work with has a 16-year old daughter who has been raising money since she was 10-years old to send a child with diabetes to a special summer camp every summer, one she also attends. Knowing her hard work benefits a specific person, while it being a cause she is connected to, makes her efforts that much more meaningful.

3. Let digital tools do some heavy lifting.

These days, all learning has a digital component. Even kids as young as two can easily navigate an iPad, and there are more opportunities than ever to access and personalize quality educational resources. 

Here are a few digital resources to help children of various ages learn about key financial literacy concepts:

4. Individualize and formalize a plan.

Education benefits from structure. As families work to foster a meaningful learning environment, parents and partners must be aligned on the lessons they want to convey. Parents can’t just wing it, but many simply don’t know where to start. Think like a teacher: develop individual goals for each child including a timeline, a process, and a plan to keep the continuous learning on track. Don’t be afraid to shift priorities and focus as children grow and their interests evolve.

In one family we worked with, a middle schooler was going on a school trip to Europe over spring break. We identified this as a learning opportunity to teach budgeting and lifestyle management. The daughter worked to estimate the actual cost of the experience and created a plan to save money in the months leading up to it. In addition to the expenses of the flights and hotels, she learned to budget for meals, admission to museums, entertainment, and souvenirs she’d bring back for friends and family. For her, that tangible experience was invaluable. She saw the benefits of her planning and understood the value of money with each successful day of the trip.

5. Give your kids a voice.

Make sure your kids learn about the values and emotions surrounding family wealth as well as the financial know-how they need to effectively manage their money. Empower them to have a voice in the learning, and teach them what it means to pursue their own passions.

One of our client families had a teenage son who was a gifted rock climber and athlete, but he was not as strong in academics. We found that the subject of entrepreneurship tapped into his creative side and adventurous spirit. So, we focused our learning plan around building a mock business. He came up with the concept, we helped him write the business plan, and he pitched the idea to his family. This allowed him to own the learning and appreciate the different ways his skills and experiences are valued. This project spoke to their son and eventually led him to take the initiative to land a summer internship at his local rock climbing gym.

6. Make it fun and engaging!

Above all else, any educational effort must be fun and flexible. Forms of “edutainment” such as board games are a great way to get hands-on with learning. Use The Allowance Game to cover earning, saving, and spending with elementary school-age children, or play the modern electronic banking version of the old classic Monopoly with teens to practice managing cash flow and negotiating. These games allow you to not only connect and have fun with your family, but they also create an arena for learning and furthering conversations about financial literacy topics.

Prioritize resources and formats like experiential learning, interactive discussions, and peer-based groups. Parents and caregivers should also take note of their children’s learning styles – visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary – in learning and other aspects of daily life. This information is valuable to family learning providers, who can find the right resources and exercises to make the learning experience as dynamic as possible.


The Takeaway

No matter what age, children will get more out of family learning if it’s specific to their interests, relevant to their lives and above all else, engaging. Prioritize learning opportunities that help them understand their family history, advance their passions, and achieve their goals. Look for opportunities to make it experiential and stand out from all of the other lessons they learn at home and school. And take advantage of the time you are spending with your family. There’s no time like the present. 





About Pitcairn

Pitcairn is a true family office and leader in helping families navigate the challenges and opportunities created by the interplay of family and financial dynamics. Through Wealth Momentum®, an experience-based family office model, Pitcairn helps families achieve a more effective and complete experience. Since its inception, Pitcairn has partnered with some of the world’s wealthiest families to meet their needs and drive better outcomes – year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation. Today, Pitcairn is recognized as an innovator, guiding families through generational transitions and redefining the industry standard for family offices. The firm is located in Philadelphia, with offices in New York and Washington, DC and a network of resources around the world.