How to Teach The Difference Between Wants and Needs (11 Ideas to Shake Things Up) - Elementary Education

How to Teach The Difference Between Wants and Needs (11 Ideas to Shake Things Up)

In 2022, it will be more important than ever for children to learn the difference between wants and needs. With the rise of consumerism, it is easy for kids to get caught up in wanting things that they don’t need. If your home and/or classroom was anything like mine is, the talk of Pokemon cards and LOL Dolls never ends.

The difference between wants and needs - cover image

That’s why it is so important to teach kids early on about the difference between wants and needs. In this blog post, we will discuss how to teach kids the difference between wants and needs, as well as some of the benefits of doing so!

A want vs. a need

To begin, let’s talk about what a want is. A want is something that we would like to have, but it is not necessary for our survival. For example, a new toy or the latest fashion trend. On the other hand, a need is something that we must have in order to live. Examples of needs include food, water, shelter, and clothing.

Why is it important to teach kids the difference between wants and needs?

There are a few reasons. The first reason is that it can help them to be more mindful consumers. It is important to teach kids the difference between wants and needs because it can help them develop a healthy relationship with money. When children understand that they don’t need to have everything they want, they are less likely to spend impulsively and get into debt. Teaching kids about needs vs. wants can also help them appreciate what they have, which is an increasingly necessary lesson in today’s society.

How can we teach kids the difference between wants and needs?

1. Make a List

There are a few different ways that you can teach kids the difference between wants and needs. One way is to have them make a list of all the things they want. Once they have made their list, help them to prioritize their items by placing a star next to the items that they need. This will help them to see that some of the things they want are actually needs.

2. Fishbowl Activity

Another way to teach this lesson is to role-play with your students. You can be the customer and have them be the salesperson. The goal is for them to understand that just because someone wants something, doesn’t mean they need it. This activity can be done with anything from clothes to food to toys.

Some other scenarios to role play would be:

  • In the toy aisle of a store
  • Watching tv and an ad comes on
  • When you are out to eat
  • When you are grocery shopping
  • At the store with a limited budget

3. Set a Budget

Finally, you can teach kids the difference between wants and needs by setting a budget for them–whether real or imaginary. This can be done in a weekly, monthly, or even yearly format. Give them a certain amount of money and let them know that they need to use it to purchase only items that they need. This will help them to learn how to budget their money and understand that not every purchase can be a want.

Budget with a twist: For older students, randomly assign students different budgets and watch the debates, questions, discussions and learning ensue.

4. Headbanz-style Wants + Needs Guessing Game

I love this post from Rachel and Cassi at Minds in Bloom about how to make your own Headbanz-style game for any topic. If you love the Headbanz game for fun, then I can almost guarantee you’ll love it in your classroom. I loved it so much that it was always our go-to when we had extra time after our Fun Friday celebrations.

a photo of myself wearing a headbanz headband and card and holding up a sand timer for my students.

5. Play Wants vs. Needs Games

Of course I’m partial to the Knockout line of games but this one is especially fun!

the difference between wants and needs - candy and a glass of water
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Here are the rules for Knockout at a glance, but if you feel like seeing a more in-depth explanation you can read this article I wrote about how to play Knockout.

7. Browse a Catalog and ‘Go Shopping’

Search through a catalog for wants and needs: The game can be as simple as looking through a store catalog or even online. The goal is to help your child identify which items are wants and which items are needs. Here are some of my favorites (because they combine needs and wants):

  • Meijer
  • Kohl’s
  • Target
  • Marc’s
  • Walmart

Bonus: You can use this website to see all of the past Sears catalogs. This is also a cool way to show the difference between then and now.

8. Talk about ads

Find kid-friendly ads on Youtube or explore a magazine as a class and point out the ads to your child. Ask them whether the product being advertised is a want or a need. You can even go a bit deeper and talk about the ways advertisers target kids and the marketing tactics they use.

9. The “I Can Live Without It” Test

This is a great way to help your kids understand that not every purchase can be a want. You’ll need two jars (or containers) and some slips of paper. Label one jar “wants” and the other “needs.” Then, whenever your students mention an item, you can decide together by asking “Can I live without it?” – if yes, it goes in the want jar. If no, it goes in the need jar.

10. Read books about Wants vs. Needs

Here are some books I love for read-alouds that incorporate Read books about Money

Here are some of our favorite books about teaching the difference between wants and needs:

  • The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money
  • Those Shoes
  • The Most Magnificent Thing (bonus: it was made into 22 minutes of peace a short film to extend student learning!)
  • Lily Learns About Wants and Needs (bonus: it’s on Epic)
  • “Charlie and Lola: I Really, Really Need Actual Ice Skates,” by Lauren Child.

11. Answer writing prompts about Wants vs. Needs

I relied so heavily on writing prompts to squeeze in social studies that I ended up creating an entire year of daily social studies prompts. You can also download the 3 you see below by filling out this form:


There are a number of different ways to teach kids the difference between wants and needs. There are many benefits to teaching kids the difference between wants and needs. By doing so, we can help them develop into more mindful consumers, appreciate what they have, and set budgets for their own wants and needs.

Do you have any tips for teaching kids the difference between wants and needs? Share them in the comments below!

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