Dunannie Year 3s introduced to Economics

I was lucky enough to spend an hour with Year 3cb at Dunannie last Friday afternoon in order to do some introductory economics with them – I’m not sure that economics has ever been taught to Year 3s in any school, so this was certainly groundbreaking stuff! We played the ‘survival game’ as a way of demonstrating the benefits of using division of labour. The enthusiastic shipwrecked boys and girls quickly got stuck into making themselves paper ponchos, fish and tents in order to survive. In Round One, they each had to fend for themselves and make their own items. There were (deliberately!) not enough glue sticks, pencils, and scissors to go round. This was a great example of the “basic economic problem” that all economies have to solve; in other words, limited resources combined with endless wants and needs. In Round One, it took the class a whole 7 minutes for everyone to make their own survival items. In Round Two, the children split themselves into groups and reorganised their production techniques, so that one group concentrated on making enough ponchos for everyone, a second group made tents for everyone and the third group made fish. Consequently, it only took 4 minutes for enough items to be made for everyone, and the children spent a further 3 minutes making extra items.

The contributions made in the follow-up discussion were outstanding. Hector said “if you do the same thing lots of times then you get faster and make more stuff”. This is what Adam Smith, the founding father of modern economics and the man whose face is on the back of the £20 note, wrote about so famously in his book “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 with regards to a pin factory in Glasgow. Leela pointed out that it was important to have someone organising each group so that everyone would know what to do. Economists call the person who organises production an entrepreneur. Daisy noticed that in the group that made fish, they made more fish by splitting up the work so that some children cut out the fish and other children decorated the fish. Edward finished his poncho-making so quickly that he decided to become an entrepreneur and make different things with his paper and scissors, that he said he could sell to other people on the island. Will thought very carefully about how he could make the most ponchos in the least amount of time, and created a template that he could draw around and make many ponchos at once. To use Adam Smith again, he noted in his famous book that once workers start to specialise in producing a small number of items then one of the reasons that they can produce more is because they make special tools to help them.

We finished our discussion by talking about which countries specialise in producing different toys. I can only apologise if your children now want to go to Denmark to see Lego being made, or to Japan to see how Barbie’s hair is made!

By Ruth Tarrant, Head of Economics


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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