Practice problem solving. Start with the problems that have little consequences like “What should we have for dinner when everyone wants something different?” Problem solving is an essential life skill that helps them cope with adversity in any environment.
School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?
To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Pam Liyanage.
Pam Liyanage is a co-founder of MoneyPrep, a video game app that teaches kids aged 5–12 smart money habits and financial literacy skills. Liyanage has a 25-year background in the financial services industry and is a mother of four. Her mission is to change the world, one child, at a time by helping them to achieve power over their own financial futures regardless of their current family circumstances.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. an you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?
How far back shall we go? After university (where I studied Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts), I started my professional career in finance, I know — go figure?, and I fell in love with the banking field in particular. My favorite part of the industry was meeting new people and helping them achieve their goals, financial and otherwise. Like so many other professional women before me, I got married, became a mother and decided to stay home to raise my 4 boys. 17 years later, I decided it was time for a re-invention. So I merged my 2 favorite worlds — family and finance — and that’s how my company, MoneyPrep, was born!
Most interesting story that happened since you started your career and what did you learn from it?
Early in my career, I had a young man come into my office under the guise of “having questions about a vehicle loan”. When I asked him if he was looking to buy a new vehicle, he said “No, I already have one. It’s in the parking lot over there”. Confused, I asked him if he had questions about his loan terms and at this point he got very red in the face, dropped his truck keys on my desk and said “I can’t afford it anymore. You have to take it back.” I was a bit stunned. Being a fairly new lender, I had not yet encountered this kind of situation before. His story was like so many that would come after. He was an extremely smart kid. He got himself into engineering at university, graduated top of his class and landed a great high paying job. The problem was that nobody taught him budgeting and money planning. He borrowed the maximum amount for his truck and then the unexpected happened. The economy took a downturn. He had to take a pay cut just to keep his job and he couldn’t afford the truck anymore. This experience set him back years financially. I learned something very important that day. To really succeed in life, kids need more than book smarts, they need to learn life skills too.
Favorite life lesson quote and how was that relevant in life?
My favorite life lesson quote actually came to me fairly recently. During the pandemic I had the pleasure of listening to a very inspirational individual. The life lesson he shared was this, “Many times a No is a misunderstood Yes”. I thought this was a wonderful reminder to never give up. It is so easy to simply accept a No. It takes a lot of drive, confidence and self reflection to persist in re-positioning yourself and trying again. I thought it particularly interesting as it relates to how kids negotiate. I know my kids have certainly heard a No and re-positioned themselves with another angle many many times. This life lesson is one that parents likely see on the daily but fail to recognize for themselves in the bigger picture. It was a great reminder of how important resilience is in life. For me, I think of this quote often now in the business world.
What 3 character traits are instrumental to your success and example of each?
I would say the character traits that have most helped me to be successful are creativity, positivity and drive. Here is an example of each:
- Creativity — In order to gamify financial literacy, it requires a lot of creative brain power. My daily challenge is to make learning about money fun and interactive as well as purposeful and insightful. The very first learning games that I created were made with construction paper and scissors and I took them into a classroom full of 9 year olds. I knew I had something when the kids didn’t notice the crudeness of the materials and instead they focused on and enjoyed the content of the game. This is my superpower. Creativity is essential to success in any business or endeavor and I am blessed to have a mind that thinks freely.
- Positivity — My eyeglasses have always been tinted with roses, rainbows and glitter! I think that a large part of my success comes from having a positive outlook for what I am building, the people building it with me and the people I’m building it for. Those around you feel your vibe and being positive is much more pleasant than being negative, for everyone! For me, positivity fuels my purpose and it helps to fill the tanks of those around me. I recently had a teacher tell me that the rosy attitude I have towards problem solving and reaching for my goals has inspired her to consciously teach her students through the same lens. That is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.
- Drive — This is pure grit. Every business owner needs it. Actually everyone needs it. There are always times when we need to grind through with sheer will and determination. A good example of this as part of my character comes from a childhood memory. I loved running. Our small town had an annual cross country running race in which all the surrounding towns participated. I was the smallest one there at 12 years old, most others were older and a fair bit taller and stronger than I was. My goal was to come in the top 3. Everyone discounted me as a competitor because of my size. Well, I moved my legs as fast as they could go and I didn’t allow myself to slow down. Everytime I had a thought that said “ease up and take a break”, my inner drive kicked in and said “nope, rest when you’re done”. I came in second. It’s part of the way I am hard wired as a person: just keep going!
Working on any exciting projects and how will it help people?
The biggest project I am working on right now is our MoneyPrep app. This has incredibly far reaching potential for improving the lives and futures of kids around the world. Growing up I was not taught anything about money or finances. I was taught many other great life skills like work ethic, manners and how to change a tire but we never discussed money as a family. I know I am not alone in this. There are thousands upon thousands of kids entering college or the workforce without the basic knowledge of how to budget and manage money. Finances have been somewhat of a hush hush topic in households for generations. We are working toward breaking the taboo and opening the financial dialogue on a large scale. The more that kids learn and understand about money at a young age, the more confident they will be with handling their finances responsibly as adults.
Why are you an authority about how to help children at school?
I have professional experience and formal education that you could say makes me an authority on how to help kids at school, things like college theory classes and speaking events at teacher conventions but I think my real expertise comes from good old fashioned classroom time spent with youth, both teaching them and learning from them. I have taught life skill workshops, specifically for financial literacy, in classrooms of all sizes in big cities and small towns to kids of all ages. It never fails to amaze me how eager they are to participate in the topic and I learn something new from every question or comment they make. The one-on-one time has afforded me the insight to see what works for the students and what doesn’t.
What are the main challenges students face today that make it hard to succeed in school?
The main challenge I see for young kids today centers around uncertainty. The last year and a half has been tough for many kids that crave the structure of school and the routines that they know and trust. Although classroom operations still follow routines, there is still an air of “what if?” What if someone in my class gets sick? What if I forget to wash my hands before lunch? What if we shift to online learning? What if I don’t have a computer at home? What if I don’t know how to connect with my teacher? All of these uncertainties can start to inhibit a child’s focus on learning and make it hard to succeed. The flip side of the coin (and this is my rose colored glasses coming out) is that the young students of today are building a resilience to change that they may not even realize. When uncertainty becomes part of your norm, you learn to adapt quickly.
Suggest a few reforms that can help make students thrive and excel?
To me, reform can come from small efforts, you don’t always need sweeping changes to make a difference. One thing I would love to see more teachers implement to help students deal with all of the unexpected of today is an “IF THEN” plan. I started doing this with my own kids to help quell any anxieties they had growing up. We brainstormed a list of worries and then a list of ways to help make that worry go away. Example: My worry: that nobody will be there to help me if we go back to online learning. IF that happens THEN what can help: my teacher gives me her email address and/or sets a time to talk to me everyday.
Sometimes just knowing they have a plan for an issue that may arise is enough to help them get through it. Even the process of creating the IF THEN plan helps students to practice problem solving on their own.
Share your 5 things parents can do to help kids thrive and excel in school. Example of each.
Parents shoulder a lot of responsibility these days. They need to keep food on the table and adapt to an ever changing work world, navigate online learning and new protocols at school and worry about their families health like never before. It’s a lot! All of these extra pressures compound our worries about our kids because they are watching it all unfold. As parents, we all want our kids to be okay, especially now in these uncertain times. So what can we do? We can help them learn the fine art of resilience. For kids, the proper mix is half grit and half understanding, a combo I like to call “soft resilience”. Here are the top 5 things parents can do to encourage soft resilience in their kids and therefore success in their everyday, both at school and at home:
1. Listen to them and encourage them to listen to others. Resilience requires understanding and appreciation. Instead of asking your kids “How was your day?”, ask them to give you their high and their low. This not only helps them reflect, it helps them recognize what others may be experiencing.
2. Talk about what is happening right now for everyone. Don’t sugarcoat. To face challenges, they need to know what they are. Watch the news, talk about real issues and different perspectives.
3. Practice problem solving. Start with the problems that have little consequences like “What should we have for dinner when everyone wants something different?” Problem solving is an essential life skill that helps them cope with adversity in any environment.
4. Planning, scheduling and organizing helps them stay focused on the bigger picture. Use a calendar and write down chores, homework dates, activities, etc. There’s always tomorrow so don’t get wrapped up in today.
5. Prepare for the future. When kids have a feeling of being prepared and safe, it gives them confidence to face everyday blips. Help them start a savings fund for emergencies. It gives them peace of mind and internal security.
These tips will help kids build their soft resilience skills. We want all kids to face disruptions to their learning environment with readiness and the understanding that things can (and often do) change. They have to be able to roll with the punches to thrive, this year and beyond.
What needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
I believe that to be a leader in your industry, you need to have an inner dedication to your field and the people that you serve. For educators, that means your students, helping them to become the best humans they can be. Attracting top talent in the education field means finding people who want to make a difference in the world. Maybe more needs to be written and shared about how impactful the profession is. Teachers have the power to help shape the future and inspire a generation of young minds. It is a field that I respect greatly. My father was an elementary teacher for 35 years and I still come across people he taught decades ago that fondly remember his stories and for whom he made a lasting impact. There can’t be a more rewarding job in the world.
If there is a person in the world you would like to meet, who and why?
If I could meet with anyone it would be Ryan Reynolds. Everything I know about him as a person demonstrates a gem of a human being. He is kind, compassionate, driven and he holds onto his roots. These are all qualities I deeply respect and I try to emulate myself. He has the attention and the stage to inspire and help others and he does so just because. To me, that is amazing.
How to follow your work online?
You can follow the MoneyPrep journey on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube and Linkedin. Or you can play the video game by downloading the MoneyPrep app from the App Store or Google Play. We are happy and excited to be on this mission to educate kids about financial literacy. Get in touch with us anytime! We would love to hear from you!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!