Define Wants and Needs

K, 1, 2

Children compare wants and needs and create a collage of wants and needs. Students clarify their understanding and interpretation of wants and needs as they compare their wants and needs with others in the room and in the world. They respond to the story Sam and the Lucky Money. Children start to reflect on ways they can empathize with and help people who have different needs than their own.

Lesson Rating 
Two 45-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • define wants and needs.
  • describe limited resources.
  • identify four ways to manage money.
  • create collages of wants and needs.
  • respond to literature with personal reflection and discussion of financial choices.
  • compare and contrast choices of Sam (book character) with choices in their own lives.
  • read aloud copy of the book Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chin
  • magazines for cutting
  • glue sticks, scissors
  • colored 9" x 12" construction paper
  • optional: poster board if completed as a whole class collage
Teacher Preparation 

One of the questions in this lesson depends on children having some prior knowledge of the needs of children in a developing country. Prior to this lesson, talk about developing countries that are in the current news and the needs of children and families in areas where resources are not available to meet basic needs. Or, read aloud a book that provides some background knowledge of children with limited resources, such as Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams.

  • wants: desires for goods, services, feelings, and other things we would like to have but do not need
  • needs: things we must have to survive, such as food, water, and shelter
  • save: to keep or put aside for future access
  • invest: to put resources, such as money, in an account or in an organization for the purpose of growing the resources’ value and/or impact
  • spend: to use money or resources for something you want or need
  • donate: to give time, talent or resources for a charitable purpose with no expectation of something in return
  • resources: available means of support that can be drawn on when needed or wanted
  • scarcity: the lack of a resource, such as money

Students reflect on the choices available to them and recognize that they have resources that may not be available to others. Discuss whether sharing with others is a good choice when they don't have everything they need or want. Discuss why or why not.


Chin, Karen.Sam and the Lucky Money. Lee and Low Books (reprint edition), 1997. ISBN: 1880000539


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Say, “Everyone in the world has wants and needs, which are different for each person.” Define wants and needs. Wants are desires for goods and services we would like to have but do not need. Many wants may seem like needs. Needs are a special kind of want, and refer to things we must have to survive, such as food, water, and shelter.

  2. Give examples of some age-appropriate wants and needs (a pet dog, a skateboard, clothing items, lunch, hairbrush) and ask children if they want or need each one. Ask if everyone (in the world) has everything they need? Discuss why not.

  3. Ask children to name common wants/needs around the world. Then provide magazines, scissors, glue, and construction paper (one sheet per child). Have children cut pictures from magazines that are examples of personal wants and needs. Give each child a sheet of paper and guide them in folding it in half. Have them paste pictures of needs on one half and pictures of wants on the other half.

  4. Aschildren work, move around the room and ask guiding questions about their choices. Help them clarify their understanding of the difference between wants and needs.

  5. Differentiation: This activity may be altered to be done as a whole-class collage, or students may work in small groups.

  6. Display the collages on the wall. Discuss their understanding of the difference between wants and needs. Have the students name a country they have been studying or have heard about in the news. (See Teacher Preparation, above.) Ask whether someone from that country would create the same collage if given this assignment. Discuss why or why not. Are needs and wants the same all over the world?

  7. Day Two

  8. Discuss the collages from the previous activity. Explain that resources are limited in the world, and most people cannot have everything they want. Some people have more of what they want and need than others. Explain four things people can do with their money and other resources:

    • Save: to keep or put aside for future use.
    • Invest:to put resources, such as money, in an account or in an organization for the purpose of growing the resources’ value and/or impact.
    • Spend:to use money for something you want or need.
    • Donate:to give time, talent or treasure with no expectation of something in return.
  9. Introduce the book Sam and the Lucky Money. This is a book about a young boy going shopping in Chinatown with his mom.He receives a gift of “lucky money,” which he can spend any way he chooses.Sam soon finds he can’t always get everything he wants, so, like everyone, he faces the problem of scarcity (not enough supply), he has to make choices about what to do with a limited resource, in this case, money.

  10. Read aloud the book Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chin.Ask children to listen for examples of wants and needs and the choices Sam must make with his limited money.

    1. What were some wants that Sam had?
    2. What were some of his needs?
    3. Why is it important for Sam to learn the difference between needs and wants?
    4. What choices did Sam have for spending his money?
    5. (question for older children) What was the scarcity problem in the story that made Sam angry and disappointed?
    6. (question for older children) What was the scarcity problem faced by the needy person in the story?
    7. How did Sam finally spend his money? Why did he make that choice?
    8. Did he save, spend, donate, or invest?
    9. The last sentence in the story says: “As they headed home for more New Year’s celebration, Sam knew he was the lucky one.” What do you think this means?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Explain the difference between wants and needs.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.13 Describe limited resources and scarcity.

Academic Standards

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