OK, kids can set prices on cars but not stamps


" ... a hotel room, even though it has every convenience, can be a lonely place.

Your friend,


Louis addressed an envelope to Sam, folded the letter, fitted the newspaper clipping in, and found a six-cent stamp in his moneybag. He sealed the envelope, pasted the stamp on, and dropped the letter in a mail chute outside the door of his room."

At this point in our reading of "The Trumpet of the Swan" by E.B. White, I stopped the students with a question.

"Does anyone notice anything unusual about what we just read?"

A few hands went up. Some of the children wanted to know what a chute is. Others were curious about the moneybag. A few wanted to know why paste was needed when stamps already have a sticky back. (Has it really been that long since we needed to lick the back of a stamp?)


Most of my third-graders read right over what I thought was the most interesting part of the passage.

A 6-cent stamp. That's what it cost to mail a letter in 1970 when White wrote his delightful story of a trumpeter swan who could not "ko-hoh" without the use of a brass instrument.

"Can you imagine?" I asked my class.

My question was answered with blank stares.

They had no idea why the amount of the stamp was so interesting to me.

"Does anyone know how much it costs to mail a letter today, or as of last Monday?"

Hands went up.

$1.50? $3? $5? $10?

I had to chuckle because their guesses made the postal increase seem minuscule.

"Here's your homework: Ask your parents what it costs to mail a letter today."

I used that question as a bonus on both the spelling test and the reading quiz. Most of my students remembered to ask their parents and correctly answered 41 cents.

A few seemed to recall the incorrect answers given by their classmates. One child still thinks it costs $5 to mail a letter.

I hope he doesn't discuss that with the postmaster. Hallmark would transfer all its efforts to online resources.

It's interesting how our children seem to have difficulty with the concept of how much things cost.

Perhaps we haven't done enough to teach them the value of a dollar.

As always, when you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.

After having the stamp discussion with my students, I was reviewing my own daughter's papers that had come home from school that day.

On one of her math papers, a word problem asked this question: Dad bought a new truck to pull the camper. About how much did the truck cost?

The choices were $5, $500 and $15,000.

My daughter picked $500. Her teacher wrote, "I wish!" beside her response.

I smiled as I discussed this with my daughter.

She looked at her daddy and said, "But Daddy, your white truck wasn't that expensive."

My husband had recently sold a 1984 truck for about $2,300. She remembered us talking about the sale.

I commended her for realizing that $2,300 was closer to $500 than $15,000, and then explained that there is a big difference in cost between a new and used vehicle.

She just shrugged her shoulders and went off to play.

In another eight years or so when she's ready to get her license, the price tag will hold more interest, I'm sure.

For now, we'll just concentrate on the smaller priced items, like how much it costs to send a letter home from camp this summer.

Thank goodness it's not $5.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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