Needs vs. wants

This is a bit of a difficult problem for most nine-year-olds, I think. What is the difference between a need and a want? In class this week I used one of the Garbology to discuss this, building on the holiday homework assignment we went over last week.

First I put two categories on the board to see what people thought their needs were. Then I put up wants. Most of them were pretty clear about the basics: food and water. The rest I made them debate a bit. Do we need hospitals if we take good care of ourselves and rely on traditional Ayurvedic medicines? Do we need clothes if we live in a very hot place? Or shelter for that matter. Of course, we’ve all come to think of most of these things as needs, but it pushed the kids to think in quite interesting ways.

Then I handed out a sheet from the Garbology lesson and asked them to colour in the items that are needs and leave blank those that are wants. Most of them got it right: the music player, chocolate, toy truck, bicycle, video game, television, doll and even education were all left blank. Although there were students who didn’t much like the idea of education being a want.

But as with most things, I’m understanding more and more, what we know intellectually doesn’t easily translate into behavioural change. So while they may know the difference between these wants and needs, they are only nine after all and sometimes that desire for chocolate can be quite strong and difficult to suppress! I think it’s a good exercise for all of us to do so we can consciously consider what we buy before we do so: do we really need x, y, zed or do we want it?




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