WILLIAM Layne of Miami checks the stock price of The Topps Co. every couple of days, thrilled to own a slice of the company that sells the sports trading cards he collects by the hundreds. Layne is 10. His mother, Lisa, has told him that, by investing in companies, he could wind up with even more money if the businesses grew. She even showed him how to look up the share price in the newspaper. ãRight now the stock is not doing so well,ââ Layne said. ãBut it really doesnât matter because Iâm not going to sell.ââ

Lisa Layne, a Miami accountant and chief financial officer of Willow CSN of Miami, said the stock is just a step in teaching her son a lesson on how to save money. Itâs a lesson children as young as elementary-age are learning. Suddenly, a proliferation of books, Web sites, academic curricula and financial funds have sprouted to address the growing number of young investors. ãIt makes good sense to begin an investment programme as early as possible,ââ said Dan Brady, with Stein Roe Young Investor Fund. ãThis is a great time to get kids interested in the stock market because itâs becoming cool. The marketâs rally helps our cause.ââ

A child who grows up and enters the real world unprepared about saving and investing may face costly lessons, such as having a car repossessed, wrestling with credit card debt and filing for bankruptcy. ãChildren are taught in school to be word-literate but not to be financial-literate,ââ said Robert Kiyosaki, financier and author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money and the Poor Do Not (TechPress Inc. 1997).

So how do you get your child interested in money and investing? Start early, says Neale Godfrey, author of Neale Godfreyâs Ultimate Kidsâ Money Book (Simon & Schuster 1998).

Godfrey says kids should be given an allowance or payment for chores and taught about saving as early as age three. ãThatâs when kids start saying, ÎI want, I want, I want,âââ Godfrey said. She suggest dividing their allowance into four parts ÷ quick cash, charity, short-term savings, long-term savings (college education). Parents may even encourage children by matching what they saved after an agreed-upon time.

ãThe point is to teach them not to spend everything they make,ââ Godfrey said. Godfrey believes at age 10 children have developed some math skills and are ready to learn about investing in the stock market.

She has her own children sit down with a broker twice a year for a discussion. ãPart of getting them interested in the market is demystifying the whole thing,ââ she said. Porter Morgan, a senior vice president at Liberty Financial Cos., said buying a child a share of stock in a company he or she can relate to is a great teaching device. Minors canât buy stocks or mutual funds directly, but they can own the stock in a custodial account with an adult. Some stock picks could be Mattel, Toys R Us, McDonalds, Disney, Coca Cola or Marvel Entertainment.

After making a purchase, show your child where to check the price and how to research why it rises or falls, Morgan said. Before the advent of the Internet, most kids knew little about the stock market. But the Web is providing a wealth of information about stocks to increasing numbers of kids, through online investment games and other sites. North Miami Beach High School teacher Carlos Sardinas also believes in showing kids the road to wealth can begin in the stock market. He had students in his three accounting classes put in $15 each and form an investment club.

The students choose officers and an investing strategy. They research stocks, track their performances, learn financial terms and are allowed unlimited trades during the semester. A broker from Dean Witter acts as a consultant.

ãSome students actually have opened brokerage accounts,ââ Sardinas said. Experts say individual stocks are more likely to hold kidsâ interest than mutual funds. But more funds have been started that are geared toward children, such as Stein Roe Young Investor Fund, USAA First Start Growth Fund and Legacy Portfolio. The Stein Roe fund, launched six years ago, has attracted more than 200,000 shareholders, most of them kids. It invests in companies whose products appeal to and affect the lives of children or teen-agers. Participants receive a monthly newsletter. ãWe invest in great companies and hold on to them,ââ said Brady of Stein Roe. ãWe get a lot of letters or e-mail from kids suggesting stocks we ought to put in the fund. Even though marketers increasingly target kids, only 12 percent of teenagers spend all their money immediately after receiving it, according to a 1999 study conducted by Merrill Lynch. The study found that 60 percent save about half, and 28 percent save most of their money. The goal, experts say, is to teach them about interest and compounding, and lay out their alternatives to keeping their savings in a piggy bank. Many students at Flamingo Elementary in Davie already have started building a savings account. Once a week on bank day, the schoolâs office converts to a makeshift branch of Washington Mutual, and students may deposit their allowance or money earned for chores into their accounts. ãIt teaches them the value of saving money and gives them the convenience of doing it at school,ââ said Mark Strauss, assistant principal. ãWe want them to understand the value in saving.ââ As part of program, students visited the bank branch in Weston and received a lesson on how banks operate and make money. Still, the best way to teach kids about good saving habits is for parents to set the example, experts say. ãIf parents tend to run up a lot of debt, then their kids will tend to do that,ââ says Janet Bodnar, senior editor of Kiplingerâs Personal Finance magazine and author of ãDollars & Sense for Kidsââ (Kiplinger Books, 1999). ãIf they see their parents buying every little new gizmo that comes along, theyâll want to buy every new gizmo.ââ