A Summer of Entrepreneurship Education
- Andrew Pudewa Institute for Excellence in Writing
- 2014 6 Jun
Soon it will be summer. Although there are a few hard-core homeschool families who go year-round with their formal studies and others who in an effort to “finish” the curriculum for the year end up working until late July, many families take the summer “off.” And while there may still be a few who need their children working on the farm to feed the family, for many families summer is a season of less structure, more leisure (sometimes too much?), and an opportunity to do special things that require time—something that’s not easy to find during the school year.
Self-employed for most of my adult life, I’ve always had a strong interest in entrepreneurship. I started my first “company” at 16, selling war game supplies to my friends and fellow gamers from the trunk of my old Chevy Nova. Since then, I’ve initiated many start-up enterprises, some more successful than others. Consequently, I’ve encouraged my children to try their hand at starting businesses as well, whether it be a fruit stand, window washing, or online store. Helping with our full-time family business affords them many experiences and has taught them a lot as well.
Starting and operating a micro-business is a superb way for young people to apply the knowledge and ability they acquire through their academic studies, as well as to develop many non-academic but supremely useful life skills, including planning, budgeting, designing, scheduling, presentation, organization, communication—maybe even getting up early! It’s one thing to miscalculate a percentage for a textbook problem, but doing so in a real business is a lesson that hurts and will mean a lot more than a lower score on a math test. Attention to detail cannot be taught (or learned) by lecture or nagging; real consequences are critical. While it’s easy to wish that our children would speak more politely, dress more professionally, and exhibit more poise and maturity, being in business forces it, as successfully marketing and selling a product or service requires all those behaviors. Children who really don’t seem to care about organizing their clothes or possessions will often become extremely careful about organizing their business supplies or inventory.
Additionally, there’s no better way to understand the microeconomics of profit and loss than to try one’s hand at entrepreneurship. I have a great respect for those who can start and manage an enterprise that both contributes a good to the world and provides for a family, and I know how difficult it can be; it’s not easy in today’s circumstances where the twin giants of Mega-mart and Amazon make retailing anything at a profit nigh impossible. However, there’s always room in any market for a new good idea, a valuable service at a reasonable price, and a person of character and perseverance. And the best time to develop business aptitude is during youth, when ambition and resilience are strong, the consequences of failure less serious.
Twenty years ago I began looking for a good course or program to help me teach entrepreneurship to children and teens. Many were just games or simulations; what I wanted was a real-life business planning kit. Not long ago I finally found two programs that really have the potential to energize kids with business ideas and equip them with practical planning tools to help them implement those ideas. Lemonade to Leadership: Nurturing Entrepreneurs by Bonnie Drew is an effective course in entrepreneurship for young people through age 12. I am entirely convinced that students who have been educated in a way that promotes initiative and ingenuity should also have some practical and explicit training in how to apply their talents to starting a business. This program provides exactly that.
With examples of businesses suitable for teenagers, instruction on writing a business plan, suggestions on how to finance the venture, and more, Carol Topp’s Micro Business for Teens website and resources provide excellent tools for young adults who are ready for a more robust challenge and are ready to work hard toward financial independence.
No argument is truly persuasive without some good stories, so let me finish up with a couple. Last summer at one of the state conventions, I met a mom who told me about her six-week Lemonade to Leadership class. Bubbling over with excitement, she told me of various ideas that her middle school students had come up with, and she pulled me across the exhibit hall, where one boy from her group had a table selling his products: little bags of crayons molded into fun shapes such as dolphins, cars, and rockets. The young man was 11 years old and had already sold his melted, remolded crayons to a small chain of restaurants in his city, with potentially more sales ahead. Already he had earned over one hundred dollars and was just getting started!
Interestingly, he did have to overcome one unpredicted hurdle—getting a sufficient supply of raw material. At first, when he approached the preschools and daycare centers asking for old crayons, few places were interested in helping him. However, when he changed his vocabulary and offered to “recycle” the old crayons, he received instant support and a supply of raw materials. Oh, the power of knowing your audience and having the right words to reach them!
Another boy I met gave me his business card, which he pulled out of a duct-tape wallet. I also noticed a rather cleverly made duct-tape belt around his waist. His business? Duct-Tape Creations—custom-made duct-tape accessories. When I asked if he’d sold anything, he looked at me askew, answering, “Of course!” His younger sister, I understand, was busy painting and framing a collection of pictures she was planning to display on the wall of a hotel owned by a relative, with prices starting at twenty dollars! Hey, if you can sell one, you can sell a hundred.
So I suggest you consider some entrepreneurship education this summer, with one child or with the whole family. In his insightful little book, The Coming Aristocracy: Education and the Future of Freedom, Dr. Oliver DeMille notes that once upon a time we were a country of “owners” and that to be an American was to be an owner, a farmer, a merchant, or an artisan—in short, to be independent. There were few “employees,” and those who did work for another expected to some day break out on their own. Today, however, we have become a nation of employees and few owners; most of us are dependents, not “independents,” which is not good for the nation. In order to prevent a future where the elite few will own everything and control everyone, we need more people who will think like our forefathers and fewer who just want to keep a job so they can stay comfortable.
So, although we cannot expect a return to the small-scale, agrarian economy of our founders that fostered such energy, we can make every possible effort to regain and retain the type of independence they embodied—as we strive to do with homeschooling. Entrepreneurship education is a superb place to strengthen and expand those efforts, both in our families and our society.
Andrew Pudewa is the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (www.excellenceinwriting.com) and a homeschooling father of seven. Presenting throughout North America, he addresses issues relating to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity and insight, practical experience and humor. He and his beautiful, heroic wife, Robin, currently teach their two youngest children at home in northeastern Oklahoma.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: June 25, 2014