Why I’m encouraging my daughter to start her own business (she’s 7)

bnb4It starts when kids are tiny.

As soon as they enter the Schooling-System… the “telling” begins.  The teacher “tells”, the kids listen and obey.

I sent my kids to pre-school before they were out of nappies.  At the time, I vehemently believed that public schools were best.

“My kids aren’t going to end up strange and sheltered like those homeschooled children!”, I declared.

Morgan stayed at pre-school for 3 and a half years… (and I’m still trying to un-do what was done).

Take art lessons, for example.  In Morgan’s school – even art lessons involved “telling”.  There was no room for creativity, exploration, initiative or invention.  Children were each handed a copied page out of a colouring-in-book – and told to “colour in neatly”.  The children who neatly coloured in their drawings (in all the right colours) were given good marks in art.  The children who scribbled on their pages… or who coloured apples purple (instead of red or green)… were told to “do better next time”.

The spoon-feeding had begun.

(Quick Disclaimer:  I’m not saying that every pre-school is the same as the pre-school that my kids attended… and I’m not saying that every teacher thinks in the same way – I know there are awesome and passionate educators out there and they have my deep respect).

What I am asking… is that we just… QUESTION a few things.

Questioning versus Knowing

At school, we were taught to answer the questions (correctly, of course).  If you answered all the questions, if you ticked all of the right boxes, you got good marks on your standardized test – and you passed.

If (like me) you questioned the answers… and asked:  “But, why?”… or if you said:  “I don’t agree”… or if you said:  “I don’t want to do it this way, I want to do it another way”…  you ended up in trouble… in detention… in the school principal’s office… and you got bad grades (and many stern lectures from irritated teachers and vexed parents).

But this post isn’t going to talk about how school damaged me.  I want to talk about what 3 years of pre-school taught my children – and specifically my daughter (who attended pre-school for about double the length of time that her younger brother attended).

When I took Morgan out of school, she relied (strongly) on me to tell her what to do.

If I handed her a blank sheet of paper with some paints and pens – she’d want to colour-in, instead (by the way, I hate children’s colouring-in-books – they are completely banned from our home)… (with no offence intended to a reader of this blog who gives out free colouring-in sheets to adults in order to assist with inner-healing).

Eventually, Morgan reluctantly agreed to draw (on blank paper) – but she would always ask:  “What must I draw, Mommy?”

And I would say:  “Anything you like!”

Morgan wasn’t sure what to do with that response.  She was used to being told exactly what to do.  At her school, even craft lessons involved perfect squares and circles which children had to glue together according-to-instructions.  Free play (in art)… had never been encouraged at Morgan’s school.  Everything had always been meticulously structured… and done in “steps”… i.e.:

How to Make a Duckling:

  1. Cut a circle out of paper.
  2. Colour it in yellow.
  3. Cut a smaller circle out of paper.
  4. Colour it in yellow.
  5. Cut a small triangle out of paper.
  6. Colour it in orange.
  7. Stick the small triangle on to the edge of the small circle.
  8. Take a black pen and draw a round eye.

(you get the picture)…

The kids weren’t simply allowed to… you know… just draw (or create) their own interpretation of what a duckling might look like.  The children’s versions were deemed messy and “wrong”…  right from the start – and even with ART lessons… there were rules that needed to be obeyed.

Getting Morgan out of that mind-set has been a slow process (and she was only at “school” for 3 and a half years).  When she eventually agreed to draw (instead of colour in) – she would automatically revert to the images that she had previously coloured in (at school)… characters like Mickey or Minnie Mouse…  and she’d get hugely frustrated that her work wasn’t as “neat” or as “nice” as the drawings that she had coloured in before.

“I can’t do it!”, she’d cry in frustration, “It doesn’t look how it’s supposed to look!”.

My child… at age 5… was already trapped in the “supposed to” mentality.  Ugh!!

It took a lot of encouragement from me to explain to her – that her drawings were beautiful… and that I was glad that they didn’t look like the drawings from the colouring-in-book.

She has come a long way since then.  These days, she eagerly grabs her paints and pens and imagines and invents all kinds of new creatures and creations.  She’s still not as free as her brother (when it comes to art) – and there’s still quite a few rules that she imposes on herself…  (but she has certainly come a long way).

Education that Spoon-Feeds (and kills off creativity)

The other day, I watched a very interesting TED talk by Tony Wagner on the state of education – and one of the quotes given was this:  “The world no longer cares whether you’re smarter than a fifth grader or how well you do at Trivial Pursuit.  The world no longer cares about what you know… but what you can DO with what you know… and that is a completely different education problem”.

There’s so little within our education system that encourage children to stand on their own two feet… to generate their OWN ideas… to create their OWN solutions… to problem-solve… to initiate… to invent… to create… to crave knowledge and growth… to DO something with what they know…

And this is such a pity – because creativity (the ability to come up with different ideas and new solutions) is vital in the world in which we now live.  Vital!   We have too many obedient, complaint adults – waiting to be told what to do… and too few creators, initiators and problem-solvers.

Our outdated education system is largely to blame.

Even from a young age… (pre-school, in fact)… kids are taught and told to listen and obey… and that theme of simply listening and obeying remains strong throughout pre-school, primary school, high school… and even university or college.

Now, more than ever (and all over the world) – we have thousands of spoon-fed (and now unemployed) college graduates who are saying:  “Hey?  What’s happening?  I followed The Rules!  I did as I was told!  Where’s my good job?  Where’s my happily ever after?”.

Don’t believe me?  Read this excellent blog post (actually a letter to his granddaughter) written by John Taylor Gatto, author of “Dumbing us Down”.

As Tony Wagner said…  the world doesn’t CARE about what you KNOW… the world cares about what you can DO with what you know.

And… apart from all the stuff that college graduates now KNOW… the question remains: “Yes, but what can you actually DO?”

And – many of them… sadly… won’t know how to answer that question.  Because they’re still passively waiting for someone out there to “TELL” them what to do. 

World-wide, experts like Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner, John Taylor Gatto (and many others) – are saying that the current “system” of education is obsolete – and that everything needs to change.  But the process is SLOW.  The current Education System is like a massive, rusted, iron ship – headed off in the only direction it knows.  Educational reformers are like tiny tug boats… pulling at the sides of the hull… trying to set it on a different course – but reformation takes time and the process is painfully slow.

However…

I believe that there are a number of things that we, as parents, can do – to encourage creativity, questioning, problem-solving capabilities and forward-thinking initiative in our children (so that they’ll thrive not ‘because’ of school – but, in spite of it).

And… ONE of those things… is to encourage kids to start their own little business!

Yes – even at a young and tiny age!

Starting a little business or a little enterprise will get kid’s creative juices flowing and there are so many additional skills that they can learn.

Obviously I’m not advocating child labour (or long hours spent on “business” when they should be playing and having fun)…  I’m talking about a tiny little part-time enterprise – like a stall at Kid’s Market… or baking batches of cupcakes for birthday parties… or a lemonade stand… or selling un-used toys on Ebay… or, in the case of this little girl, baking bones and “crunchy poo’s” for pets!

Morgan and Joah have recently started their own little enterprise called Beetle & Bear (their nicknames).  They illustrate the stationery… I get it printed… they package it, label it and sell it.

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range

In the process, they learn how to work with money… how to budget (so they can print more cards with their profits)… how to chat with folk of all ages… and soooo much more.

There’s no pressure (at least not on my part).  They don’t *have* to do this long-term.  Morgan and Joah might decide that their involvement in Beetle & Bear is only for a season – they might even move on to other things.  The point is – I want to encourage them to explore and try new things.  I want them to experiment with ideas.  I want them to initiatecreateinvent… and problem-solve!

I’m not a helicopter Mom with lofty ideals of entrepreneurial “success” for my kid’s little enterprise.  For the moment, it’s something fun that they do that helps earn them a bit of extra pocket money… (while teaching them a few important life-lessons at the same time).

I know that it’s just a drop in the ocean… and just ONE small way for kids to access the big, wide, beautiful world out there – but, I think, it’s a step in the right direction.  🙂

PS:  Joah posts enjoys posting his own illustrated postcards to friends around the world.  If you’d like to receive a postcard from my almost-5-year-old…  click here.

2 thoughts on “Why I’m encouraging my daughter to start her own business (she’s 7)

  1. This is where I get stuck. I get, I really get, the insanity of teaching rules to art, and getting kids to conform when their free spirit and creativity needs to flourish.

    At the same time, I can also recognize there are in fact at times ‘shoulds’ and ‘how tos’. There really are at times ‘right answers’. But take as an example, the entrepreneurial skills to which you refer (which again I totally agree with the activity for my kids too and its fantastic opportunity to learn). But here you acknowledge that there is a way to calculate profit, to know you need to use a certain type of packaging, or how to talk to adults. There are indeed some ‘shoulds’.

    I think if you are hoping for your child to be an artist only, maybe traditionally schooling is a waste of time. But the reality is we do need to learn how to calculate, or particular social norms in our culture, or the best way to hit a ball. Extrapolate to occupations such as engineering or medicine or law- occupations we all depend upon as a society- and good luck getting there with ‘unschooling’.

    The issue is one of balance. Of course harder to write a blog about balance. But the reality is you need both freedom and exploration and so much room to create and explore. But you also need time to learn things you might not naturally gravitate toward, or that take a ton of practice to learn, or that require actual instruction and concentration from someone teaching.

    That is all. Thanks for listening.

    • Some great thoughts, Daisy. And I hear what you’re saying. I have a lot to say about what you’ve written… and I could respond in a long, drawn-out paragraph (possibly morphing into a small book)…. I hesitate to speak freely – however – mostly because I don’t want to come off as “preachy”… or as trying to insinuate that there is only one *RIGHT* way to do things – or only one *RIGHT* way to educate kids (because I don’t think there’s only “one” way – or “one” answer – and I think it depends a lot on each child, on the parents, on the resources at hand, on the gift or talent or leaning of each child).

      For us… (and I need to stress that what works for us might not work for everyone)… but for us – we’re very comfortable easing kids into the entrepreneurial-thing with unschooling – because we both come from families of entrepreneurs and it’s all natural to us.

      Nick (my husband) didn’t learn his entrepreneurial skills at school. He learned them because he grew up in a Greek family business… and he learned to count… and deal with money… and operate the till (from a very young age) – because that was simply the environment he was raised in. LIFE was the teacher. The business itself… was the teacher. Most of what school “taught” was irrelevant to him… as it was to me. Everything I learned about marketing, printing, production, how-to-use-a-computer, graphic design, web design… (and the thousands of intricacies of that particular business) was self-taught – and was simply learned whilst living and doing.

      School never taught me how to play piano, how to apply for a home loan, how to open a bank account, how to market myself, how to invoice clients, how to design a die-cut box, how certain kinds of inks work, how to design and print a book… (etc, etc, etc)… I learned on the go – and taught myself – (and asked many questions of people who were already experts in their fields).

      I often ask family and friends about the careers they now have. I ask people about the jobs they are now in – and I ask them whether the work they now do was *taught* to them at school. I’m yet to find the person who answers “yes”.

      John Taylor Gatto (who wrote the book called Dumbing us Down)… and who taught in schools for 30 years (nominated both as teacher of the year for New York City – AND for New York State)… wrote something that I’ll never forget. He said: “I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my 30 years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science class or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything… except how to obey orders”.

      Of course – I resonate with what John Taylor Gatto says – because I found that it was disconcertingly true because of (my own) school experience.

      Every important skill that I use in life and business today… was self-taught. The same is true for my husband (who excelled at school and went to university for a BSc degree… which is now a dormant certificate in the cupboard because he ended up being a self-taught filmmaker).

      Because of our own experiences… we have decided to allow our kids the space and freedom to explore a whole bunch of different things.. different paths… and different ideas. They’re still young – so it’s still very-much a time of us all exploring and learning together… but I think that as they get older, and as they start to develop a better understanding of their own special gifts… and start developing specific interests in a specific direction… we will not only encourage them – but will facilitate the process and provide them with whatever resource they require.

      *IF* it turns out that one (or both) of my kids are academically inclined… and have a definite desire to pursue a career that requires a university degree (i.e.: engineering, doctor, law, etc)… then we will facilitate the process with the required bridging-courses… and they’ll write a university entrance exam like any other homeschooler.

      If – however – they end up being more (like Nick and I)… and are either aiming towards a creative career (filmmaking, graphic design, theatre production… or whatever)… then we will facilitate and encourage *that* process and ensure they have everything they need (including mentorship from people who are professionals in those fields… Nick and I both place huge value on mentors)… then that’s what we’ll do.

      Morgan is already (at age 9) showing a tremendous interest in creating a business. She’s very diligent with her money… she saves… she counts… she budgets… and she has numerous business ideas (currently involving buying bulk sweets & chips directly from manufacturers, re-bagging with her own brand… and selling small packets in her grandmother’s coffee shop)… (she also talks a lot of owning a restaurant or a hotel one day). Joah (who is just turning 7)… is very different to his sister. I’m starting to suspect that he *might* follow his dad in the filmmaking career – simply because he’s also very technically minded – but loves creative storytelling.

      But – like I say – they’re still young – so we’re all still exploring these options with them (in an expectation-free manner).

      Hah- and there I told myself that I would *NOT* send you a long, drawn-out wordy response… and that’s exactly what I’ve done!!! I appreciate the respectful dialogue though… I know that the way we do things is definitely not for everyone. I’m very much of the belief that each parent understands their child (and their child’s needs) infinitely better than anyone else… be it teacher / government / system / or anyone – for that matter – who believes that *they* know better.

      I also have a lot of friends whose children thrive within the structured, academic context of traditional school… and I’m like: “Cool! Whatever works best for YOU guys!”

      But – when people why *WE* choose this particular route… I’m happy to answer those questions too.

      Okay – I really AM going to stop rambling now…. 🙂

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