(Article published on Aug 7, 2016. See original article at forbes.com)
Between the time that the kids leave school for summer vacation and return again in the fall, they seem to get stupider. There is actually a phenomenon called, “Learning Loss,” and it is a major plague on children in lower socio-economic environments. It’s real; just read below.
“Summer learning loss, the phenomenon where young people lose academic skills over the summer, is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate. For many young people, the summer ‘opportunity gap’ contributes to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success,” according to the National Summer Learning Association.
Why not really raise the bar for your own kids and encourage them to be summer entrepreneurs while learning valuable skills along the way? Can it be done? Yes, and I just saw how it can work after being lucky enough to be a judge for a program called Minding Our Business (MOB). I was asked to be among educators and business people evaluating the business plans that middle schoolers had prepared. I have to admit, I was blown away. I work with college kids, but these were young people, who had actually understood how business works.
MOB is a community outreach program organized by the Rider University College of Business Administration. The purpose of MOB is to “…advance the personal and vocational development of Trenton (NJ) youth through entrepreneurship education and mentoring.” During the summer, the kids are taught how to organize a business and run it. I saw this work for our kids from Trenton; you can do this with your kids at home this summer as well.
If you want to plan ahead for next summer, and you have the money, there are camps that teach kids about entrepreneurship. You can research some of these on TeenLife.com. You can find a local camp or your children can even go to foreign continents, such as Africa, and join kids from around the world to enjoy cross-cultural exchanges as they learn to become social entrepreneurs. If money is a concern, many local communities offer programs such as MOB. The key is to register your kids early, as these programs fill up rapidly.
All Kids Want To Be Entrepreneurs
I’m not sure why kids always want to be entrepreneurs, but I think it must be programmed into our DNA. My first job was at 10 years old. I collected smooth rocks and painted them to be used as paperweights. Okay, before you fall on the ground laughing, I sold them to a local boutique and actually made $400 over one summer. That was big money 55 years ago. (If only I had sold my rocks as pets!)
The point is that this activity should inspire your kids and lay a foundation of skills they can grow over their lifetime. Remember, the end of summer is fast approaching, so don’t make this too difficult for your kids. Encourage them to pick a simple product. (Rocks certainly lowered my Cost of Goods Sold.)
Here are some easy steps to encouraging entrepreneurism with your kids:
- Vision: Start with an idea that your kids are passionate about. Do they like animals? (They could walk dogs.) Do they play an instrument or a sport? (They could give lessons to other kids.) Do they bake? (They could bake cookies and pies.) Do they like to make things (They could make jewelry or t-shirts)? You get the point.
- Market Research: Let your kids figure out if there is a market for their idea. Who and how will they sell their product? How will they price their products?
- Competition: If there are five other lemonade stands on your block, this may not be the best idea for a business. How will your kids differentiate their product in a crowded marketplace?
- Costs: Start-up costs are important. You can loan your kids the “start-up capital,” but make sure that they pay you back. This has to be a real exercise. They have to figure out all of the costs. The MOB kids established costs per unit.
- Creation: How are they going to make their product? Will they need workers, or can they do this themselves?
- Forecast: Let your kids estimate what they think they can sell. Don’t let them make this pie-in-the-sky; they are learning to forecast sales the way all businesses plan for the future.
- Marketing: Are your kids going to make fliers and hand them out? Will they go door-to-door in the neighborhood or in your apartment building? They may not have time for a big social media campaign, but let them think about how that would work.
- Charity: One of the great things about the MOB program is that kids were encouraged to pick a charity or cause to which they would donate some of their profits. What a great way for our kids to learn to give back. By doing this, charitable giving will become second nature. The magic number of giving is 10 percent.
- Post Mortem: After the summer is over, sit down with the kids so they can evaluate their idea and the results. The big question is to ask them what they learned.
Onto a Smarter Summer
By venturing into the entrepreneurial world, your kids won’t even realize that their “dumb” summer just got smarter. They are not only dreaming dreams, but in many cases they are making them happen. Starting a business means learning too many things to mention; reading, writing, math, research, interpersonal communication, presentation skills…and hopefully their success will give them “fuel” to develop money management skills. The point is that they have tried and they need not worry about making mistakes, another valuable lesson. Ask any entrepreneur who has had to remain nimble and learn from mistakes. It’s okay.
And, kudos to MOB; you are role models for us all.