Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encourage Entrepreneurship, Stop Teaching Math!

Encourage Entrepreneurship, Stop Teaching Math!

My homeschooled kids can’t get through a math worksheet.  No, really.  Not one single worksheet. If they solve one algorithm or word problem, that’s it.  My 10 year old will even get bored 75% through reading a word problem.  He’ll blurt out the answer, and never even bother to write out the solution. This issue lasted about 3 days in our first year of home education before we employed the solution:  I stopped teaching math.

Instead, our kids just lived alongside us, as we lived our lives as business people and entrepreneurs.  Luckily we took to home education freedom very quickly and soon abandoned all things schooly – especially when it came to math.  Though not our initial intention, abandoning conventional math opened us up to real-world entrepreneurial internships that our kids relish.

We played many games together.  We did it just for fun, not for homeschool.  But because we didn’t have to report to a ringing bell every 55 minutes or need to show up with no. 2 pencils at any particular place, we sort of gave in to our board game vice and played constantly.  Besides Monopoly, we played The Wonder Number Game, Sum Swamp, Dino Math Tracks, Pay Day and Money Bags.

My 6 year old could make change.  Well, of course he could make change! The boys loved to play with play money, and when the play money got lost or torn up, we started using real money from our wallets and piggy banks.  The irony was not lost on me the one occasion when a stranger, who noticed my kids not in school in the middle of a Tuesday, expressed her concern about “socialization.”  Luckily, I actually had a moment to engage her in conversation, because I was still at the table waiting, as my poor, unsocialized child navigated the social process of paying the cashier for our breakfast at the cash register.

Another time, a child of mine negotiated the best rate for our dinner.  He had reviewed the menu and after listening to all of us give our orders to the waitress, he spoke up and switched things up.  Instead of 2 child’s chicken strips meal (which only had 2 strips each), he changed it to one adult’s chicken strips (which came with 6 strips, unlimited fries and a side salad).  He continued to adjust the order for the rest of the family, leaving us with more food and almost $20 saved from our original order.  This child was 9 at the time.

Why am I irritated when my husband rearranges our restaurant order to maximize savings, but burst with heavenly pride when my child does the exact same thing?  What does a 6 year old need with the ability to calculate the economic loss of mortgaging vs. selling?  How does understanding the velocity of money allow an 8 year old to enjoy his passions?  Why did I waste 3 whole days of homeschooling with math worksheets?

Ok, not all parents, homeschoolers or no, are entrepreneurs.  However, kids interacting with you in your daily comings and goings, or spending time lounging, cooking, watching TV or Facebooking, can be a valuable entrepreneurial internship that parents can give their kids.

My husband will point out to the kids the kinds of ads he gets when he is logged onto his FB account as opposed to the ads I see when I am logged onto mine.  Social networking as the hottest new advertising model, as well as the record-breaking, Facebook IPO were all discussed.

We analyze why the kids love the Jack-in-the-Box, “Jumbaco” ad, while I have a strange admiration for the screaming JC Penny commercial.  Last month, my son asked why I was fast-forwarding through the football section of the Super Bowl that we DVR’d, just to stop and watch the commercials.  So, we explain 30-second prime time media ads in detail, while laughing through the commercials.  This fun-filled way of learning marketing, advertising and demographics in business has actually made my kids less susceptible to ads, even ads aimed specifically to children.  They can see right through them.

Volunteering, fund-raising and charity drives are fantastic entrepreneurial internships.  The kids understand the business structure of charities as well as the basics of charity R.O.I. because I volunteered as Secretary of a cancer charity this year.  Last year, the kids wanted to become micro-lenders through,  after seeing mine and my husband’s enthusiasm for granting small interest free loans to entrepreneurs in 3rd World countries.  The boys now lend their own money to people in Asia and Africa. I wrote about this activity in detail in a previous post.

Besides living alongside us, the kids have informally interned with their martial arts teacher that owns and operates his own dojo. I've done some marketing consulting for him, and my kids have made flyers, hung signs and other odd and ends.  Exposure to these owner-operators gives the kids insight on the entrepreneurial paradigm known as, “living above the store.”  They see how  people are accountable and invested, as opposed to the “entitled” attitudes that are often displayed from factory-model employee types.

Now 4 years into homeschooling and my kids still can’t/won’t do math worksheets.  However, on any given week, they are either lending to a new grocery store owner in Kenya, or selling their old toys and clothes on consignment, or brainstorming with their Tae Kwon Do master on how to get new students in the school, or trading properties with high equity with properties with high rental income, or criticizing the choice of spokesperson for the newest car insurance ad on TV.

Finally, the most important entrepreneurial internship we offer our children is “failure.”  My son attempted to earn some money for himself by setting up a gumball machine at his father’s office.  He used M&M’s because they were a lower cost, but the candy clogged the machine.  Fail. Great lessons learned.  Last year, my other son wanted to sell giant pumpkin seedlings, but he planted too late to market them for Halloween, and the pumpkins weren’t impressive enough for Thanksgiving.  Fail.  Great lessons learned.  March 1st of this year, he planted seeds for another run at “Grow Your Own Giant” for the 2012 fall holidays.  Stay tuned!

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