Teaching Business to Kids

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I awoke this morning fueled by a solid three hours of sleep, not in my own cozy bed to the usual comforting aroma of coffee, but on a cement-hard dorm bed listening to the sounds of dozens of 10-year-old feet running up and down the hallway on the other side of my door. Although it may not sound like fun to many of you, I am honored to be here. I am one of the parent chaperones for my son’s Grade 5 field trip to the JUMP program at Wilfrid Laurier University. JUMP is a 3-day educational program for grades 5-8 students held during May and June of every year. Students are taught university courses at the junior level and live in residence for the duration.

There are more than 40 schools and 1,600 students from across Ontario who experience the program every year. One of the subjects taught to the JUMP participants is business, which is not generally taught to elementary students. The JUMP session introduces kids to marketing, operations, finance, accounting, management, and organizational behavior. The students have an opportunity to practice business functions while playing “Gazzillionaire”, an interactive and educational computer simulation that allows the kids to design and build their own businesses. The most common comments heard from the kids after their first introduction to the business world- outside of watching episodes of “The Apprentice” perhaps -centered around how much profit they ended up with. I suppose that’s to be expected when the simulation is called “Gazzillionaire”.

Upon further reflection, however, it’s clear that these kids learned many new skills that they will be able to apply not only to their own businesses some day but also to their non-business life. For example, learning about how marketing is designed and presented helps kids to be more discerning when watching the barrage of toy advertisements they are deluged with on a daily basis.

Organizational behavior helps with teamwork and interpersonal skills. Accounting and finance can be applied to personal financial management as easily as business finances. For those kids who will eventually run their own businesses one day, an early introduction to corporate governance and ethics will give them solid footing in those sometimes slippery areas. There are many other ways to introduce the children in your life to the business world. Jeff Brown, the author of “The Kids’ Guide to Business” and developer of the “Teaching Kids Business” website (www.teachingkidsbusiness.com), recommends that small business owners start to talk to their kids about their businesses by answering “How was your day?” differently. Instead of saying “It was so busy” or “It was slow”, take the time to explain your challenges and successes with your kids.

This will begin to give them a sense of what’s involved in owning and managing a business. You can also take your kids into your workplace to give them a first-hand view of the inner workings of your office. Kids can do simple tasks for a day depending on their age. Tasks can range from stuffing envelopes to filing to answering the telephone. Not only will these activities help your kids learn important work and life skills, they will provide more opportunities to spend some quality time with your kids.

Taking some of your extremely limited and valuable time to share your business knowledge and experience with children will not only help them to grow, but will give you comfort that you are enabling the next generation of small business owners. As I patrol the residence hallways again tonight to make sure that all of the ten-year old feet are tucked safely into bed, I will smile knowing that I am in the midst of budding entrepreneurs and growing minds and consciences.

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