As an unschooling parent I firmly believe in the natural ability of children to learn. One way I see natural learning happen is through modelling. Children seem programmed to mimic adult behaviour and this provides many learning opportunities. We’ve all heard our children utter phrases that seem taken right out of our own mouths (and often, to our dismay, not during our finer moments!) or seen children playing house where they try on the roles of parents and providers. We’ve just come back from camping at the Bonfire Music Festival and, while we were there, I got to witness children modelling another important aspect of adult life: running a business.
Our friends unschool their three boys and all have had opportunities for business experience at the festival, which is an annual tradition for a group of us. This year the middle boy, who is the same age as Daughter, showed up with a large package of Freezies which he planned to sell during the hot weekend. An interesting situation developed when another child showed up with the same idea: initially there was competition, then a merger, and the resulting monopoly raised their prices. Customers complained, which forced them to reassess their prices. Unfortunately they couldn’t keep the stuff frozen when the temperature soared (their trailer has a freezer but they don’t work near as well as household units) and ultimately the business dissolved.
Meanwhile, Daughter was watching all this. At first she was pretty miffed that her group of playmates went off with the Freezie Guy. She wasn’t interested in doing that and resented the Freezie Guy for stealing away her friends. Eventually, they all made up but it seems to have sparked an idea in her head. Next thing we know, she brought out a sign, shown in the photo at the top. Essentially, she was starting her own business doing commissioned art. It wasn’t long before she was coming back to the camp excitedly announcing that she had a customer. There were soon more. Some people requested a certain scene (mountains with a sunset, two children playing, etc) and sometimes she got to decide. Business was booming and by the end of the day she had made over $8 (she got lots of tips). The next morning as we were packing up to leave she made another $3. She was having a great time, but it was also an amazing learning experience. From determining price points (she was running out of paper which prompted a discussion of inventory and how one should account for those costs in pricing) to calculating change, and ultimately figuring out how to spend her earnings, there were many complex issues she encountered.
I couldn’t help but think about the book I read recently, The Case Against Adolescence, which I blogged about earlier. In the book the author cites many examples of young entrepreneurs. He argues against mandatory schooling for teenagers and points out the value in allowing them to have real life work experiences while they are still young. Certainly unschooled children have plenty of time to devote to such pursuits and both Husband and I were really pleased to see Daughter enjoying herself so much in this way (her previous business experience includes lemonade stands and busking on our sidewalk, singing Christmas Carols for passers-by). It makes me very excited for her future – knowing she will have the freedom to explore aspects of running a business long before it matters how much she makes or whether it’s successful.