Teaching Entrepreneurship to Our Children

My 11-year-old son spent several days this week making tote bags to sell at the farmers market next season. He’s planning to have his own booth selling eggs, chicks, herbs, vegies, and whatever else he can come up with. And I’m encouraging him all I can.

How it all started

In fact, all of my kids learned from a young age how to make money for themselves. It started when the oldest was about 10. My husband taught him how to strip copper wire to save for the recycler. He also taught him to save aluminum cans, old appliances, and window frames. My boys have always had a series of bins out by the shop, one for each different kind of metal. When the bins get full, they load up the truck and head for the scrap yard. They always come home with at least $40 in their pockets.

The oldest boy did this until he got his first “real” job dipping ice cream. Then the scrap metal bins passed to the next boy, and so on. The fourth son is now the metal scrapper. But that’s not the only way my kids have made money.

When he was 12 years old, the oldest boy wanted to learn blacksmithing. We didn’t know anything about blacksmithing so we asked around until we found an apprenticeship opportunity at a nearby living history museum. He volunteered there for a year learning everything he could and bought his first anvil with the earnings from his ice-cream-dipping job. He learned so well that he was able to make hooks, spoons, and things to put in local gifts shops. Eventually he was sought after to do commissioned work in custom homes.

The second son started carving roosters out of twigs when he was 12 years old. He would go to craft shows with his grandmother, sit outside her canopy and carve so that everyone could see. That drew the customers in for his grandmother, and sold quite a few roosters for him, too. He graduated from carving roosters to joining the local wood turner’s guild and fashioning beautiful pieces of furniture. His senior year of high school found him apprenticing with a custom cabinet maker. In addition to his craft, he kept himself doing handyman and lawn work for neighbors. This son remained self-employed until he went on the mission field.

My daughter has been sewing crafts and selling them at local shows with her grandmother since she was about eight. At 20, she still sews for others on occasion. She also took cake decorating classes and tried her hand at doing cakes for special events.

The Value of Learning Practical Skills

While home on furlough this spring, my missionary son met a man from India at the gas station and struck up a conversation. This young man had just received his doctorate’s degree at the local university but couldn’t find employment. He was driving a cab. This encounter is supported by a recent statistic in The Atlantic that “about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years.” The article goes on to say that in days gone by, when fewer young people went to college, a generic college degree was a valuable credential. “Now that the market is flooded,” it says, “diplomas count less, and specific skills count more.”

What kind of skills? Survival skills. Are you teaching your children not only how to take care of their daily needs, but how to make money? My mom made my sister and me take typing and shorthand in high school. I can hear her now, “If you can type and take shorthand you can always find a job.” If you don’t think you have any skills to teach your children, or if they aren’t interested in what you or your spouse does, look for an apprenticeship opportunity for them. Even if they decide to go on to college later, they will always have a skill set to fall back on if they need to.

The Proof is in the Pudding

When our son was home for Thanksgiving last year, he actually thanked my husband for teaching him to use his money to make more money, to work hard, and to be self-sufficient. He never realized how good he had it until he was put in the position to oversee young people visiting the mission for short-term trips that didn’t know how to do anything of value. But he sent them home, wanting to learn.

So next summer I may need to get up early every single Saturday and sit under a canopy, rain or shine, and pray my son sells something to recoup his investment. But it will be worth it. He will be learning something of value.


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