Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Learning to Say "Go Ahead!"

I have a confession to make -- I don't pay my kids an allowance.  I know this may sound surprising given that something like 80% of kids in this country earn allowances for doing chores. This doesn't mean that my boys are off the hook, though -- they do daily chores, too, and are experts at setting the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sorting laundry, taking out the trash.  I just don't pay them for it.  My philosophy is that we are all part of the family and, as such, have a role in taking care of our house. 

Without an allowance, the logical assumption would be that my husband and I buy everything for them.  Well, not so much.  We certainly provide everything they need and, for birthdays and holidays, some of what they want.  But otherwise, they cover most of their own expenses now.  Cool new Nerf gun? Ninja t-shirt? Mats for their "warrior training" space?  It's all on them.  For something expensive, like a new bike or the Trackers' Earth apprenticeship program that Sam is interested in, we negotiate a cost-sharing split -- sometimes it's 50/50, sometimes it's 80/20. 

So how do they come up with the money to pay for these things?  They have their own business.  Last year, when Sam was 10, he started asking questions about jobs and how people earn money.  We explained that most people work for someone else, but that some people start their own businesses.  Around that same time the opportunity came up to participate in an Entrepreneur's Fair through our homeschooling group, so we signed both boys up immediately, thinking this would give them a deeper understanding of business concepts.  They each decided what they wanted to make, purchased their own materials (with a loan from their parents), made their own products (holiday decorations), and sold them at the fair.  They learned first-hand about cost of goods sold, labor, marketing and sales, loan debt (yes, we charged them interest!), and profit.  But surprisingly, what they really came away with, was an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship.  In fact, we barely made it to the car after the fair before both boys were brainstorming other businesses they could start!

Now, I should pause here for a moment because, if you know anything about our family, you're probably guessing that my husband and I had a significant role in encouraging this idea of starting a business, given that we've both have a history of starting our own businesses.  You'll just have to take my word for it -- the idea never crossed my mind.  Yes, I wanted them to learn about business, and apply some math concepts in the process, and Dave wanted them to see what it's like to really work. But neither of us had any ideas about an ongoing venture.  

So, we followed their lead, and helped them brainstorm ideas for a couple of weeks, until we finally landed on the idea that is now the company called "The Can Men". Every Tuesday night the boys take their clients' trash and recycling cans to the curb, and then return them to their original places the next day after the trash trucks have come through the neighborhood. To start, they had to figure out their own pricing, develop their own flyer, and then knock on doors to find clients.  Most of the people in our neighborhood signed on, and now the boys make a nice monthly income.  Sam is technically the business owner, which means he took the lead on the sales, does the monthly invoicing, and earns 60% of the revenue.  Tips (which they get regularly) are split 50/50.  And best of all, there were no start-up costs!

Now that "The Can Men" has been in business for about six months, I know that what they're learning is immeasurable -- there's absolutely nothing I could teach them, or that a teacher in a classroom could teach them, that would compare.  And whatever they choose to do professionally in their lives, whether they work for someone else or not, there's no doubt that they're forming the foundation for their choices now.  If your kids have entrepreneurial leanings, or even if you're not sure, I highly encourage you to consider and explore the possibilities with them.  There's no doubt that you'll be opening new doors into their future.  Still not sure?  Take five minutes to check out this video of young entrepreneurs talking about their families:  Entrepreneurs Love Their Parents 

Getting started may be as simple as just learning to say "Go ahead!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Finding Our Pond

Last week my husband sent me a link to a video that was not only funny, but touching as well -- I was actually crying tears of joy by the end of it.  Maybe you've seen it, too?  It's a video showing a group of ducks, rescued from an animal hoarder, experiencing water for the first time.  At first they're not sure what to make of the pond, but then suddenly, they get it. It's as if they're thinking "Wow! My weird webbed feet and all these feathers totally make sense now!"  (Click here to see it.)

I've been thinking about this video all week because I've realized it's a truly great metaphor for life.  All of us need to find our pond -- the thing we're meant to do, the place we're meant to be.  And our kids need to find their ponds, too. 

Here's a great example.  I have a nephew who most people would describe as "high energy."  Or, as my husband puts it, "all thrust, no vector."   He's a really sweet 8-year-old, with a genuinely bright mind, who only has two settings -- "on" and "off".  This sometimes gets him into trouble, especially at school, although he never has bad intentions.  He's just trying to manage all that energy in his body.  He's tried out a few sports and liked them well enough, but this season my brother signed him up for football for the first time.  After the first two weeks of practice I asked him if he was enjoying it, and his response was "Oooh, yesssss!"  So yesterday we went and watched one of his games, and it was like watching one of those ducks in the video dipping his head and flapping his wings -- he was in his pond!  For him, all of his physical energy and impulses suddenly make sense.

Unfortunately, as adults, it's up to us to find our own ponds -- nobody is coming to rescue us and take us to them. As a starting point, we need to think about some key questions:  What are we really good at? When do we feel like life makes sense?  Where are we at peace?  The answers are different for each of us, and can be deceptively difficult to find.  I don't think I even knew these questions mattered until I was well into my 20s, and even then I didn't have the first clue about the answers until I was in my 30s.  The difficulty for me was that my parents both had very strong ideas about who I was and who I should be, so my true abilities and desires were buried. When I did finally start figuring things out, though --- ahhh, it was like a warm bath!

And even if we're still searching for our own ponds, how great would it be if we could help our kids answer these questions early in their lives?  I don't mean the heavy "What do you want to be when you grow up?" types of questions, but the more basic questions that will help them answer the bigger ones later on. What do they enjoy doing now?  When do they feel most happy and calm?  For both of my boys, their answers are literally "being in the water" -- Sam loves swimming, and Ben loves diving.  Also, Sam loves reading and needs some time alone every day; Ben is more social, and has a natural care-taking instinct.  As they grow older, I'll need to help them continue to identify their personal strengths and loves so they can uncover their paths to fulfilling, joyful lives.  The hard part of this is making sure to stay in the role of "facilitator" -- I can't find the answers for them.

So where is your pond? Is it a place, a hobby, a profession? How did you find it? And have your kids found theirs yet?  Share it here -- maybe your story can help someone else find the place where they feel like flapping their wings...!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Warrior Training

My family and friends are looking at me with expressions of bemusement lately, and a little confusion as well, when I tell them that we are now including "warrior training" as part of our homeschooling curriculum.  For the past year and a half, our approach to learning has been pretty standard -- lots of math, reading, and history at the kitchen table, with a healthy dose of "real world" application.  But after a recent conversation with a psychologist friend of ours about the psychology of boys and how to help them thrive, my husband and I decided to add a new "warrior" dimension to their education. So now, in addition to their regular school work and sports (diving, swimming, and martial arts), the past two weeks have also included:  bouldering, archery, laser tag, Ninjitsu "night training", and an aerial ropes course (complete with ziplines!). 

I'm assuming you have the same perplexed expression on your face that I've seen so many times recently. "This is school?" you might ask, or "Why are you doing this, exactly?"  The short answer is because they're boys, and boys need physical challenges that not only allow them to release energy, but that also connect to their male spirit.  Adventure and risk-taking are hard-wired into them, and showing them how to channel these impulses into healthy and "manly" activities builds their competence and confidence, and feeds their soul.

The physical benefits are truly secondary to the other types of growth we've already noticed.  Building strength and endurance are certainly outcomes of this type of training, but they were already getting many of those benefits through their regular sports and play.  The difference in the "warrior" activities is that there's an emotional component -- the boys are facing fears, exploring limits (physical and mental), and learning what it means to manage their emotions.  As our friend put it, "The goal is to help them develop a sense of strength and capability, which will have benefits in all areas of their life, including school work and relationships."

And building this sense of capability is key for boys (and girls as well).  Tony Deis, the founder of Trackers Earth, a wonderful outdoor education organization where my sons have attended summer camp for the past two years, recently wrote: "We need more educational settings where the teachers believe it is about helping kids become more capable, not regurgitating transient facts, search engine results or philosophy."   For me, this means letting Sam and Ben think for themselves and figure it out on their own as much as possible, whether it's doing math or climbing a wall.  

But before you decide to embark on your own form of "warrior training", I should warn you that it's not an easy path for parents (especially moms).  Why?  Because parental involvement needs to be minimal.  If the activity is about us wanting them to do something, or protecting them too much, it won't work.  The goal is to give kids room to make their own choices, fail (maybe even get hurt), and try again. Our job is strictly to give them an age-appropriate venue, and then back away.  The upside, however, makes it totally worth it -- both of my boys have been fully thriving the past few weeks, and they even cleaned their "warrior rooms" without complaint!

"The only way to make a difference with a boy 
is to give him powerful experiences that speak to his inner life, 
that speak to his soul..."

("Raising Cain", Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson)