Beyond the Starving Artist: Entrepreneurial Model of Homeschooling
When I read articles and discussions about teaching entrepreneurship to kids, I often see entrepreneurship regarded as just another childhood activity. Many parents don’t try to engage their kids in more serious entrepreneurial pursuits beyond the lemonade stand and car wash. Other parents think that entrepreneurship is simply another discipline which may not necessarily appeal to all children. Those parents would say, “I don’t want to force my child to become an entrepreneur” or “I don’t know if my child has the abilities to become an entrepreneur.”
But to my ear, this sounds similar to saying “my child doesn’t have the ability to read.” Reading is a milestone in child development, and it is a skill that most children are able to grasp, regardless of their natural inclinations and talents. That skill helps kids discover themselves and the world, and it helps them move forward in life no matter what profession they choose. Similarly, entrepreneurship is not just another talent or another career choice or another childhood activity. It’s a state of mind, a way of living and thinking that a young person gradually grows to embrace and appreciate. It’s a lifestyle and a set of values that shape one’s general attitude towards one’s interests, passions, and goals in life.
My husband and I are both entrepreneurs. Inspired by our experience, we have established an entrepreneurial model of homeschooling in our family. We don’t homeschool our kids to prepare them for going to college and then getting a job. Of course, if our kids decide that a college or a job could be the stepping stones to help them along on their entrepreneurial path, they can take college courses or get a job to support themselves while they are working on their entrepreneurial aspirations. But going to college and getting a job is not the ultimate goal we’re preparing our kids for. Instead, we want them to become entrepreneurs.
Following the passion
It’s a popular sentiment among parents to say, “I want my kids to follow their passion.” We share and support that sentiment. Throughout their childhood and adolescence, kids and teenagers pursue multiple interests, some of which grow into a passion, a strong desire to improve in the area of their interest and to explore further. Following a passion is an important part in a child’s life. However, my family takes that sentiment a bit further. We want to teach our kids to distinguish which passions can be left as hobbies and which can be turned into a business venture.
At some point, as kids grow older, they need to view things in the context of their responsibilities and their desired goals in life. Not every passion can be realized in that context. A child may have a keen interest in bugs or stones or animals, or they may love art. But as they grow into older teenagers and young adults, they should consider whether their passion allows them to make money to become financially independent. If all they do is follow their passion without any entrepreneurial vision and without any regard for whether they can make money with it or not, and if they rely on their parents or others to support them in the meantime, that does not align with the entrepreneurial idea of following one’s passions. Instead, they can keep it as a hobby and pursue another passion which can be made into a career or a business. We want to encourage appreciation, responsibility, and self-reliance, not entitlement.
With the right approach, all or most passions can be made profitable. There doesn’t have to be such a thing as a “starving artist.” For example, the entrepreneurial approach to a passion in art would be to diversify it in ways that allow to both follow one’s interests and pursue their entrepreneurial goal at the same time. One can start a graphic design business, which is what I did when I wanted to make money while pursuing my interest in art. They can set up a shop or partner with other artists to establish a co-op for selling their art. For younger kids and teenagers, entrepreneurial approach would involve learning how to network with other artists and how to set up an online gallery to display their art portfolio. Once their artwork becomes more sophisticated, they would learn how to set up an eBay shop to reach out to potential customers.
How we do it
How can we help kids learn to distinguish which passions can be made into a business and which should be left as hobbies? It’s important for them to go out into the world and see what the market needs, what their potential clients could be, and how it feels to manage a business. We’ve adjusted our homeschooling style to emphasize these aspects.
While our kids are young, we talk to them about entrepreneurship and try to explain to them, as much as they can understand, the principles of economics, business, and the free market. We show them how we run our own businesses. We tell them about famous inventors and entrepreneurs. We ask those friends and family members who have a business or who work at a company to take our kids on a site visit and show them around, to introduce them to coworkers, and expose them to the daily operations of the company. We bring our kids to meet musicians, artists, programmers, and other creative and technical professionals. Whenever possible, we take them to our client meetings and other professional events. Our goal is to expose the kids to a wide pool of professionals and have them hear people’s stories and observe people at work.
Once our kids get older, we’ll continue doing that and we’ll try hard to arrange for as many internships and small jobs as possible. We will want them to try their hand at working for a variety of businesses in multiple industries. We will encourage them to network and connect with people who can mentor and share their insights and experience.
While the kids are young and have all the time and freedom without much responsibility, it is crucial for them to network as much as possible. It’s important for them to be exposed to a variety of people, professions, industries, and technologies. It’s essential that they have a chance to experiment, to start some ventures and possibly fail, and to start again. Yes, failure provides a significant learning experience. Kids should learn that failure and repeat failures are ok, as long as they learn from their experience, try again, and diversify their efforts.
Nothing wrong with pursuing wealth
There is a common stigma about teaching kids to make money. I often meet people who feel uneasy about it, who regard the pursuit of wealth almost as something beneath consideration. Entrepreneurial model of homeschooling is based on the idea that it’s right and moral to teach even young kids to engage in business and to pursue wealth. We believe in the morality and dignity of business if it’s conducted lawfully and honestly.
Of course, money is not everything. Money can not replace love, friendship, happiness, and other human values and high ideals. Our kids do learn that there are other important things in life besides money. However, we don’t view money as evil. Our entrepreneurial pursuits give us the flexibility and freedom to spend time with our kids and to homeschool them. Making money is both a prerequisite and a means for us to provide employment to our hired helpers and to provide services that are useful to our clients. Being entrepreneurs adds value to our lives and the lives of our kids, our employees, and our customers.
Entrepreneurship and pursuit of wealth has always been the primary driving force behind innovations and discoveries which improved people’s lives. We want our kids to contribute to that process while they also provide for themselves, become financially stable and self-sufficient, and, hopefully, prosper.
Passion and money go together
Another common view is that passion is the true expression of one’s soul and that it should be kept separate from making money. Many people keep their passions as hobbies, something they engage in on evenings or weekends, while their days are spent at work. People often dislike their day job and view it only as a means of making money, whereas hobby is viewed as the way to relax, to feel happy and fulfilled.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that one’s passion can indeed be combined with one’s work, and this is the ultimate ideal that many professionals I know desire and strive for. Loving your work and working on what you love is one of the steps to happiness, accomplishment, and professional success.
Let them be kids
Some may say, just let them be kids, don’t take away their childhood by teaching them serious things, wait until they get older and sort it out for themselves. The fact is, our children do have plenty of opportunities to enjoy their childhood through play, fun activities, museums, nature walks, reading, sports, and the rest of the things that kids of their age enjoy.
However, parents teach kids serious things at a young age. Most parents want their kids to learn such traits as responsibility, good manners, respect, and other values that will help their kids in life and that will make them better people. Entrepreneurship is one of these values. It therefore makes sense to start teaching it as early as possible, so kids have more time and opportunities to explore. Learning entrepreneurship can be lots of fun, especially if done in a friendly, relaxing manner and within the context of freedom and flexibility that homeschooling provides.
Life, starting with childhood, is not just about basking in the present. It also involves some forward thinking and planning for the future. The key to personal development is to try to plan ahead and have at least some vision of how we want to build our lives and what kind of things we would like to pursue and accomplish. We want our kids to fully enjoy their childhood, but we also want them to think about what they would like to do next, what kind of lives they want to shape for themselves, and to start developing their own vision for the future.