Let Children Get Down to Business

It's never too soon to encourage kids to develop and follow through on their own ideas.

Summertime and the living's too easy, judging by the flood of e-mails I get from bored and broke 11- and 12-year olds.

"What can I do to make money for an iPod Nano?" "Do u think that selling water at soccer games is a good idea?" "I have a future career as a pro skateboarder but I don't have enough money to buy wood for ramps. E-mail me back or my career is down the toilet."

Why do these kids come to me and not their parents? Maybe because they get the same reaction from Mom and Dad that Tom, 11, gets. "Every time I ask a question about being an entrepreneur, my mom says I'm too young," he writes.

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Parents have a lot on their plates, and often they don't know how to respond when their kids ask how to get a job or start a business to earn money. Or maybe they really do believe that 11-year-olds are too young.

But in a world where we're all expected to be entrepreneurs and reinvent ourselves to stay competitive in the workplace, it's never too soon to encourage kids to develop and follow through on their own ideas.

Perhaps the example of a project initiated two summers ago by Amanda Wilcox, now 10, and facilitated by her mother, Melynda (a former Kiplinger's colleague), will provide the inspiration.

Amanda has a passion for pandas. So to mark the first birthday of Tai Shan, the panda cub at the National Zoo, Amanda had the idea to create a board game with a panda theme. Players make a circuit of the board (hand-drawn by Amanda), landing on black or white squares, drawing cards with facts about pandas and following directions to move forward or back.

She christened the game Pandarama, and guided by Mom, spent about 20 to 25 hours refining the drawing and poring over panda fact books with her twin sister, Laura, to choose trivia questions.

Then Melynda took over to figure out how to reproduce the game (she made a color copy, then laminated and packaged it in a zippered plastic bag that she ordered online, using glass beads as game pieces).

Mom and dad David picked up the production costs (about $2.50 per game), and Amanda began selling it to friends and family members for $10, with proceeds going to the zoo's Giant Panda Conservation Fund.

Mom also paid $45 for a copyright but resisted spending $325 for a trademark registration."We didn't know where she was going with this," says Melynda. "It might have been just a fun summer project."

That would have been a success in itself. But Amanda's project turned out to be a much bigger lesson in entrepreneurship.

NEXT WEEK: The rest of the story.

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.