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Children’s Business Fair
We learned some lessons this weekend…
…and by “we” I mean “the parents,” and by “the parents” I mean “me.”
On Saturday, our daughter’s school held its annual Children’s Business Fair. Acton Academy sponsors the fair, but any child in the area can register to set up a booth, and quite a few young community members did.
The business fair is the biggest project of the year, and students prepare for months. Beanie was buzzing with excitement the day before; she said she couldn’t believe the fair was just a day away. Another parent reported her daughter did not sleep all night.
At Acton, students lead their own learning and they make a lot of decisions about how their school is run. Their Guides gave them the choice earlier in the year, for example, to hire janitors to clean their schoolhouse or to clean it themselves and use the funds for other school improvements. They voted to do their own cleaning.
(Acton has Guides—not teachers—who stand back and observe, ask questions to nudge students toward figuring out solutions themselves, and try to interfere as little as possible.)
Beanie and another 8-year-old in her class, C, had decided to work together on a business. Their initial idea was face painting—when Beanie told me that’s what they’d decided, on the drive home from school, I was concerned. I imagined the stress as they ran their business during the fair, painstakingly creating art as a service, on the spot. I was afraid they wouldn’t practice enough beforehand, and having to perform on the big day would cause panic.
I restrained myself from saying these thoughts aloud to her when they ran through my head. But a few weeks later, when she and C had a FaceTime business meeting and they seemed at an impasse, I did pipe up and let them know one option would be to create temporary tattoos of their art, and sell those at the fair.
I figured there was a difference between imposing my will on them, and letting them know what alternatives were out there. They seemed relieved to learn about the temporary tattoos, and immediately decided to do that instead.
Did I do the right thing? How much guidance is too much? I wanted them to know what was possible, yet not imply this was the correct way or the best way forward.
We brought Beanie to the fair an hour early to set up. We’d been instructed to only help under specific direction from our young entrepreneurs. I think we did pretty well, putting up bunting and putting down decorative stones where we were told. We took photos of our excited crew and their booth.
At one point, I saw the big bowl of water with which they would wet their tattoo application cloth, sitting on the ground. Beanie said she had it there on purpose.
“Wouldn’t it be easier for you guys to work with if that bowl is on the table?” I asked. Beanie relented and moved the bowl onto the table.
When the first customer showed up, there was a quick bit of frenzied running around and C told their first customer several times that she had never used a tattoo before, then she spent the good part of a minute trying to read the instructions and use her fingernail to peel the plastic film off the tattoo.
Nervous me couldn’t help pipe up, “Beanie’s done this before at home!” But by then C had managed to work it out herself and all was well.
It was then we noticed that some of the display tattoos on the table had gotten soggy. Water from the bowl had splashed onto them. Turns out, mom’s bowl-on-table idea was not the best idea. My bad.
Tattow Tattoo got quite a few customers, and the girls felt their business was a great success!
Beanie and C seemed to form a good partnership—they have complementary skill sets and worked things out well by themselves. How many designs to make, what to charge, even a buy 3-get-1-free bundle—all their own decisions. They even ended up winning the “most original business” prize at the fair—and $100 prize money!—in the under-10 category.
Not that they are poised to become business titans just yet. As soon as they got their little hands on some cash money from tattoo sales, it was gone.
As we’d walked around the fair earlier, Taz had laid out his plan of letting Beanie spend a portion of her earnings at the fair and having her save the rest for something bigger she’d want in the future. Before any of these teachings could be imparted, we returned to their booth to find we were too late.
Beanie and her friend were giddy with riches, and willy-nilly spending was already underway. Cotton candy, scarves, lemonade, snow cones, homemade lava lamps…I’m pretty sure they are in the red with me and with C’s mother, since we bankrolled their initial capital. I say “pretty sure” because they didn’t keep track of sales and don’t actually know how much money they took in from customers. Us moms may have made a bad investment.
Oh, well. One lesson at a time. As Taz reflected later, it was good enough that Beanie had gotten a taste of the thrill of making her own money, from goods that she had designed herself. Maybe that taste will grow into larger ambitions—let’s hope.
Learning the difference between revenue and profits, and what to do with those profits, will just have to come later.
I’d say this business fair was a teaching moment for me too. Everything went fine, just fine. The girls had planned pretty well and anticipated most obstacles. They were more capable than I’d given them credit for, and I realized with the whole water bowl incident that I didn’t know any better than them when it came to their business.
This whole year has been an educational experience for us parents, actually—more on that next time—and it’s only after the Children’s Business Fair that I see more clearly what we were aiming for all along. Stepping back is hard when it’s so radically different from our previous experiences as both students and parents. It’s a long process to internalize the student-led learning model, maybe longer for us than for Beanie. We have many more years of habits and mindset to unlearn, after all.
It’s also challenging for me to understand where the boundaries lie, of when to intervene and when to trust that our child will stumble in a way that’s healthy for her growth.
I’ve started to read a book called The Self-Driven Child, a recommended read among those who subscribe to student-led learning. I want to improve my judgment in calibrating those boundaries.
I’ll report back on my reflections about the book. If you have read it too, please comment about what you think of it—did it help you support your child in increasing their motivation and independence? Or are there other books that have upped your parenting skills?
Pretty Good Things
Curious About Everything
I’m only a patron of two Patreons, and one is Jodi Ettenberg’s. Her Curious About Everything free newsletter has recommendations on good reads and a grab bag of other things. Ettenberg started as a travel blogger and developed a niche in enjoying gluten-free food while traveling (she loves soup). In 2017, her travels abruptly screeched to a halt when a spinal tap led to Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak and long-term disability. She now writes beautifully about her transformed life, grief, acceptance, and evolution.
She still sells country-specific celiac translation cards on her old travel website, Legal Nomads.
Non-Instagram Instagram food
I saw this man’s Instagram account recommended on reddit, and it is so different from anything else on my Instagram feed that I am fascinated. Daft Jason (a.k.a. superpedjason) is his name, and he posts the food he eats, with commentary. It is not Instagram food. It’s almost anti-Instagram food. And there’s something hypnotizing about his comments and his terse interactions with followers lovely.
Are we having fun yet?
If you haven’t watched Party Down, you should watch Party Down. It’s on Hulu, but the first episode is also free on Amazon Prime and Apple TV if you want to give it a whirl.
I’ve read that after more than a decade (and the star ascension of many cast members, including Adam Scott, Martin Starr and Jane Lynch), the gang’s getting back together and making a new season. Huzzah!
And on Youtube
Adrian Bliss now makes shorts that he posts on Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube. They’re amusing short skits, but he started out with full-length videos and you can still find them here on his Youtube channel. I do not know what Adrian Bliss the person is like, but Adrian Bliss the character is always lovably woebegone.