Encouraging Enterprise In Young People

Recently it was reported on the BBC news that a 5 year old had the bright idea to sell lemonade to party goers on their way to the Lovebox Festival. She set it all up, was charging 50p per cup and was making people smile. That is, until she and her father were approached by enforcement officers, fined £150 and shut down. And not just one officer…it took FOUR. Four officers to approach a 5 year old girl and her father. There are so many things wrong with that, but for me the biggest thing is the message we are sending our young people. Surely we should be encouraging enterprise in our young people!

Enterprise teaches our children so many things. As a Head and previously as a Year 6 teacher, I had an enterprise week each year.  The children would get into small groups, be given a £5 budget to buy resources, and would plan their own mini business. Midway through the week they would sell their goods to the rest of the school. Then they would reassess what they had done, make changes needed, and use their profit to make more of their product. Finally they would run a stall on a Friday for parents – and any money they made went into a big pot where the class could spend it on a treat for themselves. It was always the most wonderful week and the most fun.  In many ways it taught them so much more than a regular week of lessons. 

  1. Teamwork. Sometimes one of the hardest skills to gain, and even harder when you are under 11. They learnt to listen to each other, how to argue their point successfully, how to adapt to another idea, and how wonderful it felt when they came together as a team!
  2. Resilience. Never underestimate how emotional children can feel when things don’t quite pan out the way they expected. But over the week they learnt resilience and how to pick themselves up and keep on going – with great results at the end.
  3. Communication.  They learnt the value of communication with each other. They learnt how important words are, and how to keep lines of communication open. But they also learnt how to communicate with their customers, and how to listen to what they were saying in order to improve their product.
  4. Maths skills. Not just money skills, but often working out measurements, how to scale up or scale down, how to work out how much they needed of each resource, and how to make each resource last as long as possible. Then of course the profit and loss, and adapting pricing depending on their success.
But perhaps one of the biggest lessons they learnt was the value of handwork. I have taught in areas of the country where unemployment is rife, where children are often sucked into gangs when they go to secondary school, and where the future can look really bleak. But for one week a year, my young pupils learnt that hard work not only pays off, but they felt was it was to be successful – and learnt that they could do it themselves.

Surely this is what we want to teach our young children. Surely we should be encouraging enterprise in our young people. The little girl in the news story was busy learning all of the above – but what did she actually learn? Well, that 4 big men were more important than her, and, just because they were bigger, could tell her what to do. I’m certainly not saying that there aren’t instances where enforcement officers are needed, and I agree that as a society we need to act within the realms of the law. BUT…surely a bit of common sense, a recognition of hard work and some words of encouragement would have taught that 5 year old that the world is supportive of people who work hard. I hope that she doesn’t let that incident hold her back – but my guess is that she will live with that moment for the rest of her life – and that is a hard place to come back from.

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