This story is part of a new MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off.” Between now and Dec. 25, we will look at gifts that could potentially earn the recipients money or improve their lives.
Great entrepreneurs are passionate, creative and resilient. What parent wouldn’t want their children to develop those traits, even if they don’t plan to start a business when they grow up?
But is it possible to spark that entrepreneurial spirit with Christmas gifts? Yes, according to leaders of youth entrepreneur programs across the country.
We asked them for gift suggestions:
Sign kids up for lessons in a sport that’s challenging to learn
Most successful entrepreneurs are creative problem solvers who can work as part of a team, said Margarita Geleske, “chief evangelist” at Uncharted Learning, a Barrington, Ill.-based nonprofit that develops entrepreneurship curriculum.
“There is no entrepreneur that has been a soloist all the way from the very beginning until they take that success to the bank,” Geleske said. “Invariably they’ve had to work with other people. Even Steve Jobs had Woz.”
She recommends gifting kids lessons in a sport that’s somewhat challenging to learn, like tae kwon do. Sports help develop team spirit and resilience, because overcoming failure is an inevitable part of sports. And take the family on a vacation where everyone accomplishes something together, like a hike. “Even the simplest hike will have the portions where you don’t want to go on, but somehow, you have to go on,” Geleske said. “That’s a small slice of developing that perserverance.”
‘There is no entrepreneur that has been a soloist all the way from the very beginning until they take that success to the bank. Invariably they’ve had to work with other people. Even Steve Jobs had Woz.’
Another key trait: being OK with not always knowing the right answer. “Be comfortable with ambiguity, and not necessarily being the smartest person in the room.”
Sign your child up for an Acton Children’s Business Fair, or host a fair yourself
Acton Children’s Business Fairs are one-day marketplaces where kids ages 6 to 14 sell products and services of their own invention from booths. Think a pint-sized farmers market, but instead of kale, there’s homemade slime selling for $3 a tub (as happened at an Acton Children’s Business Fair in Washington, D.C.).
The fairs originated in Austin, Texas in 2007. They’re the philanthropic arm of the Acton Academy, an international network of small private schools. Anyone can host a fair — Acton typically pays hosts $10 per booth, but hosts cover other costs, which vary — and they now happen nationwide. Parents can check this calendar for times and locations. Entry fees vary; $25 is typical.
Parents can either sign their child up to paticipate in a fair, or take it a step further and actually host a fair in their town. Some take three weeks to put together and have just 10 businesses, others take months of prep time and have more than 100 businesses.
“If a parent wants to host their own fair on their block, it’s a huge present not only to their kid, but to the whole community,” said Joseph Gale, marketing director for the fairs. “We talk a lot about education reform, but this is where it’s happening. They’re learning at an early age to be independent creative thinkers and look for gaps in the market and fill them.”
Teach them to play board games like Disruptus, Pit and Settlers of Catan
“We use games as market simulations to teach entrepreneurship, but also how markets work on a personal level and how you build trust and empathy,” said Jon Bachura, national outreach director at Kansas-based Youth Entrepreneurs, which teaches business and entrepreneurship to high school kids.
He recommends Disruptus ($24.99), a game where players have to come up with an innovative use for an everyday object. Youth Entrepreneurs (YE) also encourages kids to play Pit ($12.99 at Toys “R” Us), a commodity trading game that’s more than 100 years old, but YE tweaks it slightly and doesn’t use the original cards. Check out their version here.
Bachura also recommends the classic Settlers of Catan ($49.99) where players must work together and use scarce resources to build settlements in a strange land. YE alters it so there’s more than one way to win, which makes it more like real life, Bachura said. Here’s the altered version.
Sign them up for tinkering classes and children’s museum memberships
Handing little kids welding torches may not seem like the best idea, but that’s what happens (under close supervision) at tinkering schools around the country, where little ones learn to use power tools and build things such as wooden roller coasters.
Kelly Ballard, board president of Austin, Texas-based Student Inc. ,a public-private partnership that runs K-12 entrepreneurship education in Austin public schools, recommends them as a way to help spark entrepreneurial spirit.
Students explore the lost art of working with their hands, and learn creative problem solving, often with a STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) focus. Most offer after-school programs and summer camps. In Austin, there’s the Austin Tinkering School, which even has a tinkering preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds ($275 a month for two mornings a week). San Francisco’s Tinkering School runs a seven-week welding program for 8 to 16 year olds for $250. At Parts and Crafts in Somerville, Mass., students can build their own Star Wars-inspired light sabers for $30.
You can also do it at home with tinkering kits. One that Ballard recommends: Tinker Crate, a subscription service ($19.95 a month) that mails children (ages 2 to 16) a crate containing a different project to build every month, such as wooden clocks.