Learning to Make a Living – at 12 & 14 Years Old!

You might think telling your students to close their school books and they were not allowed to open them for an entire month was an irresponsible thing to do as a new homeschooling facilitator, but that is just what I did, when my kids were twelve and fourteen.

“Think of it as a course in Economics and Home Business,” I told them.

Todd and I have always lived a very creative life and figured out how to make some income from our art. We thought this an important concept to teach our children, and so, Sierra and Bryce woke up every morning and before they even took off their pajamas, (their choice) they began to make art. A ‘Home Show’ of their work was scheduled one month before Christmas. One hundred and thirty invitations were sent out to friends and family, including many previous teachers and administrators from the public school where they were recently enrolled at.

Sierra learned how to make handmade polymer ‘clay’ beads from my friend’s daughter. Sculpy ‘clay’ is really a type of model-making plastic compound which can be hardened by baking in your oven. She created millifiori beads (Italian for ‘thousand’ and ‘flowers’) a technique originally developed from a European colored glass art form that’s been adapted to polymer clays. It involves wrapping the soft polymer in layered canes, then cutting cross-sections of those canes to reveal intricate designs and images inside. These cross sections are then rolled or shaped into beads and baked. Sierra created necklaces, bracelets and earrings with her beautiful handmade beads as well as incorporating crystals and other beads into the pieces.

Bryce took the same polymer clay and made wonderfully whimsical heads that he sculpted, then baked and glued magnets to the backs as refrigerator magnets. He incorporated tiny pieces of boar bristles as whiskers and hair. He also hand-painted elf faces on Christmas balls, in his characteristic creepy yet entertaining style. And, made dozens of colored pencil drawings of caricatured people doing all sorts of activities like climbing mountains, playing guitar, etc. that we matted and framed.

Creating inventory, that’s what they were doing for a solid month. Sierra stock piled over 130 necklaces, 80 bracelets and dozens of earrings. Bryce created over 80 Christmas balls, 100 clay head magnets, and 70 drawings. They kept track of their hours and their expenses. They scheduled a day with our friend, Frank Fretz, an illustrator, who helped them design and print their own business cards. Bryce called his business ‘Head Boy’ and Sierra ‘Bead Girl.’

Todd made each child a kiosk up in our balcony library with display tables and shelving decorated with tiny white lights to create a ‘Fairyland of Shopping.’ We all helped clean the house and made all sorts of appetizers and baked goodies to nourish our shoppers.

On the day of the event, the kids had to talk and explain to each guest what they had made and how they made it. They had to make change, wrap their purchased items, record their earnings, be polite and behave professionally. The flow was steady for hours and never too frantic.

The school district’s superintendent and their past principal came to see their work and support them. Both looked into their eyes and said, “Are you happy home-schooling?” as if their mother forced them into the decision.

The ‘Home Show’ was so successful, we decided to take their remaining inventory and see if some specialty boutiques and even the Reading Art Museum store would be interested in carrying their work on commission. They were and for a few years, the children maintained a great working relationship with the shop owners, checking in periodically to replenish stock, do book-work, and collect checks.

The natural evolution of the Home Show made me think that maybe Bryce could have his own show at a store or coffee shop. ‘Avalon,’  a coffee shop and gift store on the square of nearby Orwigsburg was interested in Bryce’s work and scheduled an art show. We framed over seventy pieces and Todd built hardwood shadow boxes for his figure drawings with clay heads. We pulled quotes about creativity off the internet and hand-wrote them in calligraphy onto small cards and sticky tacked them under his art.

I notified the newspapers and both local papers printed full-page articles on this talented 13-year-old boy who was having his own “One Man Art Show.” We made posters advertising the show and posted them all over town and baked and array of cookies for the opening. His whole public school was invited. Many people came to support him and it was a huge success.

Over the course of a few years, both children made thousands of dollars of income from the sale of their work. This endeavor was not about money, however. I wanted to show the kids that even at the age of 12 & 14 they are  able to work independently and make money. They have cultivated a skill, and they never have to rely on working at a McDonald’s to get money. The fact that they can create their own work space, schedule, be in charge of their work day is a tremendous lesson. This is the kind of truth you cannot learn in a textbook and only if you have the luxury of time that home-schooling affords.

Our 30-year-old friend was envious of the kids’ success. He said, “I wish somebody would have told me to do such things when I was their age.”

Is that how you teach kids?  By telling them to do something? But really, you cannot make anyone, much less children have the desire to work hard in order to be successful. This type of motivation has to come from within.   No one can give that to you.

My children have proven to themselves and everyone else, (including the visiting school officials) that they possess focus, drive, and a magnificent work ethic.  Perhaps if you can set a good example as a parent from the start, these characteristics may rub off on them. Perhaps homeschooling feeds these kinds of traits. But it is no guarantee. The most we can do is encourage and support, encourage and support and try to live that way ourselves. The work, however, is up to them.

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