How Should We Teach Tweens about Business & Finance?

5 Sep

For such a capitalist country, the United States does a horrible job of preparing its youth for the reality of life, where success is highly based on financial achievement.

My financial education was pretty much void until I hit college, and even then, it was my own decisions that made it possible, as I proactively chose to attend undergraduate business school at NYU Stern. I was raised in the deep South, where jobs were hard to come by and many struggled to provide the basics for their families.

The education systems in many of the Southern states — my home state of Arkansas included — are well below the national average, making matters worse. But even the best of the best in America can’t compete on a global scale. In a 2009 study, the U.S. ranked 25th out of 34 peer countries in math and science.

If we can’t even get the basics right, how are we going to teach our children how to properly manage their finances, create sustainable businesses and stay out of debt?

One of my former NYU professors, Orly Sade, recently teamed up with award-winning writer and former BusinessWeek editor Ellen Neuborne, to co-author a book for tweens (ages 9-12) about finance and entrepreneurship.

Entitled, “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar: A Girl’s First Adventure in Business,” the book is written from the voice of Ella, a sixth grader on a mission to buy a new guitar, in hopes of upgrading her band’s status and becoming a rock star.

Along the way, Ella learns about key business concepts, such as market research, competitive analysis, word-of-mouth marketing, guerilla marketing, costs, revenue, profits, loss, leadership, partnerships… and the list goes on. She also learns about the many types of financial products, including stocks, bonds and loans.

The authors manage to explain difficult financial and business concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand. Many of the lessons originate from wisdom imparted by Ella’s parents, who work in business and law. Ella adds her own creativity to the lessons, and with the help of her friends and family, she’s on her way to owning a brand new electric guitar.

Reading the story, I couldn’t help but wonder how my life might have turned out differently if I had been aware of these business and financial concepts earlier on.

Yes, I was taught to budget and save, but that took the form of me putting money in a bank account and spending it when I had saved enough for the product I was saving for. I wasn’t aware of the other financial products I could have employed, and I certainly didn’t understand what a stock was, even in high school.

Our nation has racked up $15 trillion in debt — obviously our leadership isn’t doing much better than we are as individuals.

And so, community, it is up to us to arm the next generation with a financial education. Sharing books like “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar” with tweens is a good start.

What ideas do you have for increasing our children’s financial proficiency level? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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7 Responses to “How Should We Teach Tweens about Business & Finance?”

  1. orly September 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Yep – it requires very extensive discussion
    greetings from Moscow (teaching here this week) and — thanks again

  2. Ron Zeligzon September 6, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I think it really has more to do with your upbringing than anything else. As you mentioned, “Many of the lessons originate from wisdom imparted by Ella’s parents, who work in business and law. ” The sad part is, most kids don’t have parents like Ella’s and most parents will probably not recommend the book to their kids. The next best solution is school, but educating the kids from a very young age. This can be done through various activities such as creating a game that evolves around a piggy bank, where kids will have the option to either buy a toy or put the money into a piggy bank where the interest will grow so that they will be able to afford one toy based off of the interest they accrued. Will some of the kids want instant gratification by buying the toy instead of putting into the piggy bank, maybe, but this will instill some form of education that only years later they will understand the importance of not going into debt.

    • ericaswallow September 6, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Yeah, good point. If this book (and others) were part of a middle school curriculum focused around personal and business finance, we wouldn’t have to overcome this issue of parents not recommending it to their children out of lack of knowledge. Instead, it’s the teachers that are introducing children to the book and the idea of how to manage money as an individual and a representative or owner of a company.

      When I posted this to Facebook, one of my friends recommended creating a social game to instill these ideas. When I was in high school, there was a mock investment team that competed against other schools to buy/sell stocks and see whose did best. These types of games could be expanded and started earlier on.

      • Ron Zeligzon September 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

        Agreed! This is something that should start in Kindergarten to Grade-school. Btw, if you don’t mind me asking was your high school private or just a really good public school?

      • ericaswallow September 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

        I attended Paragould High School, a public high school in Paragould, Arkansas. The school ranks 128th out of 234 public high schools in Arkansas, which is one of the least educated states in the nation. So, no, it wasn’t a top-notch school by any means. The school does, however, offer a number of extracurricular activities, including academic teams (such as that stock game), for driven students.

    • orly September 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Hi Ron,
      First, thanks for your interest in “Ella” and the blog. It is true that not all parents will buy this book for their kids – but we hope that some will and this will promote discussions like the one we have now :-). If we can create enough attention, hopefully some librarians and teachers will recommend it to those kids that normally do not have the exposure to these issues. Please share it with those that may find it interesting.
      Orly

      • Ron Zeligzon September 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

        Hi Orly,

        Thanks for your response

        I also hope that parents, librarians, and teachers promote the book and educate the kids as well. If the parents are not aware of what needs to be done, I believe the one that should be second in command and should also be held responsible are the institutions. I am sure we could have a very extensive discussion about these issues.This kind of stuff fascinates me on a personal level and because it is a very complex problem that needs a solution. I believe education is important on many levels, but if one could go out and purchase “How Ella Grew an Electric Guitar” where the schools have failed at teaching us such fundamental concepts, then what is the true value of attending school? I am far from being a teacher, but if i were teaching anywhere between K-12, I would try to dive into their social situation and creatively construct a curriculum based on their needs that I have assessed. I would attempt as much as possible to relate the curriculum to them as opposed to dumbing down the curriculum as a means to an end.
        This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Best of luck with the book, we need more stuff like this.

        Ron

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