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Kids learning business from the ground up

March 28, 2012
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - On display at Sprout, the store inside the U.P. Children's Museum, are many different Kid Bizness products.

There are conventional items like jewelry and coasters and books, but also available for purchase are marshmallow shooters, bowls fashioned from old vinyl records and decorative hearts made from recycled crayons.

What sets these products apart from other things found in the store isn't so much the products themselves, but the people who made them: kids ranging in age from 6-16.

Article Photos

Sofia’s Soaps, shaped like footballs and fish, are available for purchase at Sprout inside the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum under the museum’s Kid Bizness program. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)

"This is a program where each child dreams up their own product and we help them box it, package it and sell it, and then send them checks," said Jim Edwards, general programming and explainers director for the museum.

The program - which began in 2010 and is currently funded in part through a grant from the M.E. Davenport Foundation - offers a way for children to design and sell their own products.

Museum Director Nheena Weyer Ittner said she hopes the program will instill an entrepreneurial spirit within the children involved.

"This is something we've always wanted to do, to help kids understand how they can be entrepreneurs," she said. "So much of the health of our U.P. is based on the small entrepreneurs. We want to help them to understand that they can do that, help them with the steps at this stage so when they get a bigger idea, a grander idea, they'll look at those steps realistically and know what it takes to sell a product."

Edwards said his involvement with the children is kept to a minimum to help foster a sense of independence in their entreprenurial endeavors.

"This isn't a spoon-fed program. In fact, I don't help the kids very much at all," he said. "It isn't a group that has a handbook that they have to fill in like homework, one page after the other. This is very much their agenda, each at their own speed."

And the ideas they come with all on their own are sometimes quite surprising, Edwards said.

The Kid Bizness section of Sprout is currently selling homemade soaps shaped like footballs and fish, sponges cut in the shape of aquatic animals to help make bath time more fun for young kids, jewelry made from recycled products as well as new, toys for kids of all ages and even a book written and illustrated by two youngsters, just to name a few.

Edwards said he recently had another book idea provided to him by a child involved in the program.

"I had a young boy who said 'I've got this book I want to write,'" Edwards said. "It's about anti-bullying. He worked on the idea and it's a 16-page book about the result of someone who feels like they're being bullied. With what's been going on in our community, it's a good time for such a book to arrive, written by a 12-year-old."

One of the most popular items ever to hit the Kid Bizness shelves is a marshmallow shooter, an idea from a young person whose previous product hadn't been a best-seller.

"One of the girls had, for the first 12 months, a product that didn't move quickly: birdhouses," Edwards said. "Last summer, she came up with the marshmallow shooter that outsold the marshmallow shooter the museum store had purchased through a catalog by about 30 to two."

Along with the creativity the program is designed to foster comes a sense of financial responsibility as well.

The kids must make the products using their own money, and if they borrow from anyone - say, a parent or other relative - they make a plan to pay that person back.

The profits from a young man's fishing lures on display at Sprout helped him pay back his parents investment, as the money from the first 50 lures sold went straight back to them.

The girl who wrote "The Pick-up Princess," gave part of her profits from book sales to her cousin, who illustrated the book.

The students also tour local businesses as a part of the program, having already visited places like Donckers and Wells Fargo.

Edwards said he's hoping to get more Kid Bizness participants involved in wedding planning in the future.

"One girl makes hearts of recycled crayons," Edwards said. "If you had a wedding coming up and had your colors sorted out, heart shaped crayons could be on the table for people to leave the wedding party messages."

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.



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