What a Six-Year-Old Can Learn from a Summer Job

By Alisa T. Weinstein

This week my daughter finishes kindergarten. She loved her first year of elementary school and I’m thrilled to report that we both survived the experience unscathed.

But with the end of school comes the end of our routine. It’s as if all sense of normalcy is being tossed out the school bus window. (Breathe Alisa, breathe.) My saving grace is that I won’t have to toss her love of learning out along with it.

That’s because Mia earns her allowance by test-driving real careers. She is, in fact, the world’s first Earn My Keeper—the inspiration behind the program described in Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent. Once a week Mia picks a career, completes a kid-friendly task that emulates what real professionals do, and earns while she learns.

Over the past two years, Earn My Keep has proven to be easy, engaging, educational, fun and (most importantly as that bus drives away for the last time) totally summer-friendly. With 950 expert-approved tasks covering 50 fun careers, we can tell monsoons, heat waves and seemingly endless summer days to take an Outdoor Adventure Guide-inspired hike.

Best of all, I can use whatever we’ve got around the house (or yard) to teach all sorts of lessons. School skills like language, math and science. And life skills like manners, public speaking and social responsibility (every career has at least one environmental and/or social responsibility task!). All without her suspecting a thing. And typically within 15-20 minutes. How can a little career do all that?

• Environmental Planner. Place an empty container or drinking glass under a dripping outdoor faucet (it’s OK to ask Mom or Dad to make the faucet drip, if you don’t have one that leaks). Leave the faucet dripping for 15 minutes, then use a ruler to measure how much water is wasted from those few little drips. You can also calculate how much water that leaky faucet would waste over one day. One week? One month? One year? (When you’re done, use what you’ve collected to water a plant or fill the dog’s water bowl—don’t waste it!)

• Geologist. “Bake” a mud pie. Build it layer by layer, starting with some thick mud. Layer on some gravel. More mud. Sand. More mud. Dirt. More mud. Then use a wide straw to drill into it—what does your straw pull out? And what are you going to do with the earth in the straw? Geologists have to consider these details before mining for rocks.

• Social Activist. Use the library or an Internet search to list one, two, or three songs that have brought attention to great causes. Use the same resources to find the songs, and listen to them. If you want, write a song about an issue that’s important to you—rewrite lyrics to an existing tune you like, or create something brand-new.

Of course there’s a host of benefits to a child earning money as, say, an Entomologist (studying insects doing their insect-thing) or a Photographer (immortalizing our July 4th feast). Self-efficacy. Self-esteem. And the understanding that the work we do can be worth more than the numbers on a paycheck. But even without the program’s money-component, kids can still benefit from giving the careers of their dreams a spin.

If only to have incredible summer memories to tell their friends on the bus next year.

About the Author

Alisa T. Weinstein is the creator of Earn My Keep Allowance Program (www.earnmykeep.com) that teaches kids the value of money by test-driving real careers. Alisa’s new book Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent (Sourcebooks) profiles 50 fun careers and tasks associated with each career. Parents simply choose a career, pick a task, have their kids complete it within a set amount of time, and earn while they learn. The program is quick, easy, authentic, cheap, and most of all, FUN!