Marin Community Foundation
S’mores + High Finance
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Want Your 7-Year-Old To Be a Banker? There’s a Camp for That

Originally published by Akane Otani, Wall St Journal [link] on July 09, 2017

In an increasingly competitive business world, prospective bankers and executives need every edge they can get. That’s why people like Kashious Vela have opted for a specialized camp this summer, where he will learn about economics, financial markets and theories of international trade.

Camp currency

He is also 8 years old and starting third grade later in the year. He’s unapologetic about why he’s devoting his summer to high finance when many children his age will be playing sports and singing campfire songs.

“I like money,” said Kashious, who goes by Kash. “And you could get really rich.”

Kash is one of 85 children between the ages of 7 and 11 who traveled from around the country to Denver in June for the Junior Money Matters camp. These campers come for a week inside classrooms, spending seven hours a day studying things like the U.S. current-account deficit and supply and demand dynamics.

Teaching economics and finance to this age group demands patience, creativity and the occasional bribe. Camp counselors punctuated lessons with clapping exercises meant to recapture errant campers’ attention, lunchtime sessions of the tag game “Sharks and Minnows” and plenty of Cheez-Its and Capri Sun juice packs. In arts and crafts, they made piggy banks.

During lectures, some children squirmed in their seats or attempted to wander around, promptly attended to by counselors who promised to hand out colorful stickers if they were quiet. Others didn’t need much coaxing to participate.

“How do countries make money?” a camp counselor asked during one day’s international trade lesson.

“By suing people!” one boy shouted.

The nonprofit Young Americans Center for Financial Education has offered a program for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders since 1990. But the center concluded the real growth area is in children who have just started losing their baby teeth. Enrollment in Junior Money Matters—for those who have completed second or third grade—rose to a record 247 campers this summer, according to the center. It is one of several camps, including Camp Millionaire, Youth About Business and the Future Investor Clubs of America, that cater to the money-minded and their offspring.

Spencer Smith, a 9-year-old from nearby Castle Pines, is a first-timer at the Denver camp. But he is already looking ahead, explaining he wants to “work with money” when he grows up.

“When you train puppies, it’s better to train them when they’re younger,” he noted. “It’s the same with people.”

Madison Grider, a 10-year-old camper from Centennial, Colo., aspires to attend Harvard University and medical school. That’s not going to come cheap. She said she has already started saving money for her tuition, and has learned how to write checks, exchange currencies and withdraw money from a savings account at camp.

“When you grow up you don’t have to learn it—you can just do it,” Madison said.

This capitalist training ground can be challenging. Two hours into the third day of camp, one child retreated to a corner of an empty room, crying while waiting for a counselor to call his mother. Counselors don’t necessarily have financial backgrounds; most have experience in youth programs or nonprofit work.

Jennifer Starr said her 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, wanted to go to camp after her older sister enjoyed attending a field trip with a similar itinerary.

Brooke said it was as much her mother’s idea as her own. “My mom sent me here to learn more about money and see what it’s like to be a grown-up,” said Brooke, decked out in a soccer jersey and soccer-ball earrings.

As some parents see it, the weeklong immersion in business and finance could mean a leg up for their children over more-indulged peers.

“Spencer is only 9, but is interested in becoming an accountant and has always been interested in money concepts and saving his own money. We want to foster that,” said Sara Smith, a senior vice president at a network of hospitals who drove her son through an hour of traffic so he could attend.

On the children’s agenda: practice how to exchange “AmeriDollars” for “PacAsia” notes (stopping by a corner of the room designated “Singapore” to conduct the exchange) and form countries to barter for natural resources printed on laminated cards.

During an hourlong trade lesson, a group in the back corner took the opportunity to practice their best fake-flatulence noises. Over in the Netherlands, tensions were rising. One boy made off with all of the country’s metal, fruits and vegetables, sugar, electronics and textiles, leaving his fellow citizens with nothing to trade.

“They won’t be quiet,” said Spencer, as the rest of his temporary countrymen—who had dubbed themselves “The Weirdos”—dashed across the room to exchange their minerals for another country’s sugar.

“Fidget, fidget, fidget,” said one camper who remained seated, clutching an orange ###a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fidget-spinners-are-driving-teachers-bananas-and-sorry-i-got-distracted-1493828567" class="icon none">fidget spinner, a popular rotating toy, as others scrambled to even out their country’s balance of trade.

The Denver program’s curriculum sprang from the vision of the late Bill Daniels, a cable-TV pioneer who felt government interference could strangle business, according to the website for his philanthropic foundation. The camp aims to instill a love of free enterprise early in childhood, for $235 a week. Representatives for the camp said its curriculum is nonpolitical.

Richard Martinez Jr., president and CEO of the center, said early on, his neighbors asked him why he was sending his children to “bank camp” when he put them in the program. But times have changed for current campers, he said.

“Especially today with everything going on around the world right now—talk of trade deals, immigration—it’s really playing out firsthand,” he said. “I see they’ve learned about supply and demand today and ask them to tell me about that, and boy, they just go crazy.” He said he isn’t expecting every camper to become an investment banker, but it is important children learn about economics and personal finance early.

At the end of the week, campers ran a simulated town for a day, some filling out applications for positions at a post office, auto shop, bank and newspaper. They went to work at mock offices and shops, built using funds from corporate sponsors, emblazoned with logos including those of McDonald’s Corp. , United Parcel Service Inc., Janus Henderson Investors, Cambiar Investors and Comcast Corp.

Some children are already dreaming of other careers.

Even Kash, who professed his affection for money, doesn’t see himself working on Wall Street or occupying a corner office. “When I grow up, I want to race cars!” he said.