With summer approaching quickly, parents are faced with a familiar question: Where do I want my kids to spend their days while I am at work? This can sometimes be a stressful decision for parents, with so many diverse options for camps and childcare, there is no shortage of possibilities.

However, a new camp starting up in Whitehorse poses an interesting question: If your children could start their own business, what would they want it to be?

Yukoner Sierra Allen is passionate about self-directed education for kids. She has traveled the world, co-founding a learning centre in Costa Rica where she worked for five years, then more recently founding Wildwood Agile Learning Community in North Carolina.

Along the way she has developed the philosophy that children learn best when they are trusted, respected and immersed in a supportive culture. That belief led her to co-create a new model for children’s workshops: Startup Lab. Startup Lab is a workshop for enterprising kids, based on self-directed learning. It focuses on teaching entrepreneurship through modeling and supporting participants through the stages of building a business based on an idea they are excited about.

Having run Startup Lab workshops in alternative schools in North Carolina, Florida, and Vancouver, Allen thinks of the workshops as more of a consulting service: she travels to new locations (sometimes with partners, and sometimes on her own) as more communities hear about what Startup Lab is doing and reach out asking for a workshop of their own.

One of the goals of Startup Lab is to train local facilitators so that the community will be able to hold future workshops on their own.

In partnership with Lorne Mountain Community Centre, Sierra Allen is excited to bring a new kind of day camp to Whitehorse: Startup Lab’s Summer Camp for Enterprising Kids.

This program for children seven years old to 17 will focus on teaching entrepreneurship. Children will learn about the stages of building a business of their own, from creation to sales, culminating in presenting and selling their products or services to the public at the Fireweed Community Market.

Children are encouraged to bring their own ideas and to experiment as they learn about building a business.

For Allen, a homegrown Yukoner, the project has special significance.

“I grew up in Whitehorse engaging in various entrepreneurial experiences that gave me a strong sense of empowerment and independence. I dreamed of creating a space where I could pursue my interests freely and in collaboration with other kids. Since then, I’ve traveled the world checking out existing projects that create spaces like that, all the while holding onto that vision. After I started holding Startup Labs and realized how powerful they are for kids and communities, I knew I wanted to bring the idea back to my hometown on my next visit.”

Past business ventures that have been created through the Startup Lab workshops include: hand-made pillows, colouring books, Skyplanters (an indoor wall-mounted plant invention), and melted wax paintings just to name a few.

Children bring their own unique ideas and projects, and Allen helps them to turn those dreams into something tangible that they can be proud of. Allen recounts a story where a parent from a past workshop told her, “I was worried that they weren’t going to be able to sell [their product], but I stepped back and let them make their own decisions, and I’m just in awe of what they’ve done. They really did it!”

When asked about the inspiration behind Startup Lab’s approach to teaching entrepreneurship, Allen says, “Kids are smart. Really smart. They know that all the grown-ups in their world play ‘the money game,’ and we believe that letting them play it powerfully, in a safe and supportive environment, will make playing the money game in the future more fun, easy, and less shocking and stressful. Not to mention how alive it makes math and reading for them!”

Startup Lab’s Summer Camp for Enterprising Kids will be held June 26 to July 1, at Lorne Mountain Community Centre on Annie Lake Road. Those interested in learning more about the adaptable tools and practices used in the camp are welcome to attend an information session at the Community Centre on Tuesday, May 30th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Scholarships for the camp can be arranged if needed.

For more information about the program, or for anyone interested in being trained as a facilitator, you are invited to contact Sierra Allen at [email protected]