How and Why to Teach Kids Project Management

How and Why to Teach Kids Project Management
Page content

A man was trying to sell his wares outside a building. He became increasingly frustrated with each passing hour at the lack of customers. Out of desperation, he decided to try to give away one item, hoping that he would at least get customers to try his products.

As he continued to sell, his voice became louder to attract attention. He saw a family with a young child walk by and yelled at the top of his lungs, pointing to the product that he was trying to sell.

“I’m free, I’m free!” He proclaimed.

At that point, even though the parents tried to continue walking the child approached the seller. The seller could see that he might have a customer.

Instead, the child said, “So what, I’m four.”

A Child’s Perspective

If you are a parent, or anyone that has dealt with children, you will know that they always surprise you with their unique perspective.

When I was a young parent, I accidentally killed a young rabbit while trying to dig through a compost pile. I was pretty shaken up, mainly because it was a complete accident and I felt bad about injuring the innocent animal. I spoke about it to my family at the dinner table, including my two young daughters, both of whom were in middle school at the time.

The next morning, I saw a note made to “Mr. Greco” on my place setting where I sat for breakfast. I opened the note and found that it was notice from the attorney of the Rabbit family that I was being summoned to court as responsible for the untimely death of their relative. I kept that note for a long time to let me know that children do have a way of mixing seriousness and humor to get the point across. I was more careful when digging in the compost heap after that incident, and I did have a newfound appreciation for how quickly children learn and apply that in different ways.

Children’s books are one way that children learn about the world around them. Many children’s texts cover project management, usually focused on a project that the child and the adult do together. My books, “Granpappy Turtle Talks about Projects” and “Granpappy Turtle Talks about Project Management” discuss projects from a process focus. The project steps are broken down into a rhyme that can help children remember the sequence of project processes. Other books and learning aids are available at the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF).

Why Teach Children Project Management?

Once children develop a habit or other bit of learning, they can take it with them into adulthood. Teaching children about project management will help the young person develop good project management skills for the future. Think of the many times you have had to tell your child to start homework or finish a school project. By developing good project processes, you only need to refer to that process to get kids started (“Did you plan what you wanted to do for your school project;” “Have you checked your math homework?”). The idea is to get the child to associate that process with a step in the project rather than the entire project. As one person once told me, it is better to eat the elephant bit at a time rather than all at once (not that I am condoning eating an elephant – they are probably pretty tough).

What would be a good gauge of learning for a child that undertakes learning about project management? The closing of the project on time and on budget would be a great barometer to learning. That is how real project managers are evaluated, why should a child be any different?

I remember when I was 12 my friend and I wanted to buy some slot car equipment, so we looked around for some moneymaking ventures. We asked people if they wanted yardwork done, but even getting a dollar for such work was too costly on time for us so we sat around and tried to think of some other methods.

My friend said that his father was a truck driver and had gathered the remnants of “sink holes” that were Formica (a plastic type of covering over fiberboard that was stronger than many plastics and more malleable). The remnants were circular, approximately 20 inches in diameter and we both came up with the same idea – end tables. We would buy wooden table legs at a local hardware store, placed the legs and sell the tables. We could even stain the legs or paint them a particular color. We smoothed the sides of the circles, attached the hardware (a couple of screws) and sold the tables for a profit; enough to get what we needed in the way of slot car equipment.

After a few months, our parents asked about the tables and we both said that we had sold enough to get what we wanted. They wanted us to pursue it further, but we had achieved our goal – project finished on time and on schedule.

We knew what we wanted, put together the project and refined it as we went along. Children are eager to do this, hence their infatuation with video games that bring results based on goals, whether those goals are conquering an imagined country or obtaining money to buy something.

You teach children project management because everything in our life is a project, whether it is getting into school, earning a degree, landing a job or making it to retirement. Look at these books and share them with your children. I assure you that they will not be the only ones to learn something from the texts. You, too, may gather some beneficial ideas for future projects. Out of the mouths of babes, as the saying goes.