Zionsville Times Sentinel

Snuggling on the couch, tickle fights, late night games of Euchre — these are a few of my favorite parenting things. Cleaning up after a child’s who’s been sick, punishing misbehavior and sibling fights — these are a few of my least favorite parenting things.

One of the absolute worst? Fundraisers. It’s just hard to rival the stress of trying to figure out how to store 127 perishable pizzas until they can be delivered, plus tracking who’s paid, who will pay later, and where the envelope with all the cash finally settled between the three cars used for delivery. But, being a family of 10 with one income, fundraisers are a key element to our children’s participation in their activities, so fundraise we must. And as stressful as fundraisers can be, they can also be some of the best learning experiences our children will encounter.

Lesson 1: People skills. There’s nothing quite like selling to teach our children how to initiate and maintain a conversation with absolute strangers. Whether calling on the telephone or making the sale in person, our children have to use a number of sales tactics. They must establish connection; effectively communicate what they are selling, how the organization they represent benefits, and why the customer would want this product; and then accept either a decision to make or decline purchase with equal grace. Parents can greatly assist this process with a few role-plays that give the child a chance to practice making his pitch and responding to questions that might come his way. Some children need pointers on basics such as introducing themselves, offering a handshake, and saying “thank you” no matter the response. No matter how much money they raise, the lesson in social skills is priceless

Lesson 2: Record keeping. The challenge of every fundraiser is remembering to whom you sold, how much, and how to contact people for delivery. Thus, fundraisers offer a terrific opportunity to teach basic record-keeping. This is important. The same children who can complete advanced algebraic equations, diagram complex sentences, and titrate chemical solutions to the hundredth of a centigram can’t fill out a basic form. Our children have many opportunities to learn to read for comprehension, which is the reading used in most school work. Often, they are not so wonderful at functional reading; the skills necessary to read bank statements, fill out medical records, and keep track of inventory. Fundraisers help fill this gap. While it’s important for parents to keep an eye on the paperwork, let your child track the details. Teach your child how to read the record sheets and then fill in the proper data in the proper place. In a society where you need three forms for every activity, it’s a skill they’ll need for the rest of their lives. The sooner they master this, the more competent they’ll be.

Lesson 3: Organization. Just how does one keep 127 pizzas from going bad until they can be delivered? Where do you store 487 boxes of popcorn? What’s the most efficient strategy for getting 82 Christmas wreaths across three counties? These are the real challenges that arise from all those successful sales pitches. Letting your child wrestle through these teaches that the sale is only step one. The fundraiser isn’t over until the product is delivered, the money collected, and the final receipts turned into the sales coordinator. Much of life involves a really fun first step, and then a lot of follow-up and grunt work that isn’t so fun. Learning early to look at the whole commitment rather than just the first step can be a life lesson that pays huge dividends. Further, letting your child develop a plan for accomplishing each step can be a great exercise in problem solving strategies and time management. Don’t give into the temptation to just do it yourself. You’ll miss a prime opportunity for your child to learn these invaluable life skills. When you groan over the next fundraiser, your child will have a lot more empathy.

Fundraisers are often the bane of modern parenting. While they’ll never make my list of favorite parenting things, they provide our children the opportunity to learn a huge range of skills while supplying funds for them to engage in great activities.

Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. E-mail her at tess@family-matters. us.

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