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One way to tell if a child is learning something is to notice what he loves to do. That book your child reads over and over again is providing something needed, even when you can’t tell what it is. That obsession with Pokemon, with Lego, and even with collecting pretty rocks all are indicators of what a child is working through and mastering, behind the scenes.

So what’s going on with lemonade stands? Why do kids love them so, even when sitting behind a card table on the sidewalk on the hottest day of the year seems so very boring to Mom and Dad?

As Michael Lemberger, writing in Slate magazine recently, points out, the typical lemonade stand doesn’t provide a lesson in business. Parents often donate the lemonade fixings, including cups, a pitcher, the water and the lemons (or more likely the lemon-flavored powdered drink mix). They also donate the booth set up and yard space. They mop up the mess. So unlike a real business, there are no costs associated with a lemonade stand. It’s pure profit.

And customers set a pretty low bar for the lemonade itself, paying far more for a glass of tepid Kool-Aid than they might for an ice-cold drink made from freshly squeezed lemons. So learning how to run a business isn’t part of the fun. That’s not really what kids are learning. And that’s not why they love to run a lemonade stand.

It’s not even about the money, though certainly money figures in. Lemberger says that his children were delighted with the success of their lemonade stand, even though he insisted they donate all of the cash they took in to charity. Kids for whom lemonade stands have the greatest appeal – children of about 6 or 7 years old – don’t have a good grasp of economics to begin with. They are just beginning to figure out what their allowance will buy.

And this, I think, is where the appeal of a lemonade stand begins. Children who set up and run a lemonade stand get to handle money. It seems so grown up. They may have to make change, which is certainly a stretch for many of them. They get to count their money and even divide the earnings among the group who participated.

In addition, setting up a lemonade stand is a project. It requires planning and cooperation, even delegation of jobs between partners. It requires skill in dispute resolution and group problem-solving. It requires imagining a customer and what that customer needs to see in order to stop and buy. A lemonade stand takes the preschool housekeeping corner to the next level. It’s no longer pretend.

Under the watchful eye of adults who stand in the living room window, monitoring the situation, children who run a lemonade stand are managing their own affairs, interacting with the public, and learning how to handle unexpected difficulties. This is huge. This is exciting because it’s a challenge. This is why lemonade stands are such fun.

So this summer, even though you know the lemonade will taste awful and the kitchen and yard may become a mess, do let your child and her friends have a lemonade stand, at least once. If not a lemonade stand, then a used toy sale or some other event. The point is not the money or learning how to run a business, so stay out of things as much as possible. The point is in the doing of it.

This summer, be sure to let your child do.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.