The Great Acorn Depression | The Nerd Nest

Last weekend we went to the park after our weekend ritual of local-diner brunch. The park was supposed to be a quick stop to get some of the pent-up energy out, but turned into a 3.5-4 hour playtime, complete with an economics lesson, and ultimately resulted a sleepover party with one of Eliza’s friends. Awesome. Here’s how it all went down:

Jonas and Eliza started off their normal routine by running around the jungle gym, climbing and sliding. They were having a blast, so Megan and I decided to extend the stay. Megan text’d the mother of one of Eliza’s friends. He came and Eliza sort of lost interest in playing with Jonas (naturally). So I had to find something for Jonas to do. We decided to collect acorns.

We got a little crazy with the acorn collection, and ended up filling both my jacket pockets & his jacket pockets. We walked around a bit, throwing them here and there (he likes to throw things). We decided to climb the top of the tallest slide and throw them off the top of the slide. Well, that was the plan, but once up there, I decided that probably wasn’t the best idea, so we began throwing them down the slide instead. This is where it all began!

Kids at first were curious, “Where are all these acorns coming from?!” and the lucky few at the top of the slide were saying “Hey, can I throw some down the slide?”. “Of course!” I said, as I handed them handfuls at a time. The little kids were having tons of fun throwing them, the older kids having tons of fun catching them (or trying to catch them) at the bottom of the slide.

After a while, the throwing got ridiculous. At first it was 1 or 2 at a time, now it’s 10-15 at a time (handful). We couldn’t keep up with the demand for acorns! This is where things got interesting. I observed the kids (about 15 total at this point) create a miniature society, with an economy built on acorns. Eliza began collecting and storing (the bank). After a while, she found that she could get other kids to collect and store in her bank, and she paid them to collect for her, while she sold them off at a premium. I believe the rate was 10 acorns to a leaf. I’m not sure why she chose leafs, not the point though… she was SELLING ACORNS!

Eliza had started a business, hired workers, and began selling the acorns to little kids to throw down the slide. And for a while, it was working! The parents nearby watched as their children purchased acorns from Eliza, and excitedly showed them their shiny new acorns! Amazing!

Once I started looking at this as a small society of kids, I started noticing other aspects of society in this… for example, there were thieves stealing from the bank from time to time. Eliza responded by hiring guards for the acorns. There were even beggars, trying to get acorns for free, on favors, etc.

But then, almost out of nowhere, the acorn economy collapsed! Poof, just like that! No one was buying acorns from Eliza anymore. She came to me, telling me what I already knew, and asking for help on selling her acorns. I took this as a great opportunity to explain basic supply & demand. I told her that she had collected too many acorns, while at the same time kids were realizing they could collect their own acorns. As a result, the demand for acorns had declined, while the supply increased… and the price of acorns stayed the same, but should have followed demand. I explained: “If the acorns are the same price, but they’re easier to come by, kids will stop buying them since they can easily just collect their own from the bottom of the slide.”

I advised her to do what Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) did in the early 1930’s with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933, later replaced by AAA of 1938 (due to some technical details of the law). In short, FDR proposed in his new deal that the government needed to restrict the production of crops and livestock in order to reduce the surplus and thus raise the prices that had fallen due to over production. You see, farmers in the very early 1930’s were not getting as much for their crop, and responded by creating more crop. Too much crop, and not enough people to buy it all, prices went down. After the prices went down further, the farmers created even more in an attempt to get the same amount of money… the problem got worse (a vicious cycle). So, I told her to get rid of the acorns to lower the supply! She’d collected too many acorns, and kids could easily get them from the bottom of the slide.

By this point parents were even chipping in, collecting acorns for their kids. Things were looking grim for Eliza’s business. This is when she decided to start “Firing” people. I told her the correct term is “lay-off” and E’s friend chimed up with “YOU CAN’T FIRE THEM! WE DON’T EVEN HAVE A FIREPLACE HERE!!” We all laughed. She was planning on firing people so that she didn’t have to pay them, so that she could make more money. She was basically downsizing in an attempt to lower production costs and boost profitability. This was amazing! She had no idea what she was doing, or that this was a somewhat high-level concept to grasp for a 7-year old running an acorn business.

So she fired a few kids, they went to their parents upset that they’d lost their jobs. Not long after laying off her workers, she decided to liquidate her assets (stocks of acorns) by giving them away to kids for practically nothing. The kids lost interest, and the game of acorn economy was over just as fast as it began. It captivated 75-80% of the playground for a short time, there were wins and losses, tears and joy.

Welcome to the park children! I’m Jake, I’m a nerd! And this is Eliza and Jonas, they’re nerds as well! Get ready to learn!

The point of this post is that pretty much everything is a learning opportunity. How do you turn everyday moments into ways to spread some knowledge?