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This is the one thing you can do to teach your kids about investing, according to financial guru Mellody Hobson

Ariel Investments co-CEO and president Mellody Hobson speaks at the 2017 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.
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Investment expert Mellody Hobson is a firm believer in teaching kids about investing.

She'd like it taught at every school in America — even at a young age.

"It should be like learning a language," Hobson, co-CEO and president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, said in a recent online interview with Sal Khan, founder and CEO of the nonprofit education platform Khan Academy. "I have a 6-year-old and she takes Spanish at school.

"Once you can start early, you become very facile in the language and I think that's very, very important," added Hobson, who was named by Time magazine in 2015 as one of the "100 Most Influential People" in the world. She also also serves as vice chair of the Starbucks board and director of JPMorgan Chase's board, and previously the chairman of the board for DreamWorks Animation.

Yet for many Americans, early schooling in investing is not a reality.

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Aside from having the family's banker, stock broker or financial analyst imparting lessons, one thing parents can do is buy their children a share of stock every year as a gift for their birthday or a holiday.

It's something Ariel Investments co-CEO and chief investment officer John Rogers received from his father every birthday and Christmas instead of toys, starting when Rogers was 12 years old, according to Hobson.

While you may not want to do the "instead of toys part," you can still teach your kids the fundamentals of investing, she said.

"You can do that with a child by giving [them] gifts of stock of things that they know and like," Hobson noted. "That's the gift that keeps giving, instead of the toy that becomes obsolete at some point."

That could mean names like toy-maker Mattel, Playstation maker Sony, McDonald's or Nike — things that kids, or teens, "understand fundamentally," she explained.

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Doing so "ultimately may create some interest there that they can watch and understand the benefits of ownership and equity as opposed to consumerism."

Hobson is clearly passionate about the cause, once calling financial illiteracy "dangerous" for society. She is chairman of After School Matters, a Chicago-based non-profit that provides teens with high-quality after school and summer programs.  

"You can go to high school in America today and take woodshop or auto and not a class on investing," she told Khan Academy. "Who is whittling in their spare time? Who is clearing their own carburetor?"

Yet understanding the basics of things that have a "profound potential effect on your long-term financial security" — like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and market capitalization— "we don't teach it."

The "fire" was lit for her to teach others about money after she rose out of a "challenging" childhood and discovered her love for investing.

I was desperate to understand money. Not make it. Not have a lot. Understand it.
Mellody Hobson
co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments

As a child, her family faced evictions and lived in abandoned apartments that her single mother tried to fix up and rent in order to make a living.

"I was desperate to understand money," Hobson said. "Not make it. Not have a lot. Understand it.

"I thought if I could understand money, I could have a better life," she added.

While attending Princeton University, she worked as an intern at Ariel Investments. After graduating in 1991, she went to work for the firm and has been there ever since.

"I really love the business that I am in," Hobson said.

"We get to make people's lives better because we grow their money in their pension fund or their kids' college education money that's in our mutual funds, whatever it might be, so that they can have a better outcome and that's as fulfilling as anything that anyone can do."

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