Photo: During one plan-less weekend this past fall, my boys collected leaves from all over the neighborhood and made a huge leaf pile on the street. I’ve never seen them work so hard and so passionately!
The last couple of weekends, my family had a totally empty schedule – no sports games, birthday parties, play dates, etc. In fact, we didn’t even make a plan to go anywhere like a zoo or park.
So, every morning, we woke up without anything in particular to do. When my wife was in charge, she came up with an idea of where to take our boys (7, 4, and 2) and she loaded them into the minivan. However, when I was in charge, our boys and I wandered around our yard and neighborhood.
Sounds boring, eh?
Actually, we weren’t bored at all. In fact, two of those days were really fantastic, one even qualifying as one of those cherished days I’ll remember the rest of my life.
We walked down the street to a dry creek bed by our house. There, we hiked around playing with rocks and sticks. Most of the time, I let them go on their own, and I went on my own foraging projects. When we got hungry, I put the two young boys in a stroller and we walked to downtown Palo Alto, a mile away. The boys stopped frequently along the way to pick up various little things, alternately playing catch and chase with them. We went to The Creamery for lunch and they feasted on sugary and starchy stuff their mom doesn’t approve of. Our favorite waitress, Amy, waited on us, and Nico (4) sang “Amy, What You Gonna Do?” to her. We chatted with a very nice woman next to us who, Marco (7) and I agreed, looks exactly like our cousin Anna Maria from Italy. Then, we walked home, taking a brief detour at a park. They boys played more games of catch and chase all the way home.
It was a collection of really nice moments, strung together by chaos. We were all firing on all cylinders, totally living in the moment, totally enjoying each other.
Have you ever had that feeling on a Saturday, driving from a youth soccer game to a jumpy house birthday party to karate class?
I didn’t think so.
You see, I’ve come to realize that kids don’t care one bit about plans. When we make plans, it’s to satisfy us, not them.
They want to do whatever their brain tells them to do at every moment. They can’t do that when they’re strapped into a car seat staring at our heads or when they’re standing around watching their sister play a nice, controlled game of soccer.
In short, when we’re wandering around with them, without a plan, they’re in control, not us parents. Kids who aren’t used to being in control may not know what to do with that control at first. However, kids who are experts at “wandering around aimlessly” thrive.
Actually, they’re far from aimless – they’re merely free of our aims, free to decide what they want to do at every moment. Have you ever tried to drive somewhere you’ve been to, but always as the passenger, not the driver? I hardly ever know how to get to a place until I figure out how to get there myself. Similarly, kids don’t learn much when we determine what they do, where, and when.
Kids who “wander around aimlessly” learn how to explore, how to talk to people, how to use their bodies. They gain confidence and mastery. And, they have a wonderful time doing it all.
As they get older, they’ll develop a desire to plan ahead on their own, but while they’re young, let them be in control. That means less planning and more fun. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win for you and the kids?