“Can we have a break now?”
Picture this – it is a beautiful fall day at Arrowhead Provincial Park. My niece and a family friend and I set off on a bike adventure. Just the three of us. The kids are around 8 years old. I am not. We set off on our bikes to explore the trail around Arrowhead Lake. The kids have packed snacks – wee chocolate treats and gummy candy. In self-defence, I have brought us apples.
Can we have a break now? This question is posed about eight minutes into our wee biking adventure. As a parent, what’s your typical answer? Is it a time frame? Distance?
What do you think?
My answer – hmm – what do you think? Is it time for a break? I am met with quizzical looks. Kids aren’t sure what’s up when you re-pose their own question. They are so used to adults making all the decisions for them all the time, that they often don’t know what to do when offered opportunities to make choices themselves.
As a parent, and now an aunt, I love the opportunity to provide kids with mini-adventures where they lead the way and expand their trust and confidence in themselves. It is a break from being “told what to do” and a chance to make choices, and experience consequences – both the good kind, and the running out of snacks kind.
I still remember taking my daughters to the Riverdale Farm when they were approximately 4 years old. It had been a very busy and stressful winter for our family with school and work obligations for the adults and lots of time in daycare for the wee ones. We decided as parents that the kids needed to lead instead of follow. So we let them decide how we explored the Farm.
When we came to a crossroads in the path, we’d ask them – should we turn right? Or left? What should we see first – sheep or cows? Was it the most efficient approach – likely not. Did the kids love the chance to have more decision-making power – Absolutely!
With summer coming, it is the perfect time to plan for some kid-led adventures.
Kid-led adventures can happen anywhere – in the grocery store, on a nature trail, at a festival, or in your very own neighborhood. The important thing is to set your intention as the adult involved. My intention generally is to encourage the kids to make as many decisions as possible, be curious, ask questions, maintain the necessary boundaries for safety, and to use this as a chance to be mindful of my own thought habits. This can be WAY harder that you might think.
Do you know your common thought habits?
Can we have a break now?
WHAT?!? Says the voice in my head who likes order and predictability. Stop now? We can’t stop and have a snack already! We have only biked for 8 minutes and less than 500 meters into our adventure – snacks should be eaten at approximately the halfway point balancing both distance and time.
I take a deep breath, catch this “thought habit” of mine that there is a “right” time for rest and food. I remind myself that this is a kid-led adventure and no harm will come to any of us if the snacks are eaten early.
Can we have a snack now? Yes, my two co-adventurers decide, we can stop and eat one of our sweet treats (the apples can wait). I learn how both have thoughtfully packed enough for me and offer me first choice. We eat gummy candy and then bike on.
Will summer 2023 hold a kid-led adventure for you?
If so, here are a few things to think about.
Consider what time you have available and the basis for the adventure. For example, if you were planning a day at the Zoo, a full day might be needed, but if you were planning a short walk along a nature trail, then a morning or afternoon might be just perfect. The key is to not be rushed. When kids are making decisions – they may choose to linger and explore a single thing in detail, or they rush to see it all, and then double back to do it all again.
Which choices are you offering?
What decisions can the kids make? What are the boundaries? For example, on our bike adventure, I picked the where and how of the day. My invitation was for a bike ride on the trail around the lake. The boundaries can be different as the kids get older. Three-year-olds can choose left or right, sheep or cows. Fifteen-year-olds can choose the destination and itinerary.
Older kids can make choices about how money is spent within a set budget. As the adult, you could set a date and budget. One set of kids may choose to have an inexpensive day at the beach followed by a dinner out, whereas another may choose to pack a picnic and spend the majority of the budget on tickets to Canada’s Wonderland.
More than one kid?
Setting clear expectations around which kid(s) are leading the adventure is important. Some families may find it easier to let each of their kids be the leader and key decision maker for the adventure, or for an hour at a time. Will you go in order of age? Draw names from a hat? Or will you choose to have the kids work together to make decisions? On our bike adventure, I encouraged the two kids to check in with each other and come to an agreement.
As the adult, you are still in charge of keeping kids safe. Some safety considerations can be reviewed ahead of time, like wearing a bike helmet, and others emerge along the way. On our bike adventure, we encountered a big downhill with lots of loose gravel. I decided that we would dismount and walk down that hill. My brave co-adventurers protested – a big downhill looked like fun to them, and to me, it looked like skinned knees and a hospital visit. Kids don’t always have the experience to see the possible consequences and safety issues.
As the three of us complete our circumnavigation of Arrowhead Lake, we are all smiles. There is a sense of accomplishment and joy. I feel like I know these two young souls a little bit better, we share our stories with their parents… and then plan our next adventure.