Changing the Challenge

snowday2My first post in February and I’m already changing The Challenge. But, it may not be what you think! It certainly isn’t what I would have thought.

On Tuesday evening I listened to The Current on CBC Radio. Anna Maria Tremonti was interviewing Hattie, a UK based mom and writer who just finished a challenge of her own: a year of spending nothing on her toddler.

My ears perked-up. How timely! Her challenge was slightly different than mine. Having just lost her job, and–like me–being sceptical of consumer culture, particularly with regards to children, Hattie decided to cut all kid-related spending for a year.

It was like my ban on stuff, only Hattie’s “no spending” rule (versus my “no buying” rule) meant that Hattie didn’t register her son in any activities. No swimming lessons. No camps. No trips to the zoo, visits to the indoor playground, or birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese.

Cool. Being a mother who believes the absolute best thing for a child’s development is unstructured–and preferably outdoor–play, this resonated with me.

For her birthday parties, my daughter has enjoyed ravine pumpkin hunts, forest treasure hunts, bonfires, and leaf pressing. Activity enrolment has always been limited to cello lessons, and one other rotating activity (recreation centre soccer, ballet, swimming, etc.). My son is currently registered in a once-a-week drop-in. (It’s cold in Toronto, even for an “outdoors” mom.)

I never thought the $20/month budget for “kids’ activities” ought to be considered in The Fasting Consumer’s challenge. But then, Hattie said something that made me think.

When asked what one of the greatest outcomes of her 2013 challenge was, Hattie answered that her son had learned to use his imagination. She described how, at first, when she sent his buddies and him into the garden to play, they didn’t know what to do. And so, there were tears. And fighting. And … it was a mess. But eventually, her son figured it out, and now he will happily entertain himself for hours with worms and dirt. (My words; not hers, but, you get the picture.)

It occurred to me that, while swimming lessons and trips to the zoo have their place, maybe “a year off” wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

I’m a lifeguard. I can teach swimming. We have a rather large lake walking distance from our house, free outdoor ice-rinks all over our neighbourhood, and free drop-in centres, library circle times, forests, ravines, parks, and playgrounds around every corner. Not to mention, my kids have a toboggan, skates, bikes, scooters, balls, shovels, a garden full of dirt, sticks, trees, snails, worms, and a loveable family dog.

So, not in the name of saving $20/month (that would be silly), but in the name of cultivating imagination, I declare: with the exception of my daughter’s cello lessons–she’s been playing since she was 2, no more activities until 2015.

Thanks for the inspiration, Hattie.

(You can find Hattie’s blog here.)


2 thoughts on “Changing the Challenge

  1. The child inside me became more and more excited as you went on with all the things you are doing and are going to do with the kids….AWESOME!!!!! Maybe this is the most important job in the world right now for you to be doing……?

  2. Yes! I love it 🙂 “Boys and Girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures…carry on forts…even if the fortress be an old armchair…” Sometimes (okay, most often) I feel badly that I’m not giving my boys every experience that they should be having at ages 4 and 6 (like where did that guilt come from?) but this post has just confirmed some pretty important ideas that I’ve carried with me, concerning raising young kids. Thanks for this 🙂

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