What I’ve learned from my kids: Yes Day

Last year I started writing about things I’ve started to learn from watching my kids grow and how they see things. I’ve started to realise how much I take for granted. Or rather I’ve started seeing things through their eyes and realised that, for them, the world can be simpler, yet harder, than I thought.

One aspect of parenting I’ve still not come to terms with is saying no. It’s not that I can’t (because I do. A lot) its that I don’t want to constrain their imagination or development to my own experiences. Saying ‘no’ for a safety reason  is another thing to saying ‘no’ to doing something new or different or noisy.

I want to say ‘yes’ more and to see how far they can stretch themselves. To see their imaginations run riot with four camping rugs, two clothes airers, the back of a chair and a packet of biscuits suddenly opens up games of camping, pirates, mystery, mid-afternoon snacks in the jungle, etc. Simple stuff, really, but amazing.

And this is why we have ‘yes days’. If you’re not aware of them, you should be. These are dedicated days where the kids can ask for anything and you, the parent, has to say ‘yes’. It’s not as bad as you think … there are some ground rules set down up front, and a defined start and end time/location is agreed, but basically everything in between is in their hands.

Here’s how you plan a ‘yes day’:

  • How often? Decide on how often they will be. It’s as good to try it first before setting yourself up for future disappointment and cancellations, but once every 3 or 4 months is a good average. It’s also a good idea to give each child their own (if you’ve more than one offspring) and one for them to share is a great way to get them to work together!
  • When? Try for a day during a school holiday. Weekends can be great to break the school term up but both you and your kids can be too tired to make the most of it. Obviously summer is better than winter if your kids want to plan outdoor activities, but you can still do some great stuff in winter.
  • Set the rules. Set ground rules before the kids start planning their adventures. Set start/end times and places, a spending limit, make sure proper mealtimes are planned, put time or distance limit to stop long trips or excessive driving distances, nothing dangerous will be allowed (without first checking).
  • What will you do? Get the kids to develop their list of what they’d like to do and then, as a family, help them work out what is important and what you can do on the same day. If they want to go to a theme park that will probably use up all their time, money, and driving allowance, so trying to plan that with having friends round won’t work, so help them work out which is more important and have a backup list in case things don’t pan out.
  • Be flexible. Allow for some flexibility in the day. If it’s raining on the day and you’d planned on outdoor activities then be prepared to revisit the backup list and adapt. Allow fun to happen, buy them an ice cream when they ask (even if it’s cold outside), give them longer on the play equipment (but let them know it’s taking time from their next item and, if they’re happy, let them play).

The ‘yes day’ is a great way of, for one, not being over-bearing and a control freak, as well as offering your kids chance to have this control. Other skills they’ll learn, quite quickly, is that they will have to prioritise what they want, learn to mix and match in order to fit everything they want in to the day they’ve been given, and to manage their time once the day is in progress.

Can you have a ‘yes day’ in class, whether it’s with seven or eight year olds, or with final year undergraduates? Well, yes. Why not? It’s quite obvious that maybe a full day is out of the question (unless you can integrate it in with the rest of their studies, but you could allocate  a ‘yes seminar’ or something similar. Set the boundaries accordingly, maybe based on the scheduled class time and module/class subject, but then hand control over to the students. They could set a learning goal, perhaps with your help (but still letting them, as a group, choose it), and then they could choose how and where they achieve it.

They want to move your lesson to the cafe? OK. They want to watch a film you’ve mentioned (Boiler Room for business students, The Human Scale for architecture students, or Dr Strangelove for chemistry, physics, or science students as well as politics, philosophy, and many more) then, if you can find it (check out Box of Broadcasts too) do it.

What about if they ask for something more practical? What about finding someone else to come ‘teach’ them? Ask your network, academic or not, about if they’d be interested to come and give them an alternative viewpoint of your subject or theories you’ve assigned them.

The opportunities for both your students to learn and grow from having this influence over their learning materials, and for yourself to learn about your students and your own subject (somethings might surprise you about them and you!) could be wonderful. And something you’ll do again and again.

Go on, try it.

Image source: Kit Ng (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)