Keeping kids busy: Is it always necessary?

Instead of cramming camps and crafts into her family's March Break, Jennifer Pinarski embraced the unbusy.

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Gillian and Isaac head outdoors during their March Break. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

In the weeks leading up to the March Break, I felt that familiar sense of panic: How was I going to keep my kids busy (read: not bickering) during the 10 days they would be together? Despite being a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have an arsenal of crafts and other activities to keep my kids occupied. I researched day camps and playgroup drop-ins, but either the price was too high or the hours were inconvenient. So I made the bold decision to not plan a single activity. Bold, because I’m addicted to being busy.

Anything we did would be on a whim and, if possible, completely free. Here is what our March Break looked like:

  • Tree climbing, hiking and snowshoeing. We have a huge tree in our backyard that both kids have said they’ve missed playing on because of the weather. We spent an hour just playing on the tree. When the weather was nice, we were outdoors.
  • A failed attempt at watching The Lego Movie.  I decided to use gift cards (following our rule that activities needed to be free), but my four-year-old daughter sobbed for the first 10 minutes, absolutely terrified. Thankfully, the theatre gave us a refund.
  • Bought a goldfish on impulse. My seven-year-old son was furious at having to leave The Lego Movie early. To distract both kids (my daughter was still in tears) we stopped at the pet store, one of our favourite places to visit. Isaac had been saving his money for a fish but, to be honest, I wasn’t keen on bringing another pet into the house. But Isaac took the initiative to talk to the store employees about the equipment needed for a goldfish, and he read all of the information pamphlets on fish care. The kids worked together to chose a fish, plants and a budget-friendly fish bowl. Comet the goldfish now occupies the centre of our kitchen table.
  • Family screen time. Classic Looney Toons episodes and Wii helped save my sanity during the very cold days.
  • Free play. Have you ever noticed that sometimes your kids play best when you leave them alone? At four and seven, my kids seem to have developed their own language of play and watching them create new games using the simplest of supplies amazes me. To support their free play, I avoided saying no when they asked for something (at one point they had taped paper all over the floor to turn the kitchen into a lava flow and used spatulas as light sabres to chase the dog).

Now, a completely unbusy break does have its drawbacks. I’d love to say they played perfectly all week, but that would be a lie. By Thursday they were getting cabin fever and were more likely to pick fights and annoy each other, simply for something to do. The free play means my house is mess (there is a stubborn bit of tape I can’t peel off the dog) and the day we binged on screens backfired because the next day they were jonesing for their daily fix of Mario and Bugs Bunny.

But an unhurried March Break was one of my personal favourite childhood memories. I was never sent to camp and I remember hours of snowman-making and ice skating. A few days from now we will all be tossed back into our usual hectic schedules—so an unscheduled break was just what our family needed.

Tell me about your March Break @jenpinarski

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