Saturday, May 30, 2009

Free-Range at Disney

I spent the last 2 weeks wrapping up school for my kids and then went straight to Orlando and Disney World. It wasn't that I didn't think of lots of thing to write about, we just never slowed down.

I tried to make a conscience effort to trust my children more on this trip and give them more independence. No, I didn't let them take off on their own. They are still too young to be expected to roam around an unfamiliar spot alone.

The one big thing that I did was to make them in charge of their own money. We brought plenty of water and snacks we bought earlier at Target and we paid for meals. Then, we gave each of them $7.00 a day, which they had to use for any additional snacks or souvenirs. They could spend it each day or save up for something bigger. We didn't advance them money (with one exception for my youngest who is still learning how to save and she didn't forget the next morning that she owed me $4). It was actually pretty fun to watch them figure out what they wanted to buy. They were frustrated at first because everything at Disney was so expensive, but then they found the hotel gift shop. I'm not sure all their choices were good ones, but they did get better and the money management and shopping lessons were worth every penny. Oh, and they handled the actual purchase transactions themselves as well. They even managed to combine money to buy things more expensive and loan money to each other (we didn't interfere with that). The biggest plus for us parents, though, was always knowing how to answer the question of "can I have that?" The answer was, "Sure, if you have the money." And guess how much of their money was spent on food? Not one single penny! No $2.75 ice cream bars or sodas or frozen lemonade. Amazing!

The other "free-range" incident was on the second day when we lost track of our youngest in the Magic Kingdom. We were walking in Fantasyland and I had just remembered to remind my girls that if we ever were separated, they were to find an employee and tell him/her that they were lost. And, I made them practice our cell phone numbers with the area code. Not five minutes later I realized that my five-year-old daughter wasn't with us. My husband had walked ahead with our son, so I headed that direction first, thinking she had followed them. We spent no more than five minutes walking in circles looking for her, when I decided it was best to just contact a park employee. I didn't panic. I didn't assume that someone had taken her or that she was in any danger (that's the free-range part). We were just in different places and she knew what to do. Within ten minutes, the park employee I had contacted was walking back to me with my daughter. She had wandered into a store and when she finally noticed that we were with her, she went to the clerk and explained that she was lost.

My husband accused me of not being free-range because I wouldn't let our oldest leave us in line for the Aerosmith Rockin' Coaster to get in the single rider line alone and try and ride twice while we were waiting (there's the downside of making the news by allowing your child freedom – nobody forgets it). I just didn't like the idea of being separated with so many variables to complicate finding each other again. I had already lost him in Disney Quest when we all stopped by the restroom and then he took off before my daughter and I got out (thinking we had already exited and were somewhere else) and it took us ten minutes to find him. It was more about losing time looking for people than about worrying that something would happen to him.

Free-ranging can be challenging because while letting my children be independent means I do less for them, I am responsible for teaching them how to make good choices while exercising their independence first. That part can be tedious. But, it's worth it in the end. My seven-year-old daughter is attending a cooking camp this coming week. I wonder how much unsupervised freedom I will allow her in the kitchen after that? It would sure be worth it if she managed to cook dinner, or even most of it.

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