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Let kids choose their own fun on a day off from school

Katie Pinke's daughters decided to spend their day off from school working with their heifers.

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Katie Pinke's daughters spent a recent day off from school working with Hereford heifers for upcoming 4-H beef projects to be shown at an early summer county fair. Pictured are the girls and their great-uncle in 2019 when they received a heifer as a Christmas gift.
Katie Pinke / Agweek
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The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was a lone empty space on the family calendar, I noticed last week.

January dates are filled with our daughters’ basketball games, speech meets, piano lessons, youth group and 4-H with additional 4-H archery practices all around school day schedules.

For the day off from school on Monday, Jan. 16, I could have left a list of household chores, some additional Christmas décor clean up or laundry tasks for our teenage daughters to complete.

Instead, on the Sunday prior to the day off, I said to them, “plan your own day tomorrow.” Their dad and I had full workdays. They could choose their day off without calendar or household duties restraints.

What would 13-year-old and 15-year-old sisters choose?

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By 8:30 a.m., when they would normally start a school day, our girls drove 26 miles west to meet my cattlemen uncles and cousin to start work with their Hereford heifers to be shown at the early summer county fair.

With our ninth grader, Elizabeth, now having her driver’s license, it was the first time that I didn’t make the drive with them for heifer work or meet my parents to bring them out to the cattle.

The choice the girls made on their day off led me to churn on the change of me not driving them out to the heifers and reflecting on the benefits around activity choices.

I’m all for kids and activities. I’ve read research about kids and extra-curricular activities but more importantly, have seen the benefits firsthand in our kids and their peers.

Clubs, lessons, religious activities and sports lead to developed social skills, lessening risky adolescent behavior choices. A reasonable choice of activities in a child’s life develops their skills and interests. What is reasonable varies per child and family.

Activities bring time restraints and financial responsibility not always feasible for families. However, I see our rural schools and communities offer opportunities for all kinds of kids, regardless of socioeconomic status.

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January sunset from Katie Pinke's rural yard. Pinke says to let kids choose how they spend a day off from school, keep it open for fun. A recent holiday had Pinke's kids choose to start working with their 4-H beef heifers.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

The girls came home with stories about their choice of heifers, the personalities of the animals, and how they got started with halters and brushing them.

I said, “What is another way you could have spent your day off?”

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Elizabeth, 15, looked up at me, smiled and said, “We could have slept in.”

Anika, 13, quipped, “That would have been nice! Except heifers are fun.”

Heifers are fun.

Wins don’t always come on the basketball court, in a speech or archery meet. Sometimes a little win of parenting happens when kids share feedback and their own ideas. Exposing your kids to a variety of activities and experiences hones their choices and helps them develop their own sense of fun. I never showed a heifer at a county fair in my lifetime, but our daughters have chosen it as an activity they enjoy through family and 4-H experiences.

Are most teenagers choosing to be in an unheated barn on a 20F day in January on their day off from school?

No, but for the girls who find working with heifers to be fun I think their choice of a day off created a memory they’ll remember long after their teen years.

The household chores and tasks can wait another day or week. On the next holiday or day off in a school week or even a possible winter snow day, I plan to keep with the strategy of keeping the day open, letting our kids choose how they spend their day off. We all should try it. Keep an open day in the next month for your choice of fun.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Related Topics: PINKE POSTRURAL LIFE
Opinion by Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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