In my life-before-kids, fun and spontaneity were one in the same. When we lived in California, near Disneyland, our idea of a good time was to drop everything, visit the Magic Kingdom, and stick around until they kicked us out. Sometimes we would decide, out of the blue, to ride our bicycles a hundred miles to the beach and back for lunch at the Huntington Beach Pier. We had the time and the stamina, so why not, we figured. On our fifth wedding anniversary, we loaded up the truck with the bicycles and our dog, headed south for lunch at our favorite brew pub in Escondido, and ended up splashing out on a posh hotel in downtown San Diego – no reservations, no particular place to go. Just unplanned, unpredictable, unstructured fun. Whatever we wanted to do, we told ourselves “yes.”

Seems like those days are gone for good with a three-year-old nipping at my heels. Seems like everything needs some amount of planning, preparation, a bag of food and a bottle of water because there’s no doubt that the little guy is going to get out of sorts at some point while we’re out and about.

But within the constraints of having-a-kid, there’s plenty of potential spontaneity, and plenty of un-structure and un-planning to keep us all feeling like we’re not over-scheduled calendar addicts. Noodle and I keep this spirit alive with “yes days.”

The spirit of the “yes day” is the spirit of the no reservation vacation: if something looks interesting, we stop and do it until we lose interest. Then we simply move on, saying “yes” to whatever tickles our next fancy.

Yes days are downright smile-inducing. You’ve got to be prepared for anything, and once your kid gets to knowing what a yes day is, you’ll end up having ice cream cones for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s fine, of course; it’s all part of the un-plan. It’s part of letting go of structure and embracing chaos. Funny thing is, and I think we sometimes lose this sense in our hyper-connected lives these days, it’s not chaos. Lack of structure isn’t the same as unconstrained disaster. For us, it’s just good old fashioned good times with nobody to answer to but ourselves.

Noodle’s got a thing for rocks and plants. He’s completely fascinated with pebbles and ferns, and when he spots an intriguing specimen, he stops to investigate. The stop might take a few minutes – or who knows, maybe half an hour and a cup of coffee later you’re still perched on the side of the footpath wondering aloud about the critters you find flipping over stones and ruffling through the grass. On yes day that’s well and good. And it isn’t simply about agreeing to do whatever; it’s about entertaining curiosity and questions and exploring and loving parts of the world you rarely stop to see. Yes days are days of complete engagement with the kids.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with cricket matches and piano lessons. They’ve got their times and places like anything else, and the structure they provide helps kids find and maintain focus, learn to work together, share, take turns, and all manner of social skills they need to sharpen as they grow into considerate citizens. It might even sound like I’m saying that “fun” is nothing more than “running wild,” but that’s not what I’ve got in mind. As I see it, a kid gone wild is a kid gone curious. And to foster the joys of curiosity is to create a space for limitless, life-long fun.

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Brian Sorrell has worked as a cook, typist, computer programmer, woodworker, bicycle repairman, and university lecturer, all of which inadequately prepared him for his current full-time role as Dad. In February 2012, the family packed up their house in California and relocated to Auckland, where he now specialises in chasing his always-on-the-run son, drinking coffee, and recording his adventures at Dadding Full Time

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[…] all was dry — not so much as a bruise. I play his attention-grabbing games, especially on Yes Days, and I dry his tears and rub his wounds and bring him apple juice with a bendy straw that […]

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