By Jessica Kirby —
If you happen to be on Vancouver Island this winter and bump into a friendly, economically fiscal ten year old at one of the local craft fairs, don’t worry: he isn’t lost or abandoned. That’s my son, Kaeden, possibly the most spend conscious and simultaneously generous kid on the planet, who has learned to shop local.
It all started back in 2010 when he was five years old and excited to find a Christmas gift for his six-month-old sister, Kea. He headed to the Vancouver Canucks jar on the treasure shelf in his room and carefully counted the dough he’d been saving from birthdays, Christmases, and odd jobs for family members. He wanted something, “really good,” that Kea would “appreciate,” in all her 24-week-old wisdom.
I realized the days of convincing him to make every little thing were waning, and the time for consumer education was now. Though it pained me to talk shopping, it is part of our society so better to face it head on than pretend making salt and flour decorations was going to get us through holiday gifting forever. I approached the subject with a time-tested strategy for convincing kids of just about anything: cartoon-like enthusiasm. I told him of this super fantastic place where there was a great selection of beautiful Christmas things—ornaments, homemade fudge, clothing, jewellery, tea and spices, household products, pottery, cheese, and wine for the adults. I think I had him at “fudge,” but I went on anyway, describing this treasure trove of affordable, quality items. And the best part was he would get to meet the people who make these items and ask them anything he wanted. How cool is that?
Rule #1 when teaching children to shop local:
Be positive, excited, and committed. Of course, I was describing our big local craft fair, but this principle applies to farmers’ markets, smaller craft fairs, community events like Seedy Sunday, and even garage sales. Rather than sit him down for a lecture on fiscal management and social responsibility, I made the whole thing seem like a fabulous outing with an interactive component he would appreciate like a school field trip. He was so excited!
Once we decided to go to the craft fair, it was time to plan our strategy. So we made a list. Besides his sister, he decided he wanted to buy a Christmas gift for me, his dad, his grandparents, and his best friend Jackson. We wrote out the names and some themes that would help him pick gifts—grandpa likes fishing, dad likes hockey, and Jackson loves to read. He also realized he had $50 total in the jar and wanted to spend $30 of it. Divided evenly he had about $5 to spend on each person.
Rule #2: Have a plan.
If you ask Maria Montessori, or any trained early childhood educator of this century, children like order. The predictability of routine and stability helps them feel “normal” in a chaotic world where luxuries like impulse control and self-regulation are still only developing. Keep it simple and to the point—make a list, budget the funds, and have the correct change ready. If your child gets $5 for each purchase, give him five $5 bills rather than dealing with change and risking overages which can send some children (like mine) off the deep end.
When we got to the craft fair, row after row of beautiful things and friendly, engaging vendor faces encouraged us to come closer, see, feel, and ask about the items. Kaeden was shy that first year, but in subsequent years he has made a point of asking for product samples or demonstrations, complimenting all vendors on their hard work, and asking questions about interesting items. We wandered the entire event, taking note of things we liked, and coming back to them once we had a bird’s eye view of what was available.
Rule #3: Show; don’t tell.
Our family rule at any event where buying things is involved, is that we tour the entire venue before committing to a purchase. As Kaeden and his sister have realized there is nothing worse than dumping your entire $5 budget on peas from the first vendor you see, just to realize there are $2 cookies for sale down the aisle. Making self-control a family rule, it is not a lecture agenda item, but something we as parents also demonstrate. It removes the sense of urgency and spontaneity from shopping and turns it into a deeper, more thoughtful and calculated process. (Not that we frown on spontaneity—we just save that for other areas of our lives!)
That first year, Kaeden bought his sister a beautiful snow-person ornament. He wrapped it in tissue paper and tucked it into his third drawer, as though she may spontaneously learn to walk on her baby legs and snoop his room in the dead of night. How exciting for him! And that trip was the foundation of an important habit that has become part of our lives—we shop local, we talk to the people we buy from, and we only buy what we need, after considering all the options.
These days, Kaeden has a paper route, and only makes withdrawals for three things: bike parts, farmers’ / craft markets, and gifts for others. Last year, he planned our dinner menu for the entire summer based on what was available at the markets (he’s a fabulous cook). He has an on-going list of things he’ll look for at the craft fair in November, and now he is teaching his sister – who gets $5 per week to learn how to manage money – to plan for Christmas, and who his favourite vendors are.
Rule #4: Make the rules your normal.
Sherlock Holmes said, “When you eliminate the impossible, what is left must be the truth,” and when you remove the option of irresponsibility, all that is left is the good stuff. So we head to the markets, and not to the big box stores. If we need something from a toy store, we go to the local, community-owned shop. As the kids have grown, the markets have also become places where they’ve tasted independence (doing their shopping alone, while we watch from afar); made social connections (we always stay for tea and music); and, learned life lessons (a vendor once let Kaeden take something home he didn’t have money for on the promise to pay the next week).
The kids have had positive (and negative) experiences talking with vendors, and that’s okay because the world is a dynamic place. We are a crafty, gardening family so they easily grasp the notion of buying from the people who make or grow the items. And, we’ve never had anything from a craft fair fall apart the first time we use it so the quality speaks for itself. These are not things I purposefully implanted into their consciousness—they are just what happens when you engage your community and let the rest flow freely.