Turn your neighborhood into a place for play!
“When I was young my friends and I played all over our neighborhood. It was our world, and it gave us the security to go out later and explore the wider world around us. Life is different now. You can drive through the safest neighborhoods and they look like ghost towns. Not a single child is outside playing. I am so grateful to Mike Lanza for reminding us that play begins at home and in our neighborhoods. It takes so little to make it happen there – just awareness, passion, and commitment. This book helps to feed all of those.” — from a review of Playborhood by Mike Lanza
Many times, I’ve walked my neighborhood with my kids and though I see lots of playscapes in backyards, I never see kids playing outside. EVER. I occasionally see some kids get off the bus after school, but once they go inside, they are GONE. Are there really so few kids living near us? Or are they all holed up inside, tied to their electronic devices? My boys and I would linger in the cul-de-sacs on all the nearby streets, playing and making a lot of noise, hoping some kids would wander out. Nope, never happened.
While reading one of my favorite sites, Free-Range Kids, a few months ago, I stumbled upon Mike Lanza’s Playborhood(Free-Range Kids will be a blog topic for another day). I was immediately intrigued, so I checked out his site and bought his book of the same name. It’s no exaggeration that reading that book has changed my world. I finally understand that the childhood and the community that I want for my boys is not going to happen on its own; I am going to have to force it, at least initially. As Lanza says in his book, it’s all well and good to get your own kids to play outside, but when they get out there and there are no other kids around to play with, they will hightail it back inside for the guaranteed entertainment of computers, TV and video games. Can you blame them? It’s boring out there!
There’s a whole chapter in Playborhood about how to choose the right neighborhood to live in. Even though my mister and I knew we were expecting our first baby when we bought our house, we weren’t thinking clearly about what a kid-friendly neighborhood would look like. We had lots of opinions about the INSIDE of our house, but aside from wanting a backyard big enough to fence in for our dogs, we put very little focus on the OUTSIDE of our house and the immediate surrounding area. Sidewalks? No. Lots of kids playing outside? Nuh uh. Within walking distance of our school and stores? Nope and nope.
So I started doing a little research into my own neighborhood. I went to Google Maps and printed out my street and the adjoining ones. Then I outlined the properties on each street to figure out how many houses are around here; I came up with 123! There just HAVE to be some kids in 123 houses!!! The coolest things I found when doing the mapping exercise? All but one of the streets ends in a cul-de-sac, which seems like a perfect area for kids to play. Even better, there is town-owned open space on every single one of the seven streets, and all of these open spaces connect to each other. That means that once my boys are older, they could run free through the neighborhood without ever having to cross the main traffic street. This is huge! Lanza also stressed that an ideal neighborhood should have a space that kids can make their own; his own Playborhood has a small creek bed running behind it. Guess what? MINE DOES, TOO! In the middle of all that open space is a creek and a veritable wilderness! No wonder we’ve seen bears, deer, and other wildlife.
My mission had begun. I decided to throw a Playborhood Party. I printed up an invite explaining my mission (Well, I borrowed Lanza’s Manifesto, actually. Thanks, Mike!) and asking people to come by for free play and free snacks. I figure that the first time or two may have to be heavily scheduled and organized, but if I can get people to buy into the Playborhood concept, hopefully the neighborhood play will become more spontaneous and organic. A few weekends ago, Big and I went door to door in our neighborhood, delivering our invites to all those 123 houses. Whew! We talked to some neighbors in person but left invites on many more doors.
The party is this Saturday. Our front lawn and the open field across the street are going to look like a carnival. How can the neighbors resist, right?? Stay tuned. Hopefully I’ll have a wildly successful Playborhood Party to talk about next week!