Neighborhood Play Grows Up

There’s been a fair amount of chat lately about neighborhood play, that is, unplanned, unstructured, just kids having fun without parental involvement kind of play. Much of this talk has bemoaned it’s disappearance.

Well, it hasn’t disappeared in my neighborhood. We’ve got a pack of boys in third, fourth, and fifth grades that are embracing neighborhood play with a vengeance (much to the dismay of the childless couple on the block, who used to quietly sip wine on their front porch, but have been driven away by the racket of skateboards slamming down makeshift ramps and the flying soccer balls that regularly land in their front yard). This means homework is regularly interrupted by a ringing doorbell and a group of little boy faces pressed against the glass (I rarely have the heart to keep my guy inside when his friends are outside, which means I’m nagging about piano practice and homework long into the night instead of having it all wrapped up before dinner.) It also means that I feel no remorse when I boot my kids outside because they’re driving me nuts.We’ve got a few natural circumstances going for us, kids roughly in the same age group and a quiet street (they aren’t supposed to play in the street, but it is reassuring that if a ball goes in the street their isn’t much traffic to worry about). We’ve also got front porches or stoops, which meant that when the kids

were younger, we could sort of supervise them with comfort. (We don’t supervise them any more). But mostly, we’ve got parents who are the sociable sort, so would rather sit in front of their houses watching the world go by than in privacy in the back, and think their kids should, too.

What I haven’t told the rest of the group, who only have younger kids, is that neighborhood play evolves as the kids get older, and the neighborhood gets bigger. And when you’re sitting on your porch drinking a glass of wine as your kid is out playing somewhere, well, you’ll appreciate that glass of wine.

Because for teens in Palo Alto, I discovered a few years ago, the neighborhood is the entire town. My teen and his friends, when they’re bored and antsy, will do “parcours”, a wild urban race game. The video that opens this post will give you just a little idea of what neighborhood play looks like when it grows up. (The kid with the cut up hands at the end is mine.) They’ll race their bikes into the dry lake bed at Stanford and build jumps in the center. If they round up a big enough group, they’ll play capture the flag or cops and robbers—downtown, on University Ave., in the bank plaza, in the parking garage. And it’s cute, sort of, and a little dangerous, or it wouldn’t be fun. And sometimes you’ll wish you hadn’t gone to watch them jump in the lake bed that one time, or they hadn’t let a friend video them, because now that you know exactly what they’re doing, it worries you more.

This article was first published at the Silicon Valley Mom’s Blog.

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