[Note: This is the second of two articles from my interview with Dr. Paul Donahue. The first is entitled Parent Peer Pressure.]
Every Friday afternoon in Dr. Paul Donahue’s neighborhood in Westchester County, New York, a half dozen or so families converge at one of those family’s houses for “Hang-Out Fridays.” This is no normal family gathering, though. From the moment they arrive, the children peel off and play on their own outside, while the parents sit and talk inside or in the yard. Dr. Donahue told me about these gatherings in a recent interview. Because there are around a dozen children there, and because they range in age from five to 13, Hang-Out Fridays have less pressure and structure than a typical one-on-one playdate between two children of identical ages. Think back to your dating days – wasn’t hanging out in a large group of friends less pressure than going out on a date?
Also, because of the presence of the older kids, the younger ones get to play more independently than they do on other days at their own homes.
Furthermore, this Friday habit has resulted in even more independent play on weekends, when the older children often get together more on their own.
At these Hang-Out Fridays, kids play fairly typical things like capture the flag, water gun fights, races, street hockey, basketball, bike riding, and different forms of imaginary play.
So how have Dr. Donahue, his wife, and their neighbors pulled this off? “The husband and wife have to be on the same page that free play is a priority,” said Dr. Donahue. “And these days, if you want to make something a priority, you need to schedule it. It seems ironic that we need to schedule downtime or playtime, but if we don’t, it gets taken away.”