Hang-Out Fridays

[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.”

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2 Responses to Hang-Out Fridays

  1. Perla Ni says:

    I think you make a really good observation that free play allows kids to play with other kids and let’s the adults have a break. It’s really weird to me how adults are expected to play with kids these days. Sure, sometimes playing with kids is fun. But I just saw a mom the other day at the playground who literally played on the playground the entire time with her 3 year old. She was going up the playstructure and then teaching her kid how to play in the sand and playing chase with her. The entire time – over an hour.

    No wonder parents feel so stressed – they feel like they have to entertain and be playmates for their kids.

    When I was little, adults expected kids to play with other kids. Adults were free to do, well adult stuff.

    I wonder if this is what contributes to so much stress of parenting – adults feel obligated to entertain their kids and teach them how to play.

  2. DSN says:

    I love the idea of Hang-Out Fridays and I also agree that adults continually playing with children robs children the chance of being creative; however, I think we should reserve judgement of watching a mom playing with her child at the park (although it may look exhausting to us). I have a nephew with a mild case of Asperger’s and my sister-in-law truly did have to teach him how to play in the sand, in the snow, on the play structure, etc. Hopefully the child you saw at the park wasn’t affected by this disorder, and hopefully the mom will have a look at this site or be informed by some other method that it’s not necessary to continually play with her child–that in fact, her child will benefit by learning to play on his/her own. It’s funny how to some people this is not obvious, but hopefully sites like this will help influence parents thoughts on children’s play.
    Thanks so much for the great site!