On the afternoon of Sunday, February 24, 2008, I saw something I’ve never seen in Palo Alto: a large group (6) of boys, ages around 8-11, playing alone, with no adults around, among the trees of Bol Park in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto. They were playing some sort of tag-like game for at least a half an hour. What’s more, it was drizzling outside at the time, so it wasn’t the best weather for playing outside.
Yes, I know things like this happened all the time decades ago (to people like me at least), but it’s simply the best display of free play I’ve seen here in recent memory in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. Here’s what’s unique and heartwarming:Yes, I know things like this happened all the time decades ago (to people like me at least), but it’s simply the best display of free play I’ve seen here in recent memory in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. Here’s what’s unique and heartwarming:
- No adults: Because there were no adults around, the kids organized their own group and their own game.
- Boys: Experts agree that boys, across cultures and throughout history, have played more in large groups and more outdoors than girls. (See p.38 of the entry for “Socialization of Boys and Girls in Natural Contexts” in the Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender.) So, when we read that boys are doing badly these days relative to girls, one reason this is true is the decline of outdoor play. Even when outdoor play happens, it tends to happen more in smaller groups because larger groups are not possible.
- Among the Trees: I agree with many others that play in nature is fundamental to a good childhood. Besides, kids tend to be more free from parents’ gaze when they’re running among the trees in a park (as opposed to in the back yard).
- In the Rain: These boys were having so much fun, they were playing in spite of some fairly undesirable weather. They were caught up in the moment, perhaps having a “flow” experience. This is what childhood should be all about. Kids who are really having fun don’t worry about bad weather.
This little experience confirmed to me that Bol Park is one of the best places for kids to play in the entire Palo Alto / Menlo Park area, and that the neighborhood around it is a great place for kids to live.