Display Your Play

Why aren't these folks gathering in each others' living rooms for 'protest dates?'  They know that you have to be out in public to persuade others.  photo credit:  chicagoweekly.net

Why do union members picket the businesses they are striking against? Why do political protesters gather and march together? Why do I make sure my kids and I play in the front of our house rather than in the back?

We all do these things at least in part because we’re trying to make an impression on passers by, and ultimately persuade them to join us. Unions and protesters have learned over the years that this strategy works. The more often they put bodies out in public, and the more bodies they have out there, the more outsiders they can convert to their cause.

And so it is with play and neighborhoods, I’ve found. If you don’t care if your kids have more play opportunities with other kids, let them play inside your house and in your back yard. However, if you want to generate more play activity for your kids, you need your kids to be out front at every opportunity.Starting last summer, when my family moved into our Menlo Park (CA) home, my two boys (4-1/2 and 1-1/2) and I played a lot outside after dinner until we switched to Standard Time in November. During that period, we were usually the only people playing outside on our block.

Now that Daylight Savings Time is back, we’re playing in our front yard or on the street almost every night, and more and more kids and parents are making a habit of coming out to join us. In fact, it’s been weeks since my boys and I were the only people out playing.

There’s absolutely no planning involved. In other words, this is no “playdate” culture. We just walk out our front door after we’re done eating dinner, and other families do the same. In fact, every kid in our block has gotten in the habit of walking out (or persuading their parents to bring them out) at least a few evenings a week to see what’s happening.

What’s more, we’re starting to attract outsiders. One 3-year-old girl from two blocks away visits with her mom or babysitter a couple evenings a week. Most significantly, a couple pregnant with their first child just moved into a rental house on our block, and one of the reasons they chose it was because they saw my sons and I playing street hockey during their tour of the house.

Our block still can do better. Kids are sometimes dependent on us parents to initiate their play, but they are very young, and they are getting more independent week after week.

In addition, our play culture has yet to impact many people outside our immediate block. I know of a lot of kids within a block or two that I never see, and many other kids and adults pass by on evening strolls without ever stopping to talk or engage with us. I’m hopeful that our Front Yard Family Room, which will be largely completed in a few weeks, will become a destination that adults and children from many blocks around will gravitate toward.

Still, our public displays of play have taken the first step in creating a culture of spontaneous play and socializing every evening after dinner. It’s a nice life. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter.

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