Pavers – Pretty, but Bad for Kids

What can a kid do on a driveway like this?  Not a lot...

When we moved into our current house, I decided that my number one priority for every feature in my front and back yard would be its contribution to my kids’ play life. Thus, my number one target has become my driveway with pavers – those brick-like rectangular stones that form the surface of many “beautiful” driveways.

What’s wrong with a paver driveway, relative to smooth concrete or asphalt driveway? Well, I’ll list all the great things that kids do with driveways that pavers make difficult or impossible:

  • ride a skateboard
  • ride a scooter
  • rollerblade
  • draw with sidewalk chalk
  • bounce a bouncy ball
  • play four-square
  • play basketball

Grass also makes it difficult to do these things, but it offers other advantages for kids. It cushions falls, so it’s better than hard surfaces for running and rough-and-tumble games. It’s more comfortable for laying down in. It’s cooler to walk on on a hot summer day. It absorbs the carbon dioxide we exhale and provides us with oxygen to inhale.

Pavers? Nada. They provide no benefit to kids.

So why do we build so many driveways with pavers? We do this because as a society, when we build our outdoor environments, we largely ignore children’s needs. If kids happen to find something fun in their front or back yards, it’s often by accident – i.e. they’ve stumbled upon an unintended use for something.

For instance, my sons love the edge of the street next to the curb where puddles form in the rain, but it’s unlikely street engineers decided to design streets that way so kids could jump in puddles. In addition, our fences have a few choice spots that Marco, my 4-1/2 year-old, loves to climb on. Did the people who designed and put up our fences intend for kids to climb in those nooks and crannies? Doubtful.

Looking at every inch of our front and back yard from the point of view of kid utility has been a very eye-opening experience. Right now, we’re in the process of renovating our front and back yards – tearing out the useless stuff and adding useful stuff.

In future articles, I’ll describe what we’re adding. Here, though, I’ll list some useless things we’re taking away:

  • pavers on our driveway (adding smooth cement)
  • thorn bushes
  • sections of fence (adding gates to neighbors) – I wish I could remove them entirely
  • large areas of plants that are not walkable (e.g. grass), edible (fruits or veggies), or pretty (flowers)

I encourage you to think of every inch of your front and back yards as potential playspaces for your kids. Sure, kids can be resourceful, but they’re much more likely to find fun in a back yard and front yard designed for fun.

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8 Responses to Pavers – Pretty, but Bad for Kids

  1. lisaflynn says:

    But pavers allow water to drain through, keeping the amount of permeable surfaces higher. This keeps the amount of stormwater runoff lower, and reduces the amount of pollution that goes into our storm drains. Maybe your kids can’t play on them, but you’ll help create a healthier environment for your kids, and your grandkids and great grandkids.

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    Oh, OK, at least we have one advantage for pavers. I’ll take skateboarding + scootering + rollerblading + sidewalk chalk + bouncy balls + four square + basketball over a bit more permeable surface any time.

    I’m not proposing that we put cement over our entire yard – just our driveway. For kids, all those activities can make a pretty darn big difference in their life, and there’s no better place for all of them than their driveway.

  3. Anonymous says:

    These are great thouhts on considering children when making changes to your home. Children have tendencies like climbing a fence which can be assisted safely by, as mentioned, building the fence with pre-existing nooks for climbing. I immediately thought of the idea of having pure grass driveway as a great way to play football in 2-3 yard vs.1 We did this often for the neighborhood games on Saturday after the games we had all played against each other at little league that day.

  4. Joanna O says:

    I totally agree with you, Mike. We bought our newly remodeled home before children came into the picture. Our large, paved driveway in our front yard is *the *place to play. All of the neighborhood kids use it as a “turn around” at the end of the sidewalk on our block.

    Our backyard patio, which is a sea of pavers, is not as fun. However, it’s great for our daughter’s water table, play kitchen and bouncing balls to our dogs! And, we have fabulous long, wide steps to a small grassy area. The steps have become an outdoor theater stage. Bravo!

  5. sanfelice says:

    Well, pavers don’t have to be the bugaboo here. Kids often adapt to a given situation and will not play basketball on a paver driveway but will play with the spaces in between and make little worlds with their matchbox cars or with dolls. They’ll use the pavers as building footprints to come up with their own city.

    The thoughts you express are well-intentioned but perhaps a little naive or overly nostalgic to emulate what you (we) had as a kid. Example: I grew up with tall maples lining our two-family house neighborhood just outside of Boston. We used the roots of the trees as parking garages for our little cars and as “houses” for our make-believe world. In other words, we adapted.

  6. Mike Lanza says:

    Kids of today are far less resourceful or accepting of outdoor imperfections than they used to be because they have the Internet, video games, hundreds of TV channels, and tons of activities beckoning them. For instance, kids today are far less likely to play outside in inclement weather than I was.

    This idea of “architectural determinism” – i.e. that architectural features can strongly affect human behavior – seems a bit strange, but after visiting The Waters, a New Urbanist community, I’m a big believer.

  7. artparent says:

    why don’t you get rid of your driveway altogether? do you need it? we love the side of the street we can ride bikes on, which has no driveways, so no worry of cars coming up onto the sidewalk. or how about something environmental + child friendly – you could leave the pavers just in two lines where you drive, or if you really want cement, put that down, or let it be muddy or pebbled like an old country road, and put down a plant like creeping thyme in between. that way, there’s really only two pathways to interrupt play, and you can keep lots of space for other kinds of play. don’t they have sidewalks to draw on?

  8. Mike Lanza says:

    artparent – Our city, Menlo Park, CA, prohibits us from getting rid of our driveway. In addition, street parking is prohibited overnight here, so we’re forced to use our driveway for cars. This is a shame – we’d rather have grass where our driveway is. Re mud or pebbles, well, I (and my kids) like cement more.