My Goal

I want my kids to play outside with other neighborhood kids every day.
I want them to create their own games and rules.
I want them to play big, complex games with large groups of kids, and simpler games one-on-one with a best friend.
I want them to decide for themselves what to play, where, and with whom.
I want them to settle their own disputes with their friends.
I want them to create their own private clubs with secret rules.
I want them to make lasting physical artifacts that show the world that this is their place.
I want them to laugh and run and think.
Every day.

That’s what I had. It’s my standard for a good childhood. It’s my goal for my kids.

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12 Responses to My Goal

  1. lr_khaimovich says:

    I like it. Though… not sure that “show the world” is important. Mike, do you know why do you want all that? BTW, you can see what I want in my profile.

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    lr_khaimovich – Kids have developing egos. They deeply care about what other kids think of them because they aren’t totally comfortable with or settled on who they are. I believe they must pass through a period of demonstrativeness in order to “find themselves” and get comfortable in their own skin, at which point they have no need to be demonstrative.

    So, it’s important for my kids, at the developmental stage they’re in, to *show* the world their distinctiveness and pride of neighborhood.

  3. cashel says:

    Childhood Manifesto! I like.

  4. jjwsk says:

    Love the goal, but what if you bought a house in a inner ring suburban neighborhood with lots of parks, trees, walking paths, only to find out that every neighbor is an empty nester. The kids 2 blocks away do their own thing, oblivious to the extra 3 they could get down the block.

  5. lr_khaimovich says:

    jjwsk, as usually, there are many possibilities. For example:
    – sell the house and buy elsewhere after doing research as Mike suggests in his 4 posts with a title “Guerilla Playborhood Hunting Techniques”;
    – help other families with children to move in into the houses nearby;
    – finally, 3 children is a pretty good crew, but why stop at that if you feel that more of them are needed ;-).

  6. lr_khaimovich says:

    Mike, I can see that you were happy with your childhood and want the same for your children. But they say “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” (though it was more than 45 years ago!) and what was good, enjoyable, and possible for you may not be so for your children. So, let me ask once again, why this kind of unsupervised play is so important for you? It is for me too, and I alway enjoy hearing confirmation to my opinions 😉

    Also, your line “private clubs with secret rules” caught my attention on the second reading. I would prefer that my children just have enough space outside the adult’s society, so they don’t need to worry and be secretive about what they do. Actually, I would like them to do what they think is right and confront me with their opinions if they are different from mine. The only place where I don’t mind “secretiveness” is in a basic rule of not telling on other children under most of situations.

  7. Mike Lanza says:

    lr_khaimovich – Re “unsupervised play,” I strongly believe that children need some measure of independence in order to develop into mature, responsible adults. Besides, doing things without parents breathing down their necks is usually a lot of fun for kids. Take the example of pickup softball games versus organized Little League. The former was wayyyy more fun for me, at least.

    Regarding “private clubs with secret rules,” I think that kids have a natural tendency to seek out private spaces (real or virtual) and to keep secrets from their parents. I’m hoping that they’ll find refuge in some real space close to my house, and let their imaginations really run wild creating complex social structure, rules, etc. I just assume they’ll want to keep the latter from us parents because that’s what kids do, not because I think I won’t have an open relationship with them.

  8. mfischer says:

    Hi Mike – I love that this post is both simple and thought-provoking and have shared it with folks in RI, including our PlayWatch listserv. We’ve had an active conversation in response – I thought you might like to check it out in the archives:

  9. Mike Lanza says:

    mfischer – Thanks for pointing this discussion out to me. I wish that you folks had done it on so that we could all have the conversation in one place, but I’m at least glad to see the dialog.

    I want to address three critiques of my list of goals: 1) that being in a warm weather climate confers a special advantage on me and my kids, 2) that being somewhat affluent affords my kids opportunities for play that other kids don’t have, and 3) my demands are highly specific, and therefore don’t seem like “free play” for kids.

    1) Yes, Northern California has amazing weather. However, it will surprise no one to learn that I played outside more with my friends in suburban Pittsburgh in the middle of winter in the late 60s-early 70s than 98% of kids around here do in the middle of the summer. Thus, while weather can affect kids’ outdoor activity, the much stronger force is childhood culture.

    2) After studying this quite a bit, it’s become clear to me that outdoor play does *not* increase as income increases. What I’ve seen is a non-linear relationship – an inverted “u” – between income and outdoor play. Thus, lower-middle or middle class kids have the best play lives. Poor kids are hampered by extreme safety concerns and urban decay, and rich kids are hampered by hyperparenting. To prove that poor kids can have wonderful play lives, offer a video I made of my dad’s childhood in the slums of Pittsburgh in the 1930s and 40s. Also, for those who are tired of nostalgia, check out this New York Times story about an *amazing* neighborhood play activist in the South Bronx. I’m about to post an article about her soon.

    3) Yes, my goals are fairly specific, but I’m merely referencing two things: a) my childhood, which serves as a reference point, and b) what I know about child development (e.g. kids crave private spaces, and will seek them out in the real world or in the virtual world (e.g. Facebook)).

  10. carol says:

    i think that most of your “play ” inducers are prefabcricated items that cost lots of $$ – your outdoor living room, your in ground trampoline, your play structure. more than the average parent could afford

    i challenge you to create a playborhood with out that stuff – true neighborhood play without the purchased props

  11. Perla_Ni_FB says:


    Some of the items are expensive, but no more expensive than what parents already spend on children’s development & play.

    Here are what some alternatives are to a neighborhood with no kid play:

    Per Year:

    Summer camp – $4,000/kid
    Afterschool programs – $6000/yr
    Weekend programs – $1000/yr
    Driving to and from the above – $300/yr

    If you add up what parents pay to keep their kids occupied outside of their neighborhoods, it’s a good chunk of money that could be better invested in play facilities for all kids in the neighborhood.

  12. Shuba_Subramaniam_FB says:

    My sentiments exactly!