Are kids today different than they were decades ago, in Beaver Cleaver’s day? Do they not play outside on their own because they’d prefer to sit in front of a screen inside or participate in some adult-managed activity outside?
From my experience in our Playborhood, I’d say, “Absolutely, positively not.”
Kids want to play here with our kids. Bad. They ask their parents to take them here, or if they live close by, they just come over. Most days, you can find lots of kids playing vigorously, without adults watching over them every minute.
Believe me, no one’s forcing them. You’re not going to hear them complaining that they’d rather be somewhere else doing something else. Instead they laugh and yell and run until some grownup tells them they have to stop. That’s when the complaining starts.
This past Sunday was a particularly good day for kids in our yard and neighborhood. In total, about 12 kids played at different times. In the morning, they were in our backyard jumping on our in-ground trampoline, swinging on swings, climbing on our playhouse, and chasing each other. In the afternoon, a pack of kids began in the street with a stomp rocket, and then they hiked down to our creek to wade in the water and collect rocks.
What’s different between here and most neighborhoods, where kids rarely, if ever, play outside? Fundamentally, they have fabulous places to play in our front yard, back yard, and creek. For instance, pretty much any kid who enters our back yard and sees our in-ground trampoline immediately gets energized and starts jumping.
However, play facilities are only part of the story. Also, we have lots of kids living around here, including my three boys. That means there are lots of kids who can potentially go outside and play at any given time.
Our super calm street enables kids (and their parents) to relax while they’re here. When they’re in our front yard or street, they can get absorbed in their play without worrying too much about cars.
Finally, this might seem like a circular argument, but kids want to play here because there are often kids playing here. It’s the same sort of reasoning that explains why pedestrians shopping for a restaurant choose the crowded one rather than the empty one. Child’s play is infectious. On Sunday morning, for instance, two boys who lived on the other side of the fence from us climbed over to join the other kids playing. They were drawn by the shrieks of play.
If you’re like most people, your neighborhood is far less lively than mine for kids. What I want to convey to you here is that it is possible to create a Playborhood – i.e. a neighborhood where kids play freely every day – for your kids. Your kids aren’t doomed to sit in front of screens or get chauffeured around from activity to activity.
You can make it happen for your kids. This blog is full of stories of people who made it happen, myself included. So what are you waiting for?