Leaving Your Kids at the Park: A Good Idea for the 1%

Here's an impromptu street hockey game my oldest son and some neighborhood friends organized in the parking lane in front of our street. This is far more likely to happen here than at a faraway park.

Here’s an impromptu street hockey game my oldest son and some neighborhood friends organized in the parking lane in front of our street. This is far more likely to happen here than at a faraway park.

Do your young kids live within one block of a park? My guess is that somewhere around 99% of kids don’t. The best data on this comes from the Centers for Disease Control, which claims that 80% of kids don’t live within a half mile of a park.

The problem is, kids hardly roam anymore. Again, I don’t have precise data, but my anecdotal research indicates that the vast majority of kids in preschool aren’t allowed to roam on their own outside their yards, and the vast majority of elementary school kids aren’t allowed to roam more than one block.

Think about it. If you’re reading this article, you’re likely to be more open to your children roaming than the average parent, but do you let your children roam all the way to the nearest park?

Even if you do, how likely is it that your children will find other kids there that they’re familiar with and want to play with?

Let’s face it, the vast majority of parks in America, outside of a few in highly urban, safe neighborhoods, are “play deserts” for unsupervised play. They have a few groupings of adult + kid pairings. There’s no shrieking, no laughter, no kids playing on their own. Each kid plays on his or her own under the nose of his or her caregiver, who catches a glimpse of a smart phone every 15 seconds or so. Yawn…

Why can’t we 99 percenters “be the change” by leaving our kids at the park, as a recent Slate article suggests we do this Saturday? To put it simply, the chances that doing this will get our kids to go to the park alone to play in the future are very low. That’s because the park, if it’s more than a block away, is unlikely to have kids that our children are familiar with and will want to play with.

So, while I wholeheartedly commend that article for attempting to rally parents like us who want our kids to play unsupervised outside, I don’t see it as a positive step toward solving the play deficit problem.

The solution lies right outside our front doors, wherever we live. If you happen to be part of the 1% who lives within a block of a park, by all means, try to join with neighbors to make it a kid hangout. However, for the 99% of us who don’t, we’ll have to make do with whatever physical facilities we have within our blocks.

Some of us have nothing but sidewalks and streets, and some of us have more – front yards, or even a vacant lot. The main point I want to make here is that, in order to create true independence, proximity is tantamount in this day and age. A small patch of grass in your front yard is far more likely to be the springboard to independent play for your child than a park a half mile away. Of course, it would help a great deal if you took the time to make that patch of grass as attractive as possible to your kids and neighbor kids. That’s what this blog and the book Playborhood are all about.

If your kids have a great time playing with other kids right outside their front door, they’re likely to do it again. That’s where you should focus your attention. The answer lies right outside your front door, not blocks or miles away at a park.

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