Neighborhood Friends: Bringing Street Play Back for Your Kids

Growing up our neighborhood was a veritable melting pot made up mostly of families with young children and elderly folks. It was truly the proverbial village raising the children.

Unlike now, everyone was in everybody else’s business. That might sound straight up intrusive, but for the most part, it worked quite well. Neighbors to stop by for coffee and chit chat. Even neighbors who weren’t necessarily friends were at the very least friendly. We knew one another by name and watched out for each other, including the neighborhood kids.

Neighbors looked out for us but also called us out if we misbehaved. And our parents were okay with that… appreciative even. It was like having dozens of aunts and uncles around. Someone was always watching. Someone was always there for us. And they did more than protect us from potential danger; they taught us as well.

A lovely widow lived in the grey house to the left of ours was from England and I adored her “fancy” way of talking. She would often invite my mother and me to tea; her home was like a museum in my mind, filled with rich woods and intricate clocks and fine china. When she was gardening, she would call me over to help, teaching me the names of her various plants and flowers. The papery Chinese lanterns were my favorite.

A slightly older family who were first generation Albanian Americans lived in the green house to our right. Along with their teenage daughter (and my parents, of course), they helped me become a fluent reader by the age of four. When I showed up at their door with a book, they would drop everything, plop me onto the sofa, and sit down to read with me.

The mother taught me to sew by hand. The grandmother would serve cookies and milk on her front porch and let us tell her all about our day. A set of “spinster” sisters regaled us with tales of their days as missionary teachers in far-off lands; and an Italian grandfather refereed our streetball games from his front porch.

There was always at least one stay-at-home mom or grandma around to dole out Band-Aids, Kool-Aid, or any other type of aid we might need. Dads and grandpas were quick to scoop up a child with a sprained ankle or call out a bully picking on a smaller kid. We didn’t worry much about stranger danger, either. Caring grownup eyes were constantly upon us.

Our neighbors taught us so much, from gardening and sewing and reading to being a good listener and helping someone smaller or weaker than you. But that village is gone now….or at least, very hard to find.

The good news is, there are ways to bring back the beauty of a neighborhood and all its benefits.

Bringing the Village Back to Your Neighborhood

If you’re longing for the days when kids used to roam freely outside, playing with neighbors and riding their are not alone. While the media continues its best to scare parents out of letting their kids out their sight, movements like Free Range Kids and slow parenting continue to gain traction. More and more parents are speaking out for the benefits free and independent play, and looking for ways to encourage their kids to take it outside.

If you’re wondering how to transform your own neighborhood into a tighter knit community, here are some ideas to inspire you:

Get Social Through Social Media. Create a Facebook page for your neighborhood or your street. Invite your neighbors from each side, and ask everyone to do the same. Walk door to door if you have to. Once you have that set up, you can organize meetups where kids can play and adults can get to know each other. Over time, as you get comfortable with your neighbors, you can simply just post when you’ll be outside so that other parents know there will be a supervising adult available. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’ll all feel comfortable trusting your kids to take care of each other, with adult supervision mostly limited to glimpses stolen at the window.

Create a Space to Play. Take a page from Mike Lanza’s playbook: Playborhood. If you live in a neighborhood with parents who are in the same boat, you probably have a bunch of kids on your hands who want to get out and play but feel like there’s no one to play with...and no place to go. Rather than pull out the calendar to set up a bunch of one-off playdates, you can just give the neighborhood a place to play. The Lanzas did just that by outfitting their front yard with plenty of play structures and fun activities for kids. They made sure to spend lots of time in their front yard, picnicking and letting their neighbors get to know them. Mike even led a small summer camp in his front yard to get the kids accustomed to playing there. Then, they simply invited everyone to come over to play – whenever they want, even if the Lanzas aren’t there.

Campaign and Block It Off. Another option is to follow Alice Ferguson’s lead from Playing Out. She managed to gather a group of like-minded parents together and get permission from the city to block off their street for a couple of hours at a time, once a week. Neighborhood kids come out to play while the grown-ups get to know each other. Each child brings bikes, jump ropes, and other toys and simply run around and play.

Enlist the School and Get a Project Going. Spending time with the neighbors is more than just play. There’s a wealth of knowledge, loads of history, and some pretty interesting stories that are buried in each neighborhood. Ask your local school to incorporate a “Know Your Neighbor” project into the curriculum. Children can knock on doors and interview some of the people in their neighborhood and uncover their stories. You’ll be surprised what you unearth.

Whatever method you choose, it is possible to bring that village feel back into your neighborhood. Your kids will benefit from the amount of trust you give them. They’ll build social and emotional skills. They’ll get to know their neighbors. And they’ll make some pretty unforgettable memories.

It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

What was your neighborhood like growing up? Share your stories with us!

Tags : confessions   play   

No Comments.