Creating a neighborhood fit for playPosted by MomOnMars on May 07, 2012
In my world, we struggle between wanting to encourage outdoor play and nurturing our children’s gifts in things that are not remotely related to being outside.
We never struggle, however, with the concept that free play is critical in our children’s development.
So when I was approached with reviewing* blogger Mike Lanza’s book, Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play, I was fascinated.
Let me just say, the heart of the matter is in the middle of the book. The generalities about the downfall of our society were a little too much for me…as was the assumption that many of the emotional and social problems, mental disorders and overall lack of intrinsic motivation and purpose are caused by the demise of neighborhood play.
But once you get past all the “barriers to entry” and the statistics, there’s some real charm and practical advice to nurturing a neighborhood that is kid-play friendly.
Lanza is an evangelist who wants to create a movement that takes us back to our carefree, delightful, play-filled childhoods. And is it any wonder? How many parents carry memories of hanging outside all summer long, building a fort, bike riding all over the neighborhood with a BFF and just knocking on neighbors doors to see if anybody could come out and play? It’s the stuff childhood is made of, and it’s something we – as a society – are losing. Neighborhoods are filled with people who have never met each other, whose kids are tucked away in summer camps and whose lives are a never-ending trail of sports, homework and organized activities.
While Lanza’s personal methods are a little overly zealous and child-centric for me, he has enough juice in his book to entice me to keep reading, especially when he digs into various Playborhoods around the country. And even though I’m never going to move into a co-housing project or even a new urbanist community, I did find some great ideas.
At the heart of the matter is what constitutes a Playborhood. It is, simply defined by Lanza, a place where there are lots of people your child knows and cares about, lots of things for him to do, and plenty of “eyes on the street” to watch out for his safety.
But how do you go about creating that environment? I found at least seven nuggets in the book:
- Put your kids out front where other kids can see them playing and join in.
- Celebrate events outside, hold parties and host street gatherings. There’s nothing quite as fun as a blocking off the street, pulling out the lawn chairs and some snacks and just hanging out.
- Stock your yard with great equipment like play structures, forts, seating, sandboxes, trampolines and water features. In our neighborhood (and my budget) , sticks and stones worked just fine when they were used by a group of kids in our neighborhood to build what they creatively dubbed “Fortsburg.” They spent several weeks building, organizing and playing in their little fort.
- Create public gathering spaces where you live: it might be a kids’ clubhouse, a book exchange station, or a comfy bench under a pergola.
- Create rituals throughout the year, like a gardening day, neighborhood clean up or holiday party.
- Set an example. If mom and dad are glued to a computer all day, then you can’t really expect the kids to do anything else.
For Lanza, it’s about making an intentional decision about where and how you live. He has some great tips on choosing a neighborhood that’s play friendly and then creating the right backdrop to encourage outdoor activity. Some are a little impractical for most families – like tearing down fences or organizing a neighborhood summer camp. And others are exceedingly easy, like holding a block party, cultivating a community garden together or sending the neighborhood kids on a geocaching adventure.
Interested in nurturing a neighborhood that entices unstructured outdoor play? Check out the book.
How do you encourage neighborhood play where you live?
* Compensation Level of 1.