Parenting used to be a much easier endeavor. Before the era of endless TV, parents just let their kids go outside and play. There was safety in numbers, and almost always plenty of kids outside to play with.
Not anymore. Now, if you send you child outside to play, chances are he/she won’t find anyone to play with. The neighborhood kids are mostly hidden away, on the couch, watching the tube (with a bit of video gaming thrown in).
Mike Lanza is doing his best to change all that (one neighborhood at a time).
Excerpts from a San Francisco Chronicle article, From landscape to playscape:
Lanza, the father of three boys, built the outdoor wonderland with a mission in mind. He wants children to rediscover the joys of playing freely outside, so he’s given all the kids in his neighborhood an open invitation to play in what he calls his “front yard family room.” And the play equipment in his backyard, which would make the White House’s youngest residents envious, also is accessible to all.
Like many parents, Lanza, 46, looks back fondly on his own childhood spent playing with friends in the neighborhood – tag, pick-up football, hide-and-seek – knocking on doors to swell the numbers, and all the while untethered from parents. The key difference between then and now, he says, was the freedom children enjoyed.
“Kids sought out things to do that were fun,” he says. “They didn’t always ask their parents’ permission, and they didn’t have the indoor distractions like video games or computers, nor all the organized activities parents orchestrate now. So they went outside and came up with things to do.”
Along with creating the physical elements of a communal play environment, Lanza has been working to solidify a kid culture in the neighborhood – spending time with parents and kids, hanging out on evenings in the front yard, and throwing spontaneous potlucks for people to get to know one another.
“Weather permitting, our two boys are practically always outside in the front or backyard if they’re home and if they’re not eating or sleeping,” he says. “And pretty much every evening our kids are playing with other kids, usually at our place, and sometimes at a neighbor’s house. It can be very free-flowing and spontaneous.”
And not surprising:
It probably goes without saying that the Lanza family doesn’t own a TV or any electronic games.
I hope the parents in Mr. Lanza’s neighborhood appreciate what he has done (I’m sure the kids do!).
In addition Mr. Lanza write a blog called Playborhood.com, in which he describes his efforts and provides tips, and info for anyone hoping to make their own neighborhood a more fun and inviting place.
Way to go Mr. Lanza!
And here are a couple of blogs inspired by Playborhood:
The Scientific American article: The Serious Need for Play
What about Parents who want what Mike Lanza wants for his kids, but who lack his resources?
One thing that may work for some is moving into an apartment complex, or townhouse complex that has a common area pool and lawn.
That’s the solution my dad (a single parent) came up with.
I grew up watching quite a bit of TV (not so much by today’s standards), but I also was able to spend quite a bit of time playing with other kids who lived nearby. Every time we moved, my dad made a point of moving us into such an apartment complex or townhouse complex. The pool and lawn area were magnets for kids and also (to a lesser extent) adults.
This made life easier for the parents, who didn’t have to arrange and then drive their kids to “play dates”. Instead, every summer, they pooled their money and hired a lifeguard. So every summer, us kids would swim, hang out at the pool, bike, play soccer, etc. Of course we also watched TV, but luckily during the summer there wasn’t much on.
Again, this may work for some. But even in such a place with the allure of a pool, a lot of kids will still stay inside. There are now so many channels and exciting shows, and video games, etc, that a pool and kids to play with might not be enough to lure them away from the flickering light of the plasma screen.