Have you heard that this Saturday is Take Our Children to the Park. . . And Leave Them There Day? Lenore Skenazy, of Free Range Kids fame, came up with this idea. She explains:
If our goal is to get kids back outside (it is), and playing together (it is), and for parents to relax (it is), and to start creating community again (it sure is!!!), then “Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day” is a great first step.
Across the country — what the heck, across the world — parents will converge upon local playgrounds and parks with their school-age kids. They will tell them to have fun, make friends and don’t leave with anyone. Then the parents will wave goodbye and the kids will amuse themselves for whatever amount of time they’ve decided with their folks. An hour. A morning. Or maybe even just half an hour, to get used to the whole thing, which, admittedly, sounds radical. But is it?
The crime rate in America is back to where it was in the early ’70s. Crime was going up then, and it peaked around 20 years later. By the mid ’90s it was coming down and continues to do so. So the strange fact — very hard to digest — is that if YOU were playing outside in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids today are safer than you were! I know it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, here’s an interesting poll about how the majority of people feel crime is going up when actually its going down. But anyway, the point is:
Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I’m always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in “free play,” without adults hovering.
I know there will be shrill voices insisting, “Predators are gonna love this holiday!” but keep a level head. Crime is down. Awareness is up. There is safety in numbers, which means getting kids outside again, together. This won’t happen until we actually start DOING IT.
So far, my kids don’t walk to the playground on their own. They do play outside without me, and they’re allowed to walk to neighbors’ houses if they tell me first. A week or two ago I actually wandered around the neighborhood looking for kids, because it was an unbelievably beautiful day and there was hardly anyone outside. It drives me crazy. We do have a few neighbors that will come out and play, but I aspire to have the girls form part of a neighborhood gang. Really, my vision is the crowd in Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books–especially The Bully, where the kids transform a shed and the mothers take turns baking brownies. Except, you know, in my fantasy the dads would bake, too, and/or the kids would get take-out dumplings or samosas sometimes. Right now we’ll sometimes have a lone little girl come over to play, and eventually my kids want to go inside or even just play with each other, and then I have a sad little girl standing forlornly in the driveway. If there were a whole crowd, then kids could come and go with perhaps a little less drama. . . or maybe that’s wishful thinking?
In any case, I do love the idea of building a little a better neighborhood community. Last year we hosted a little BBQ potluck with the neighbors, and I know that there are at least five other going-to-be-kindergarteners on our block, but there’s only one of them that I actually see outside regularly. Of course, some of this is because the parents have to work, so the kids are tucked away in daycare for the day–maybe we’ll see more of them as it stays lighter later. I’ve heard of one neighborhood where they take turns hosting happy hour once a week over the summer–now that sounds like an excellent idea.
So, I think that I’d probably try to screw up my courage and send the girls to the playground for an hour or so this Saturday–M already walks to school, and J’s a little young, but with M I think she’d be okay. But our dance card is full: we’ve got Niska-Day on Saturday. Plus we’re hosting two friends for a first-ever (babysitting) sleepover, and we’re going to try to make it to a neighborhood party that we always miss because we’re just too freakin’ exhausted from all the parade marchin’ and general frolicking.
How about you? Do you send your kids to their local park? Or, would you?