Here's how we made it happen.
- Parker Barry
“Biiinnndelllls! Time for dinner! Come home!”
I yell that out my front door almost every evening, and I admit, sometimes I think of putting on pearls and an apron just to complete the June Cleaver persona. I live on a street where kids roam pretty freely, and friends often tell me they wish they could let their kids out to play with their neighbors. But there’s nobody out there for them to play with.
That used to be the case here, too. Neighbors pulling directly into their garages and going straight inside. Kids playing indoors or in fenced-in backyards. When my oldest was a toddler, we’d sit in the front yard in the afternoons, watching kids get off the bus and people get home from work. Sometimes some middle school brothers would toss the baseball in the street or another kid would skateboard by. My daughter loved watching them on those rare occasions. I didn’t understand why there weren’t more kids roaming around, as I’d always imagined suburban neighborhoods would have.
Getting to know one another
I grew up in the country where houses were pretty far spread. Still, we’d roam the area with the neighbors on either side of us, rarely with a parent in sight. Then I read Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and came to understand how exaggerated reports from the media have made many parents scared to let their kids out of sight. I looked at myself and realized the bigger worry was that another parent might judge me as negligent. Skenazy’s book convinced me that my kids were in no more danger of being hurt playing independently than under my eagle eyes, and the benefits of letting them play outweighed my concerns of judgment.
Now, my 9-year-old and 5-year-old roam the street, playing with neighbors. I think I know my neighbors pretty well, especially with our street’s Facebook page. My kids, though — they know everyone and their dogs! A few moves helped us get where we are — as one mom joked — to the kids of reckless abandon.
We adults got to know one another. I created a Facebook page and invited my neighbors on each side and asked everyone else to do the same. Then we were able to let one another know when we’d be outside. At first, most of the moms went out, too, and we chatted. Eventually, someone would have something else to do — run one kid to piano lessons or finish up a work deadline — and leave the kids out with the other parents. At some point, most of us got comfortable enough that we trusted the kids on their own.
Now we’re a village
There’s a range of ages outside. I may not be comfortable with my 5-year-old outside with a bunch of other 5-year-olds. The kids look out for one another, though, reminding one another to look before crossing the street and shouting “CAR!” if one approaches as they’re riding bikes. The abandon crew often entertains the toddlers playing in front yards with their parents, so I trust that in a few years, those little ones will join the crew, too — their parents seeing this as the norm for our street.
From what I can tell, everyone benefits from the kids playing outside together.
We’re a village. Skinned knees and bumped heads happen. The kids know they can run to the closest house for a quick clean-up and bandage. We parents are connect by text and Facebook, too, alerting one another to those minor mishaps.
From what I can tell, everyone benefits from the kids playing outside together. We’re a tighter knit community. The kids are learning social-emotional skills through play. And I’d venture to say that our home values increase because potential buyers see kids outside having fun together and know that’s good for everyone.