A Plea For Summer Neighborhood Play

It can be a lonely summer for children in neighborhoods these days.

In our neighborhood, I see children at the pool but usually after 3 or 4.  Some parents are working all summer, and I totally understand.  But even with the parents who are not working, the children are often in summer camps that cost hundreds of dollars, probably a thousand dollars,  by the end of the summer.

It is sort of a vicious cycle.  Children who are staying home in the summer have no friends to play with; no one is outside; no one is at a neighborhood pool until later and then the parents probably feel as if they must put their child in something so the children will have something to do. And the cycle keeps going round and round.

Summer has somehow become this merry-go-round of more and trying to fit in more before school starts again.  If we, as parents,  don’t start reclaiming some of the slowness of our children’s childhoods,  I think upcoming generations will have an even faster and more hurried life.

What strikes me most is the loss of neighborhood play in mixed-age groups( without parents hovering).  In a neighborhood group, or even in groups of kids on the farm, children figure out the play, the rules, and how one wins.  One stomps off and gets mad and comes back – learning emotional regulation.  One is totally irritated with a commanding older child in the group, but there is a group to buffer this, and children learn how to get along with those who are different than themselves – without an adult telling them how to do it.

The children playing in the neighborhood get to develop decision-making skills. They get to develop their bodies as they bike all over, swim all day, and generally avoid going inside.  They get off of any screens and they get off their bottoms.

So, this summer, even if camps are on your list for your children, I am begging you to consider getting the children in your neighborhood outside.  If it takes a parent to get the ball rolling at this point because it seems kind of foreign, then so be it.  Invite everyone to bring a bike, a scooter, a water gun – and then back off.  Let the children play.  Maybe something wonderful will happen.



10 thoughts on “A Plea For Summer Neighborhood Play

  1. Thank you for this inspiring post, Carrie. It certainly does sound idyllic and it’s well-timed for us as we may be moving to a neighborhood with more children. My husband grew up with neighborhood friends and has very fond memories of their play and being outside all the time. I actually don’t have good memories of the neighborhood kids from when I was very young and we moved to the country when I was about nine and we had to cultivate friendships elsewhere. My question is, how do you handle neighborhood friendships with little ones (my oldest is 5) since they do still need some guidance and supervision I think at that age. I intend to homeschool or and incorporate some Waldorf methods, not to shelter my children, but to help give them a solid foundation and inner strength and light to share with the world. That said, in our old neighborhood kids ages three or four were watching PG-13 violent movies, for example, pretending to be Wolverine or whatever or talking about scary events from the news, playing video games with monsters etc and I know such things would really bother my sensitive son at his age. One may choose friends with similar mindsets from homeschool groups etc but in a neighborhood you have to learn to get along with people different from yourself. I know that is an important part of humanity but how to best approach it when the neighbor kids interests and behaviors are just SO very different from your own children’s and at young ages? Thanks 🙂

    • Yes, under 7s still need supervision. I would also think short playdates, less frequency, stating ground rules clearly and re-directing conversation, and starting with something structured with an adult leading and modeling and the children then participating and then moving into more free play. I am not going to lie, I have been there and it takes energy on us to hold the space. I think it can be valuable; sometimes it doesn’t work out. I have had children who couldn’t leave their tech world behind and had little exposure to other things; I have had older children somewhat afraid to play in a fenced yard with an adult right there. It can be hard work. If it is a terrific neighborhood, what I suggested to Robin above is to see if you can gain any traction for slow tech parenting with the handouts I mentioned above. Sometimes parents need reassurance that your home is a safe space or that playing outside is a safe space. Sigh……..lots to consider with no easy answers….Blessings, Carrie

  2. Thank you, this is, I’m sure, a very important message for many people! We are the at-home type so i really concur with your call to the neighborhood. There is hardly anyone around.

    Question you may wish to address- the need to respond to the visiting friends/kids who are not comfortable outside for so long because they haven’t had much practice! It actually does take a fair amount of gentle inputs from the present parent to keep the kids outside, and busy, and starting to gain the confidence and realize they are not welcome to just hang out inside all day 🙂 Do you “bribe” with popsicles? I just have to be more involved and soemtimes hand out a treat.

    Best, Kate in St. Louis

    On Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 7:46 PM, The Parenting Passageway wrote:

    > Carrie posted: “It can be a lonely summer for children in neighborhoods > these days. In our neighborhood, I see children at the pool but usually > after 3 or 4. Some parents are working all summer, and I totally > understand. But even with the parents who are not working, ” >

    • Hi Kate! Yup, if you need to get the ball started I usually bribe with outdoors play – mud kitchens, water, food and drink – and I set the rules clearly before. I used tell one little guy in my neighborhood, no we are only playing outside today. My backyard is fenced, it is safe, and no inside at all because it is a beautiful day outside and it is good for us to be outside! It was hard for him. He also wanted to check in frequently with an adult by coming in to wash his hands or use the bathroom, which was fine and lessened over time. I would be available in the kitchen where I could see into the backyard after I was comfortable with them playing, and came out here and there with drinks and food and things, but tried to give it some time to just be. Also had to give suggestions for play that didn’t revolve around technology, which sometimes worked and sometimes fell flat. I also would bring wooden blocks or wooden train tracks outside and try to keep a rotation of things to do for the shorter attention span of children who couldn’t sink into play. Hope those suggestions help! Blessings, Carrie

  3. Hi Carrie,
    I’ve been a long time reader & I love your posts. Thank you for sharing.

    This is the first post I’ve replayed to and probably because it really hit home for me.

    We live in Northern CA and up until last year lived 15 minutes north of SF and attended a Waldorf inspired school. Last year we moved about another 20 minutes north but still commute to the same school.

    However, we now live in this throw-back neighborhood that is 60’s style and just perfect for what you described.

    However…..here is what I’m up against. Lovely neighbors on both sides but families that watch media, are online w kids 24/7. I cannot imagine letting my children be exposed to Minecraft, Alexa, and etc etc just to acquire what you envisioned. This is why it’s so different raising our children in this fashion.

    I’d love your perspective. Thank you, Carrie.
    (Mother of two , ages 6 & 8)

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Hi Robin! I am so glad you are here….I think much of this depends upon your children’s temperaments and if they are satisfied as a family unit or if they really wish they had more friends or playmates and how much energy you have to give. I think there are advantages to the neighborhood mixed aged group, but it is a different environment as you described and would certainly have to be held by an adult in something structured to help curb the talk of video games and technology, which would take your energy. If you have a super open neighborhood, maybe you could host a viewing of Screenagers and talk about slow tech parenting? There are some great handouts on the Waldorf Inspirations page: http://www.waldorfinspirations.com/how-tos/waldorf-education-and-screen-time
      Usually what I do is establish ground rules about my home – no technology in my home, and I try to steer conversations away from tech and have some structured things to start off with. I find with structure or general physical activity such as swimming, tree fort building, mud kitchens , cooking- and starting with short time periods – sometimes even the most tech exposed children can settle into that. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, I have had that happen as well, but I personally have liked to give it a try in the past and see what happens, but that is just me. I feel sad that this whole generation is becoming more and more isolated in their own homes instead of connecting with community and real things in real life and real time to do. Blessings, Carrie

  4. YES!!! This is such an issue where we live. There are a ton of kids in the neighborhood, but we NEVER see them. My son literally rides his bike around looking for kids. They are no where to be found. My older kids are just now finding kids to hang out with-they are 13 and 15.

  5. Try to connect with grandparents in your neighborhood. If their grandchildren are visiting, there will be days when the grandparents and parents would LOVE a break from the kiddos! My child (now almost 8 years old) looks forward to these recurring, annual summer visits and has developed some great friendships this way. It has been our experience that kids (at least the younger set) are more likely to embrace outdoor, non-tech play when they are in a new environment, such as vacationing or visiting family. We then send drawings and little notes to these friends throughout the year. For those who live near a coastline, visit your harbor frequently and keep an eye out for live-aboard families. Those families are homeschoolers, too, and their children will be just as desperate as yours for someone to play with! My daughter spent nine hours !!! last week happily playing with a darling 11 year old boy passing through on his family’s sailboat. And a little girl my daughter’s age whom we met while in a nearby town, came a few weeks later by boat to our town, and the girls spent a magical three days playing hard. The good-byes are difficult, but there is much resiliency to be gained from them. Thanks for this post, Carrie! I agree, that the best bet is supervising the kids yourself (as hands-off as possible) at your own home/yard or at a neighborhood park. Good luck and happy summer days to everyone!

  6. P.S. And as for bribing and setting the ground rules…YES! and YES! The two go hand in hand. The rules are different at my house, and I’m serious about them, and that may seem strange at first to media kids, BUT there’s ALWAYS a popsicle, shaved ice, or ice cream AND the sprinkler or mud or feelie goop (ooblik), or all three and more!!! It’s a lot of work on the one hand, but on the other hand, I have an only child and she craves time with other kids, and I need a mental break from being one-on-one with her all day long. It’s work, but as the saying goes, “Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.” Cheers!

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