Go Play in the Street!

Hi Folks! This lovely photo and note come to us from Paul Beard, who describes himself as growing up a Free-Range Kid “before we knew what it was.” He now lives with his wife and two high school kids in Seattle, where he “involuntarily retired from Internet technology to become COO/GM of domestic affairs, now considering options post-graduation (theirs, not mine).” He tweets here, blogs here and here he is again, on Linked In! (Intriguing resume.) – L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: As a fan of the Free-Range ethos and a lover of old photographs or ephemera of the past, this Retronaut picture jumped out at me as an idea we need to revisit:
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There are two things I think Free-Ranging brings us:
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One, the sense of community — the idea that there is a big world outside our door and everyone has a role to play, a purpose. And it’s not to harm children. The big fear that a child will be hurt (or worse) if they’re out of sight of their parents is really the fear that something might happen and no one will be there to help. But if you watch children at play, they care about each other. If someone gets hurt, the game stops and everyone comes to help. I see it every day. But they can’t exercise that kind of compassion if they’re locked up in the house. We’re robbing them of the chance to express the kindness they have in them. If you’re afraid your child will be left hurt on the street, ask yourself: Would you do that if it were someone else’s child? Did you leave your friends behind if they were hurt?
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Two, we have to remember that WE own the streets and public places, not the creeps and bad guys, and we need to take those places back. We need more kids (and adults) on the sidewalks and streets of every city and town. We outnumber them. What are we afraid of? – Paul Beard
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Lenore here: My own neighborhood, Jackson Heights, Queens, has turned one through-street into a blocked-off “play street” and it is wonderful — a simple, cheap and apparently historic way to give kids a safe place to play.  Please let me know if you get one going in your neighborhood. 

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28 Responses to Go Play in the Street!

  1. daphne April 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    I wish we could get these signs. my neighbors and I have been trying to get help with the speeders in our area. The most I can get are some “watch the kids, watch the road” signs which must be on private property. If only we could take back the streets for children

  2. Papilio April 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    It sounds a bit like a “woonerf”, a quiet residential street, often a dead-end, with a speed limit of 15 km/h (9 miles/h). The function of these woonerven is to play/sit/hang out in, rather than to drive through.

  3. hineata April 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    We have the ‘square’ a couple of doors down from us, and two local schools in the ‘blocks’ immediately around us. The square is basically a spare open space, maybe 1/2 acre mowed by the council and with trees growing at its edges, that acts as a big traffic island, except there’s stuff-all traffic in an urban sense, so kids play there all the time, as they also do at the school.

    The issue is getting my teens to get out there now, unless they have umpteen friends around to play a game of soccer, or it’s dark and they can go and play spotlight. About eleven or twelve all the kids start moving on to different schools and playing with the neighbourhood lot becomes not so cool. Also those body issues start kicking in. As in, I’m too fat/too skinny (baaad for boys), yada, yada, don’t want to face such’n’such. Sad really….

  4. Katie April 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    It’a amazing though what children will naturally do on their own care for others, many helicopter parents try to take away from them. I saw on another blog a parent tell a story about how because a kid was picking up a soccer ball during a 3 year old game they told their kid to kick the kid in the hands. They were annoyed with their kid because their kid didn’t do it. Why kids at 3 need to play organized soccer baffles me, but even more baffling is a parent telling their kid to attack another kid? What gives me some hope for the world is the kid ignoring this horrible selfish monster of a parent.

    I was thinking today about how helicopter parenting is all about being selfish. Sure they will say they are selfless because they do so much for their kid, but that is because to them their kid is just an extention of themselves not their own separate person. The idea of community is dying. The idea of society is dying.

    Let me give you some examples:
    Disease that were almost wiped out are now coming back because some parents refuse to vaccinate their kids because some former porn star said she thinks it causes autism. This puts those to young to be vaccinated at risk and all for nothing.

    Helicopter parents buy giant gas guzzlers and drive their kids three blocks to school in them. This causes respiratory problems even deaths. Not to mention deaths because the attitude of those who do this is I don’t care if I kill someone else’s kid as long as it isn’t mine.

    Helicopter parents constantly focus on being the best. Well that’s a recipe for many kids to lose right there because only one is going to be the best. However instead if we concentrate on creating kids who are good people and who can do important basic tasks such as cook for themselves, have manors, know how to do chores, etc well most kids can learn that.

    If all parents only worried about their own kid and not the community like this 100 years ago I wonder where we would be now. My guess is probably either under the rule of Communist Russia or Nazi Germany. If everyone said no don’t put my precious child in danger by sending them to war where would we be?

  5. hineata April 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Boy did go out for a long bike ride with his mates yesterday, as well as into town to play basketball, and the youngest caught the train into town too to iceskate with a friend, so not sitting around all day or anything, as I am sure the rest of everyone heres’ teens do not either, but I must say I miss the gangs of neighbourhood kids that used to come and go from the house/other houses.

    Does anyone else have that/have a solution for it? I.e. the abandoning of the neighbourhood ‘gang’? Or is it just part of growing up?

  6. Linda April 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    We don’t have signs or blocked streets, but during good weather you do sometimes see kids playing games in the middle of our (relatively quiet) street. The cars stop, the kids move out of the way, the cars pas, and the kids return to their game. I hope this sort of thing is still going on when our 3-year-old is old enough to join in.

  7. Uly April 14, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Well, Katie, if “everybody” includes the Nazis, then I guess we’d be just fine.

    Not that children should be fighting wars in the first place. By the time they’re 18, they’re adults.

  8. Melissa April 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    We live at the end of a quiet court and the kids go out and play on the street all the time as we only have a tiny back yard. My kids love it as they get to ride their bikes and play with the local kids.

  9. Earth.W April 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    I cannot stand how bare the streets look today. It’s not just the lack of children but the lack of adults being friendly for most come home and stay inside, refusing to talk to any neighbours in real life.

    Not sure I would let my kids play on the street though because there are so many idiots screeching their cars through suburbia now thinking they’re stars and all people should smell their rubber.

  10. Michael Richardson April 14, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    @daphne, sure those signs are *supposed* to be on your property. But, all sorts of bad things happen; maybe some bad people keep stealing them from your front lawn and leaving them on the street. It seems to happen a lot on our street.

  11. Donna April 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    @hineata – I do think it is a natural part of growing up. I remember playing with neighborhood kids when I was young and then, as I got more mobility and interests, giving them up to hang with people I liked better or had more things in common with.

  12. Papilio April 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    @Katie: “If all parents only worried about their own kid and not the community like this 100 years ago I wonder where we would be now. My guess is probably either under the rule of Communist Russia or Nazi Germany. If everyone said no don’t put my precious child in danger by sending them to war where would we be?”

    Er… Did you forget a word or so, because I have trouble understanding what you’re trying to say here. You would have been under those rules when all parents just cared for their own offspring, or would that have been when they cared for the community?

  13. lollipoplover April 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    We are on a cult-de-sac and it is always filled with kids. I’m reading this as mine are eating water ice out in the streets, filthy with sidewalk chalk and dirt, and in need of baths. I need to call them in but am enjoying a few moments of peace before bedtime routines.

    We don’t have signs up but the hockey goals and basketball hoops usually give it away. The kids from the main streets in our neighborhood ride their bikes on our street because we don’t have many cars. Little kids are still cute to the the older ones who watch over them and parents get to know who will be good babysitters by how they interact with their kids (that’s how we found our sitter- kids requested her!)

    @hineata- we still have older kids driving here for hockey games. That’s not very often (usually just Fridays) and I’ve been seeing them more and more with girls in the shopping district. I think it’s part of growing up/hormones. Not looking forward to those days- I’ll take my filthy kids any day!

  14. hineata April 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    @Donna and Lollipoplover – okay, maybe it is just normal.

    Missed out on that growing up, as that’s part of the rural/tiny town dynamic – there aren’t really anyone else much but the neighbourhood kids to hang out with, LOL, because there just ain’t that many people! :-)

  15. Bob Davis April 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Sounds like a good topic for the Streetsblog community. One of their goals is to take back the streets from the overwhelming presence of motor vehicles.

  16. AW13 April 15, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    @Katie: As for the organized, 3 year old soccer, I can perhaps explain it a little bit. In our old neighborhood, my son was the youngest by quite a bit. The nearest child in age to him was 6 years older, and we had quite a few teenagers who were always nice to him, but clearly didn’t want to hang out and play with him. So we looked into putting him in some sort of sport so that he would have the chance to interact with kids his own age. In the absence of a neighborhood gang, I wasn’t sure what to do with a rambunctious 3 year old. I never got around to it, though, for two reasons. One, we moved to another neighborhood, and although he’s currently the youngest out running around, the age differences aren’t that great and there a couple of kids who are about a year or so younger, who (I assume) will be out to play more and more as time goes on. Two, I was talking to the dad of one of my son’s day care classmates, and he was telling me all about the sports I could put kiddo in. He then began telling me all about the different sports his kid played, and his stats. HIS STATS. THE KID WAS 3 YEARS OLD. It left a really bad taste in my mouth, so I kind of put off further investigation, because given kiddo’s age, his options were limited and I didn’t want him in a situation where he was there to have fun, and everyone else was there to treat this as a serious sporting endeavor. (And perhaps this is the type of person who would tell their kid to kick another kid in the hands.)

  17. Captain America April 15, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Our schedules, men and women’s, are so packed that everything is scheduled. . . to maximize our output.

    There’s no dawdling, no nosepicking, no laying on the grass and toying at dandelions.

    The unscheduled time allows us, and kids of course, a chance to imagine a bit, to come up with ideas of things to do, to work out these ideas and to make them happen.

    It’s a lousy world if everything we do is structured and we have to involve an external rule enforcer to make anything go.

  18. Captain America April 15, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    AW13: Perhaps what we few, we proud, Free Rangers need to do is to call up Child Protective Services when we run into traumatically overscheduled kids!

    “Officer, there’s a family on my block which hardly lets Johnny alone but busses him to sports constantly, all the time, every day, relentlessly.”

  19. Warren April 15, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Unfortunately this is a losing battle, and it has nothing to do with safety.

    More and more every year our national tradition of street hockey is coming under attack. By adults that call the police and have the games shut down, because they want to park on the street, or are upset that they are constantly delayed by 30 seconds everytime they take a certain road.

    By the letter of the law, in alot of places, playing in the street can be, what we call the Highway Traffice Act.
    Luckily on our street, when one yuppie couple called, we had a great cop come out. He saw that the players moved out of the way, for moving cars, with the expected joint yell “CAR”. He grabbed a stick and played with them for a few minutes, and then apparently told the complaining couple to stop calling the OPP for stupid reasons.
    We know this because some of us had to put up with the couple whining about the cop. I told them the simple solution to them not liking the street hockey………was to move into an adult only apartment.

  20. pentamom April 15, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    You can buy those “children at play” things from Amazon. Some friends of mine who live on a quiet street use them a lot. When I Googled for them I came up with a site complaining how dangerous they are because you can’t see them at night.

    Well, uh, yeah, obviously leaving them out at night is just STUPID.

  21. Dave April 15, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Yes! Yes! Yes! We own the streets. If good people are on the street, children and adults, the bad people leave. It’s the way it always worked. When good people stay inside the bad people hang outside. Take back the streets.

  22. Warren April 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    @Dave,

    I am with you. As high school students we did take our turf back. A small neighbourhood park, we basically bullied the one dealer, and his pals out of the park.

    People always say that you can’t do that anymore, and that’s a cop out. Numbers speak volumes. Drug dealers, hookers, bullies or whatever your area’s problem is, can be dealt with the same way. Draw attention to them, more and more and more. These types do not want attention, they want to stay below the radar. It will take time, effort and a little risk. But it can be done.

  23. Stephanie April 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    My across the street neighbors often have their kids playing in the street. I love it. Can’t talk my kids into joining in, as it’s usually baseball and my kids don’t like it, but at least someone’s enjoying it still. The street is somewhat sloped, and not great for a lot of games, so the kids often have to go a ways to retrieve the ball if it goes the wrong way, but they’re having fun and are great about moving for cars.

  24. Emily April 15, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    @Warren–I agree with you about the street hockey. Just yesterday, I saw a group of little boys playing Rollerblade hockey in someone’s driveway, and I thought that it was so cool that kids still do that, at least in some places. At the same time, I wished for their sake that they had a bigger space to actually skate around than the little driveway they were in, although they looked like they were having fun anyway. But, at the park near my house, there’s a tennis court–not the fancy rubber kind; just regular pavement. The nets aren’t up for the spring/summer season yet, because the ice just recently melted off of it, from its winter incarnation as part of a skating rink that covers a whole big section of the park. Anyway, during the spring and summer, I’ve seen that tennis court being used for tennis, but also for Rollerblading, for ball hockey (with or without Rollerblades), and the other day, I even saw some kids practicing lacrosse passes on there. So, street hockey is still a “thing” here, even kids don’t actually play it in the street. It’s still the same basic game, and this way, the gameplay doesn’t have to be interrupted in order to allow cars to pass.

  25. Emily April 15, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    I meant to say, street hockey is still a “thing” here, even IF kids don’t actually play it in the streets.

  26. Rachel April 16, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    Found this on youtube. It’s a facinating lecture about why we stopped letting kids play in the street because it’s “too dangerous.”
    CNU 20 – Why Did We Stop Walking & How Do We Start Again?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdYcx3n4Xq8

  27. JP April 16, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Playing outside is a calorie-burner. An exploration.
    An opportunity to know where you live – not just what you live in. A chance to participate in group dynamics in which you learn how to fit in without adult intervention. A chance for invention and imagination.
    Essentially it’s free. No admission fees required.

    Corporatized and privatised “danger” co-opts all of this (and reaps benefits.) And in so doing, steals life from kids. They can easily not know what they’re missing ( much like canaries in cages.) But what they do miss is invaluable. Difficult to input back in at older ages.

    Adult inconvenience precludes the universal war whoop: “Car!” (which always required enough wisdom to know how and why a lookout keeps a watchful eye.)
    Training and learning in the real world. It will never be as virtual as some come to crave. Reality’s bite will always trump bits and bytes any day.

    We need to take back far more than just streets, neighborhoods, community……we need to understand how and why we lost them, in the first place.

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