Dear Free-Range Kids: Our school started what we hope becomes a new tradition—a Fall Family Picnic on the school grounds one of the first evenings of school.
The idea is to have a low-key, casual picnic where families can meet, mingle, and re-connect after the summer break. We kept it super-simple: prep was limited to spreading the word about the picnic, putting up signs on the school yard for each grade so families could more easily meet others at their kids’ grade levels and having a pizza company come in to sell slices (and as a PTO fundraiser). Other than some ice-breaker games for Kindergarten kids, we had no planned activities: no bouncy houses, no rock wall, no clowns or face-painting or relay games. As PTO President, I was basically in charge of the event and wanted to keep it simple. I had a moment of panic about half an hour before picnic started: WHAT WERE WE THINKING?? What if we have 100 (or more) kids show up and they’re totally bored because we have nothing to entertain them with!? Will I have a bunch of angry parents shocked that I hadn’t planned activities? While there is a big play structure at the school, I hadn’t even requested to use the school’s playground balls and equipment. I threw some of our own kick balls, hula hoops and sidewalk chalk into the minivan, said a prayer and headed to the school.
And the result? Kids, everywhere, playing and having a blast. On their own. At least I assume they were having a blast—I was too busy mingling and chatting with other parents to pay much attention to my kids, other than to offer another slice of pizza when they came back to our blanket for a water break or to say hi. But if the shrieks of laughter and good-natured playing yelling were any indication, all the kids had fun. It’s amazing, isn’t it, what happens when we just let kids play? — Mitzi