“I Won’t Supervise Your Kids” — My New Class, Starting Weds. in Central Park

Hi Folks! After years of trying to figure out how to get kids back outside, playing together — an effort that led to “Take Our Children to the Park …And Leave Them There Day,” not to mention many a blog post extolling the benefits of free-play — I’ve finally decided that maybe the answer is the one that parents look for instinctively: A bona fide class. Hence, “I Won’t Supervise Your Kids,” a new, 8-week, $350 after-school “class” starting this Wednesday, Sept. 12, in New York City’s Central Park. (Details here.)

I’m charging for the class to make me a living, of course! (Though scholarships available simply for the asking. The more kids the merrier!) But I also hope to make playing seem at least as as legit and important as any of the other classes parents sign their kids up for. Because it is. Time spent with other kids with no agenda, coach or trophies, is something fantastic for kids. It’s also increasingly rare, as children’s “free” time is scheduled, or at least supervised (sometimes up the wazoo). So they never get to experience making up a new game, or organizing teams, or even just figuring out how to have fun without someone telling them what they’re supposed to be doing.

The class is open to anyone 8-18, because that’s another thing many kids no longer get: A chance to play with kids NOT their same age. Here’s my piece on Lisa Belkin’s Huffington Post parenting blog about the whole thing.

I really love the idea of kids cavorting in the park the way my own kids got to do this summer, when we were in a cabin community upstate and the kids just spent their time  wandering around in packs, sometimes bored, sometimes playing, sometimes making up songs and sometimes (okay, often) looking for cookies. Then they’d go back out out again. Sort of like bears.

And sort of like us, when we were kids. – L

Bringing back that radical activity known as “free play.”


35 Responses to “I Won’t Supervise Your Kids” — My New Class, Starting Weds. in Central Park

  1. Twopea September 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Good luck! I hope it’s a big success and affords you many a cup of Starbuck’s coffee.

    Full disclosure: I had a similar idea! Only, my idea included teaching the children ‘old school’ games like “Kick the Can”, “SPUD”, etc. I thought of leaving it loose re. sign up — a certain fee per child per play session. But your idea of one-time up-front fee is probably better. Guaranteed playtime rain or shine.

    AND that’s another argument for charging a fee: If they pay they will come RAIN or shine. No sitting inside moping around in front of a screen because of some drizzle. A capital “win” for the emotional, physical and psychological good of the child.

  2. Laura September 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Ha! Love it. :) Good luck.

  3. Sarah September 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    Good luck and let us know how it goes. For some reason I can’t picture anybody paying $350 for 8 weeks of dropping your kid off at a park to play for a couple of hours – especially when you can do that for free anytime. So I’ll be interested in hearing if anyone actually signs up.

  4. JessicaD September 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Brilliant! And teach the old school games. I love it!!

  5. Lis Lubar September 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    when did we have to start calling it “free play” ? Maybe that’s when the whole thing started to go downhill. Best of luck with class, and new website. Keep fighting the good fight!

  6. mollie September 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Awesome. I do think charging “market rate” for a “class” is an effective strategy to get people APPRECIATING the VALUE of something that yes, is free for the asking, but has fallen out of favour for no legitimate reason.

    I wish you the best, Lenore, and I am cheering VERY LOUDLY from Canada.

    Wish I could be part of the promotion effort for this, if I were in the ‘hood, and alas, my Manhattanite brother is childless!

    xo from the North

  7. Krolik September 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Still love the idea. Still puzzled over the price tag.

    Also, I hope that both you and the parents are ready for what actually happens when you throw a random group of kids together and tell them to “go play”.

    Here is what I imagine happening. Ten kids will show up to your class. After some initial confusion and a bit of prodding from you, five will play ball or wonder the park in a gang. Three will immediately pull out phones or DS’s and start playing Mario. Another one will be a fat boy who will try to join the gang but they won’t want him. At best, they will ditch him. At worst, they will discover all the time-honored ways of being jerks that they never learned during their closely supervised recess. Number ten will be a little girl who will spend the entire time staring at blades of grass and daydreaming. She will be perfectly happy with the class, but her parents might not be, especially after they spend a couple of Wednesday nights running around the darkening park, shouting “Ashley! Ashley!” because Ashley does not look at her watch and has an uncanny ability to tune out all sounds when she is in her imaginary world.

    I don’t mean to come off so negative. I agree that unsupervised time outside has many benefits, and learning how to deal with people who don’t want to be your friend or just spending one on one time with nature are some of those benefits. I am just not sure that this is something parents will pay for.

  8. Emily September 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    I don’t get the price tag either. I live in Ohio and we don’t sign our kids up for many classes but we have done a few here and there. We signed our daughter up for 8 weeks of ice skating lessons a couple of years ago and it cost $80. This fall we’re signing her up for a homeschool choir and it lasts 8 weeks and we’re paying $50. I don’t see how anyone would pay $350 for 8 weeks of playing in a park. I’ll be interested in seeing how many parents you get to participate. The only people I could possibly see signing up would be desperate free range parents who don’t mind paying a lot of money just to find some kids their kids can play with unsupervised.

  9. ank September 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Ha! You people don’t know Manhattan. 1. $350 for an 8 week “class” is a steal! And remember if a person is in need there are “scholarships” I bet no child will be turned away. I wish we lived close enough! and 2. fyi IIRC Krolik all the playgrounds in Central Park are fenced in. So my guess is Lenore will tell them to stay in the playground. Lenore I wish you all the best :)

  10. klr September 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    I don’t know if I’d call $350 for an 8 week class a steal. I can get my daughter 8 weeks of ballet lessons at the Manhattan Ballet School for $240. Then again, I wouldn’t pay a dime to drop my 11 year old off at the park to play unsupervised. She does that already. :)

  11. C.J. September 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    I wouldn’t pay to drop my kids off at the park to play unsupervised.

  12. JLee September 11, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    something I saw while on the lakeshore website since real nature is not allowed at school anymore lakeshore will sell you you very own set of plastic tree stumps and logs for your children to balance on

    Step & Balance Nature Trail
    Children develop balance & coordination—with a one-of-a-kind balance beam that looks like a real nature trail! Our rugged plastic set features everything from logs and leaves to branches and stumps—each with a nonskid surface on bottom to keep children safe as they play. And each piece is freestanding, so you can set up a walkway any way you like! 22 pieces. Logs are 19″ long; tallest stumps are 5 1⁄2″ high.
    item# TR548


  13. Emily September 11, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    You know, I think Lenore has already achieved at least one of her goals with this program, just by putting the idea forward–she’s got all of us talking, hasn’t she?

  14. Warren September 11, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    My oldest daughter is her final year at University, and on her way to a career in education. She would like to work for you, as a camp counsellor. She would have no problem taking your money to sit in the coffee shop with you and not supervise these kids.

    I was going to say you got to be kidding, but these days, nothing surpises me.

  15. Warren September 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Just looked at the “Step and balance nature trail”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????

    They are missing a few things.
    1. A plastice dome, treated to block out UV rays.
    2. An air filtration system.
    3. Knee pads, elbow pads, goggles, gloves and tyvek suits.
    4. Enviromentally friendly pesticide, just incase the termites and ants decide the plastic is tasty.

    Holy crap on a cracker!!!

  16. Emily September 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    @C.J.–I think what Lenore is offering is actually “safety lite.” She’s not going to actually IGNORE the children, she said she’d be nearby, drinking coffee, reading a book, blogging on her laptop, and whatever else she does between TV appearances and speaking engagements. So, if Starbucks is within view of the park, Lenore would be able to see if someone got hurt, and even if it wasn’t, the kids would have been briefed beforehand, and told where Lenore was, so if something went seriously wrong (severe bullying, someone throwing up, someone getting lost in the forest, someone falling out of a tree/off the monkey bars and breaking something), they could find her. So, she’d still be supervising, but in the same “hands-off”-ish kind of way that parents used to watch their kids. Also, Warren, I agree about the “Step and Balance Nature Trail.” I don’t think it bears any resemblance to nature; it just looks like a set of junky plastic toys, which would get played with once or twice, and then scattered all over the living room for parents to trip over.

  17. susan September 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Um…I think Lenore is joking about the price. Scholarships, after all, are available for the asking. However, I don’t think she would object if someone walked up to her and offered the cash.

  18. Sarah September 11, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    I love your point about kids of different ages playing together. Kids are so compartmentalized by age in school and sports programs that they often really don’t get exposure to kids older and younger than them. In many ways, especially in school, age is arbitrary anyway and this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Kids can learn a lot from those older AND younger than them!

  19. C.J. September 12, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    @Emily I still wouldn’t pay for it. I wouldn’t pay someone to brief my kids before going to the park or to sit nearby drinking latte in case of emergency. My kids go to the park all the time by themselves at my parents house (we don’t have a park near us). If something is wrong they just come back. They know the rules and what kind of kids to stay away from. If they wanted to go to the park in our town I would drop them off, we know people that live near it in case of emergency or I would give them my cell phone and they could call me to come get them. They never want to go to it anyway, they have enough things to do in our own backyard. They are 7 and almost 10 and have been going to the park unsupervised for free at Grandma’s for a while. If other people want to pay for it that is their business but I wouldn’t.

  20. Baby Safety Gates September 12, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    Sometimes, the wisdom behind playhouses — complete with toys, stuff and caretakers is just too good that everyday people would be willing to accept the cost. With complete service and amenities, who wouldn’t?

  21. Leisl September 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Are you at least going to background check the 18 year olds to see if they are sex offenders? Because putting adults in to “play” with little kids is kind of nuts. I don’t know what an 18 year old man would have in common with my 8 year old daughter. Seems like a great way to get sued if you ask me.

  22. Christine September 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I can’t believe in this day and age parents would allow their children to be left alone in a park. It sounds a little insane to me. I am sure you will have crazy people sign up for this. I completely agree with children being outside and teaching games that were played years ago but UNSUPERVISED?!?!? NO WAY. I see many lawsuits coming your way.

  23. Teresa September 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Doubtful I would have dropped my kids off in Central Park to play unsupervised, but I do agree that children desperately need to get out & play more. Most play is structured, or requires joining a class. My father often remarks that you rarely see a group of kids out playing baseball in a neighborhood anymore, unless it’s a team.
    We live within the national forest, and home schooled 2 children to adulthood. So, they had plenty of unsupervised time out in the woods where the greatest danger was copperheads! I feel it was a great asset to their development, and has provided them many fond memories.
    The alternative to playing outdoors is obesity, an epidemic in our country. At least Lenore has opened up a dialogue about the benefits of unsupervised play, for our children’s mental and physical health and development.
    And I agree, the “Step and Balance Nature Trail” is an incredibly stupid idea!! Hopefully they won’t place an ad on her site.

  24. Maureen September 14, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Sorry, people that don’t get it, I am laughing AT you.

    Lenore, I hope you make a couple bucks off of the parents that think the only good things for kids come with a high price tag. :)

  25. Laughing Mom September 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    I was surprised at how much I had to say in response to your play group idea. I agree with your concepts, but I think your execution is faulty. I posted a full response here: http://laughingmom.com/2012/09/15/game-off-game-on/

  26. oam September 16, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    Maybe you should all reconsider where you live. I live in Long Island and my kids are outside everyday . Most days include at least 8-12 kids ages 3-13 calling for neighbors, running up an down the blocks, climbing trees, playing capture the flag, riding bikes around the block , playing kickball, baseball, football, on and off the trampoline and the list goes on. All organized by the kids themselves! They all have there organized sports/activities but we don’t overschedule. Kids need to be kids! NYC is awesome but maybe not the best place for kids

  27. mattie September 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    @Leisl- 18 year olds can push swings, show younger kids how to throw a ball (or play soccer or something), build sand castles, etc. Don’t assume that because an 18 year old wants to be with younger children that they are a sex offender…

    I also would not pay for my kids to NOT be supervised- but I have also tried to allow them free play time at home and elsewhere with a minimum of “hovering” but still being close by “just in case”- balanced by structured activities and sports. Both are beneficial to sound development. Unstructured play allows them to learn to think for themselves.

    @ Krolik- “At worst, they will discover all the time-honored ways of being jerks that they never learned during their closely supervised recess”… Unfortunately MOST of the bullying behaviors you described are learned / practiced in those settings both by the kids and the adults- and the majority of kids in public school environments display those exact attitudes and behaviors… Kids should develop better social skils but need to be taught to respect others and encouraged to work / play together in a positive way.

    @oam- Kuddos to you. Too bad we don’t all have a neighborhood like that! (Ah… back to the “good old days”…)

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  29. Melina October 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Wow. People really don’t get it. Take a breath. Move back to terror-level green, and re-read.

  30. Margaret October 25, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I’m late to the party here, but I am incredulous reading these comments. First of all, are you kidding me? You really can’t see how this is using sarcasm and hyperbole to get the point across that free play is just as valuable as scheduled classes, and that the ability to engage in free play with a non-homogenous group of kids is becoming a lost art? And secondly, whether or not you get the joke, it is depressing to find that the first reaction to this idea is that the kids are going to fail/encounter sex offenders/be faced with some terrible emergency that requires adult supervision immediately at hand. Perhaps most of you should back up and read THE ENTIRE REST OF THE SITE before commenting any further.

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