‘Tis the season to celebrate the coming of summer and what was once, the old folks say, a season of free time for kids. Time to ride their bikes, walk to the store, and learn whatever games everyone in the neighborhood was playing, from spit to baseball to Barbie.
To see how valuable that unstructured, unsupervised time is, read this essay by Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn. But to help bring it back, why not take your kids to your neighborhood park on Saturday at 10 a.m. and leave them there. Or (I know, I know) have them arrange to have a buddy with them. It’s a holiday dedicated to re-seeding the outdoors with kids, so they start to take root and flourish there, as they once did.
As I wrote about this holiday — now in its 7th year — a while back:
The Free-Range holiday, Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day is celebrated just the way it sounds: We all take our kids to our local park and, if they’re 7 or 8 or older, leave them there for a while, starting at 10 a.m. That way, they meet up with other kids from the neighborhood — even ones that go to different schools.
After we wave goodbye, the kids will have to come up with something to do without an adult directing them. This may be a completely novel experience. But by the time they’re done — half an hour, or even half a day later — chances are they’ll want to do this amazingly fun thing called “playing” again. So Sunday becomes unofficial “Our kids are going to the park on their own day,” as do most days thereafter. Suddenly, the empty parks are full of kids again!
That is the whole point.
If you’ve got younger children, you can participate, too. Just sit on the bench while they play. Your presence creates the kind of community that reassures the parents leaving their older kids there.
“BUT TIMES HAVE CHANGED!”
This simple, old-fashioned idea will, of course, seem radical to some. They will say they loved playing on their own when they were kids, but now it’s too dangerous. Please show them this Pew study on gun violence that states: “Firearm homicide rates in the late 2000s were equal to those not seen since the early 1960s.” That’s right — gun crime is down to the level it was BEFORE COLOR TV.
Meantime, diabetes and obesity — the twin scourges of sitting inside — are up. What’s more, it is SAFER for kids to play than not to play. Here are some studies to wave around, if any of your friends are skeptical:
Kids NEED “adult-free play in diverse environments,” says this book review in Psychology Today, noting that a “growing body of scientific evidence confirming a direct relationship between play, evolution and brain growth.” Kids get SMART BY PLAYING.
Is it dangerous? More kids go to hospital for falling out of bed than trees. Moreover: Girls who play in dirt are healthier.
And yet: 1 in 4 kids, ages 6 to 12, NEVER goes outside without a parent. The outdoors is treated like supervised yard time at prison.
Fight the misplaced fear that has kept kids indoors or only in supervised programs. Go forth to Facebook and Twitter and the PTA to spread the word about Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There Day!
And tell us how it goes!
Yes, please do.