Saturday is “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day”

‘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.

Without adults.

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.

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This is not a historic re-enanactment. Kids can be doing this RIGHT NOW. 

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14 Responses to Saturday is “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day”

  1. SKL May 18, 2017 at 8:26 am #

    I’m so thankful my kids are now able and eager to take themselves to the parks within a couple miles of home.

    But as usual, we are not parkable that day. One kid has a 5K to run and then they are both signed up to help with a community event.

  2. Backroads May 18, 2017 at 10:58 am #

    I happen to be on the social media team at my school. Will share!

  3. lollipoplover May 18, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    “Is it dangerous? More kids go to hospital for falling out of bed than trees.”
    Yup.
    Kids that are driven everywhere can still find ways to endanger their lives even under full supervision:

    https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/05/17/girl-nearly-chokes-to-death-on-fidget-spinner/22095799/

  4. K May 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    I love that that mom is warning about kids under 8 using fidget spinners – when her 10yo was the one who choked on one! She wasn’t like “OMG these are terrible dangerous toys!” she was more like, “Hey, my big kid did something dumb – which made me aware that these might be choking hazard for little kids, and I thought you might want to know.” (Although “under 8” is a pretty high threshold for a choking hazard warning!)

  5. lollipoplover May 18, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    @K-
    All the more reason to just have these kids go outside and play!

    Pretty much every small object is a choking hazard if you put it in your mouth to try and clean it. Bleach!
    Strange how the comments are bashing the mom warning other parents of the *danger*, proves that you just can’t win no matter what you do. Sheesh.

  6. Backroads May 18, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    I just read the spinner article before coming here on my local news site. Every single comment on that story is more or less about the real problem being a 10-year-old putting stuff in her mouth. Barring a disability… really? Plus several comments from old-timers telling about how they were pretty much blowing themselves up with ball bearings and other things at that age.

  7. Emily May 18, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

    I’d like to propose another holiday. It’s called “Don’t Call The Police On People Just Because They Parent Differently Than You Would” Day. It runs from January 1st through December 31st annually. I’m celebrating it right now.

  8. Bob Cavanaugh May 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

    Not only that, but I heard a Ted talk about the guy that killed 16 people in Texas in 1966. Lenore, you may remember I emailed you about this about a year ago when I first heard this. They studied the life of the shooter and found he wasn’t allowed to play freely.

  9. donald May 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm #

    I love this and I’m thrilled that it’s catching on! I remember years back when you first proposed children playing unsupervised. The media went ballistic! They made out that Lenore was worse than a terrorist because she’s advertising a kidnappers and pedophiles smorgasbord!

  10. Stephanie F May 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    We won’t be doing it this year, but my kids will be doing some independent stuff this weekend. My kids’ school has an annual camp out that we’re taking the youngest to, leaving the older two home alone for the night. One of the older two will be fresh back from science camp, so he will have just spent most of the week away from us anyhow. If the school camp out goes like usual, I don’t expect to see much of my youngest much of the time, depending on how many friends show up. Lots of adults around, but still some independence.

  11. Jenny Islander May 18, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

    My Saturday is going to be Kick ‘Em Out With Their Sleepover Guest and Tell ‘Em Not to Come Back Until It’s Time for Me to Take Your Guest Home Day. (Take a cell phone, mind the crosswalks, and don’t ditch your little brother.)

  12. Anna May 18, 2017 at 11:04 pm #

    My kid is only 5, so I don’t think he’ll be going on his own, but maybe we’ll go sit as far away as possible across the park or something.

    Not that I remember my parents EVER coming along to the park when I was a kid, however young I was. Nor do I remember there being any parents at the park, for that matter…

  13. SKL May 21, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    How our Saturday went with my 10yos …

    Took one kid to run a 5k in an unfamiliar city. Got “the look” when I told another mom that my kid would be running on her own (vs. with a parent or coach). Didn’t care. Kid had a cold, but decided to run anyway. Decided when to drink water (provided in little cups along the way), when to stop & rest, etc. Finished with a decent time. Went to Dunkin Donuts to recharge!

    Meanwhile, other kid was helping set up our business’s booth at a street festival, then our open house at another location. 2nd location was also a check-in stop on a community biking event. My 5k runner joined her sister and they manned the table where they interacted with all comers, punched participation cards, etc., in between keeping the refreshment table stocked (and eating the goodies). Side note: neither kid was kidnapped, despite coming into close, unsupervised contact with hundreds of strangers. There was even an ice cream truck outside, but no abductions. Hard to believe I’m sure.

    Later during clean-up, they were horsing around. About 5 minutes after I’d said, “ok then you aren’t allowed to cry if you break your leg,” they both fell on a surface littered with stones and broken glass. I was carrying heavy packages of food to the car. My 10yo was offended that I didn’t drop everything in that instant and tend to her sister’s bleeding wounds. But, predictably, nobody died. Auntie and I shared our childhood war stories with bloody kid on the way home.

  14. Pippi May 30, 2017 at 9:22 pm #

    There is very little being reported on how hard it is on moms on the “new world order” of always needing your mom with you. I agree kids should be outside playing together but if there’s no one around I can understand my son not wanting to be outside alone. Because I value outdoors time and okay, I am playing outside a lot. It’s great fun but I am 52 and there’s so much work to do running s household that it’s taking a toll.