Readers, tomorrow is Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day, our fifth annual celebration of the once very normal, unremarkable activity called KIDS PLAYING WITH OTHER KIDS, without a security detail.
To celebrate, just take or send your children, generally about age 7 and up, to your local park at around 10 a.m., and figure out a time and way for them to get home. Then tell them whatever they need to know, and say goodbye. This is a lovely way for them to get used to:
1 – Coming up with something to do, without a parent, teacher or coach organizing them. (Imagine that!)
2 – Meeting other kids spontaneously. (That’s why I suggest 10 a.m. — so all the kids are there at the same time.)
3 – “Problem-solving” if and when any issues arise, from a skinned knee to uneven teams. When kids work together to make something happen (a game, a fort, a response to something unexpected) it’s the easiest way for friendship to blossom.
4 – Reveling in the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing thing called play. And really — that is one of the coolest parts. We are so used to homogenizing and babyproofing our kids’ lives that we forget that an experience can have its ups and DOWNS ( for instance, a spat about whether the ball was in or out, with no adult to adjudicate) and still be great.
5 – Being outside.
6 – Not being supervised, so they have to rise to the occasion.
7 – Creating the kind of memories most likely YOU look back on with incredible fondness.
The fear of creeps, kidnapping, and predators in the bushes may not completely dissipate, even when I remind folks that Ernie Allen, the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told me himself, “Our message is exactly the one you’re trying to convey. We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger.”
The other fear — of good Samaritans dialing 911 because they are incensed to see children playing without adult supervision — is a rare but real fear, too. To that, all I can say is: The rarer it becomes to see kids playing unsupervised, the more common it will be for onlookers (and cops) to consider it untenable.
Compare kids to wildflowers: Two beautiful things that used to surround us outside, drinking in the sun, making us smile. Then we started seeing less of them. In some places, we’ve actually have had to coax wildflowers back to the wilderness by spreading the seeds ourselves. How artificial! And yet, the results are are lovely as ever: Wildflowers back outside!
Now it’s time to do that with our kids.
While in an earlier era, many would have torn out of the house on a Saturday morning to ride their bikes or run to a friend’s, now they wait inside to be taken somewhere. (I know this because mine did too. Even before I was “Free-Range” I felt a little shiver of weirdness when my kids would ask, “Mom, what are we doing today?” As if I was the camp director. Which I sort of was.)
So, to artificially re-seed the wild with our kids, we’ve got tomorrow. With any luck, the joy will take root and on Sunday morning they will go where kids have always gone: Outside. With friends. To play. – L