Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free Range Kids” and host of the TV show “Bubble Wrapped Kids,” is spearheading the third annual “Take your kids to the park and leave them there” grassroots movement to reseed playgrounds with children.
Why would she do that?
Think about the playground in your neighbourhood. If this playground were always empty, would you allow your children to go play there alone? You might think twice. However, if that playground were always buzzing with kids, you would probably be more likely to allow your child(ren) to venture there on their own because there is safety in numbers, right? Right.
Lenore’s idea is that if we take our kids to the playground as a purposeful “event” and do so all together, it ups the chances that we will run into other parents taking their kids to the park, feel better about leaving them there, and our kids, seeing that there are others playing in the park, are more likely to want to stay and enjoy themselves. Right? Right.
We are reseeding playgrounds with children.
Lenore Skenazy isn’t saying if our kids are really little to leave them there on their own. But the bigger kids, yes. (Such as age 9 and up.)
Plant the seed. Give it some water and sunlight, and let it grow. (Quit poking at it!)
Guess what happens when we leave our kids to play unscripted, unscheduled, and unsupervised? They gain independence, learn how to solve their own problems, help one another, and most of all… play. Today, when, for the first time since the 1940s, our kids are less likely to live as long as their parents and obesity is practically a contagious epidemic, it is even more important to let our children play outside and to play freely when they are out there. Why? Because children who engage in free play outdoors are less likely to become overweight.
Where does all this bubble-wrapping of our kids stem from? It stems from us. In today’s world we hear about every child abduction and every hurt suffered by children around the globe. It feels like a lot. And it feels like it is getting worse when in fact it is getting better.
The world is a safer place now than it was when we were children.
Did that surprise you? Well, it’s true. Today is a safer place for our kids and yet we protect them as if there were predators around every corner. (I know, I know, I am perfectly capable of imagining all sorts of awful, fearful things myself!) But it’s unhealthy. Our fears are keeping our kids indoors. Our fears are keeping them from playing in an active and free way. Our fears are causing them health problems.
When we hover over (bubble wrap) our children they don’t gain independence.
Kids need to be outside. Kids need to learn independence.
So today, take your kids to the playground and leave them there. Even if you have to sit on the curb half a block away and sneak peeks back at them playing just to make sure they are still okay. (Or even send them with a walkie talkie so they can check in every half an hour.) Our neighbourhood’s playground is literally right outside our window and I would be lying to say I don’t peek out that window when my eldest is out there playing. (Don’t worry, I check on your kids too.)
Playground moms build a community.
On the flip side, my past presence in the park is one of the things that makes other moms feel safe letting their kids go to the playground unattended. I am a part of our neighbourhood, yet I am not a busybody. I am what you might call a playground mom. Many of the kids know my eldest and know who I am. I’ve provided water, bathroom breaks, and bandaids. And as my daughter grows older and gains more independence, I spend less and less time in the playground (although more and more again as Jr. gets his feet under him).
Never have I had to chase off any bad guys, call an ambulance, nor break up any fights. I’ve never even had to walk an injured kid home. These kids look out for each other and have developed some surprising agility and skills. Man, those kids have built up some death-defying climbing acts over the years! But it is because they are able. And they are able because they have learned their own personal limits. They also look out for each other like you wouldn’t believe.
How to reseed playgrounds with children.
If you are still worried about leaving your kids in the park alone, hang out with them for awhile. Let them play while you keep your nose buried in a book. Act like you aren’t there. Let them solve their own problems, make their own friends, make their own games. Keep your lips shut and let them go as much as you are able to. Slowly you will be able to give them more independence and eventually, stay home while they play.
One thing I’ve noticed that makes us moms feel safe in leaving our kids unattended in a local park is the neighbourhood community. If you don’t have one–build one! Talk to other parents. Get to know the neighbours and their kids. Drink your coffee on the front step. Walk the neighbourhood, wave, and say hi.
These simple things make a neighbourhood and community, and when you have a neighbourhood and people know you and know your kids you feel safer letting your kids out. Right? Right.
Flip side to you being out and about? You are helping other moms and dads let their kids roam. Why? Because they see you out there and know other people are out there looking out for their kids. We need to do this together.
So, what are we going to do today? We’re going to take our kids to the park to engage in some old-fashioned, independence-building free play. And then what are we going to do? We’re going to chat with some of the other parents. And then what? We’re going to leave our kids at the park!
And they are going to love it.
The official “event” is today, Saturday, May 19th at 10AM. (But I think we should do it every day!)
It starts with us. Go to it.
P.S. If you want to learn more about the health benefits of free outdoor free play for kids, sign up for my newsletter (it’s free and all about fun and play!) which will be all about outdoor play in this coming edition. It’ll include ways to get outdoors and get those kids playing and having a blast!