The big selling point on moving to this neighborhood was ‘there will be lots of kids your age’. It’s the neighborhood I grew up in. There’s an elementary school, a church park, and a city park in this neighborhood. Kid central.
When I was growing up there were kids all over. We played kickball in the street, we roamed the sidewalks until dark, and if we were doing something we shouldn’t the neighbors yelled at us or called our parents. As we got older we rode our bikes in packs. We invented games. We took our change to the corner store to buy Jolly Ranchers and Double Bubble gum.
There were a couple of groups of kids that only hung out together, but for the most part if we all met up we’d get a game of touch football or basketball going, or just hang out on someone’s front porch in the warmer weather. Of course there were squabbles but we got over it after a few days apart.
I wasn’t expecting it to be just like this for my kids, but I also wasn’t prepared for what it’s like now.
We moved in the winter, and last year we got a lot of snow, so we didn’t see any kids. Not too surprising, really, with all the ice and the bitter cold weather. Spring came, though, and still no children. The only evidence that there were children was when school got out and kids walked home. We watched from the front porch hoping for a friendly face. Kids did smile, parents would say hello, but then go about their busy lives. Rush to get home to go to the next thing.
I encouraged my son to just ride his bike around the neighborhood, be open to a new friend, say hello and stop and chat.
There’s no one to chat with, though. The streets are empty.
Every now and then we see a kid out on his bike but the kids say I can’t approach them in the van, which I guess would be creepy.
I’m feeling a little desperate for my boys, though.
I ask myself every afternoon when we take a walk, “Where are the children?”
I know that there are plenty who live in this neighborhood. I see them at the bus stops in the morning, I see them walking to and from the elementary school. I hate to be one of those people that says, “When I was kid…”, but really, when I was kid school got out, we shoved some food in our mouths and then we were back out until our parents called us home or we got hungry again.
I thought that in the spring and summer things would be different. I thought that there would be kids out roaming the sidewalks looking for a game of kickball or basketball. We went to the park every day, sometimes twice, hoping to meet some neighbors. We occasionally met a couple of grandmothers with their grandchildren, but never kids between the ages of 7 and 15. We literally paraded up and down every street. Our neighborhood is small so that was a doable task. I felt like crying a few times.
I think the children of today are signed up for activities instead of being allowed to explore the world. I wonder if they’re at after school programs or if their parents are just putting them straight in the car after school so they can get where they’re going next. I read a book this fall called Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. It’s a long title that sums the gist up pretty well. Peter Gray is a psychologist and this book’s premise is that over-scheduling our kids, not giving them unsupervised play time, inhibits their natural instincts as leaders, explorers, and natural learners.
I think he’s right.
It’s all about activities now. Almost every kid we know is in 2 to 4 programmed activities, meaning adult-supervised, adult-led, and every minute is laid out. Whatever happened to free time? I think it’s vital for children to be given time to meander, play, and even argue with their friends. If we are constantly moving kids from one activity to another when do they get to learn about who they are, explore their own thoughts and feelings?
A lot of what I know about myself I learned when I was a kid. I learned what I like and didn’t like, I learned how to deal with people that I liked, and how to handle people who didn’t like me. I learned how to use my strengths and how to combine my skills with someone else’s. We were in and out of each others homes learning about different rules in different houses. I learned so much through unsupervised time. No one told us what to do. The only rules were check in every two hours by phone or in person and be back by dinner.
I have this idea of bringing back front porch time. We tried it last summer. I sat on the front porch while the boys played on their bikes. They made awesome friends with the neighbor’s cats.
We have spotted some boys out bike riding and we’re going to attempt first contact this week. I’m hoping it goes well.
In the meantime we will just do like everyone else: get in the car and drive to meet friends out. It’s just not the same as having neighbor kids run in out of the house drinking all the milk. I miss that.
We won’t give up hoping that some other kids will come outside to play, though.
What’s it like where you live?