When we first moved in to our neighborhood 4 years ago, there were only 4 kids: 2 of mine, and the neighbor’s 2. But since the last year, the neighborhood is now booming with kids! On my short street alone we have 13 kids! Finally we have a good old suburban neighborhood, which is exactly what we were hoping for when we moved here.
Right now, my son is out playing with the other kids in the neighborhood (ages ranging from 6 to 15). He’s eleven, and we’re in a small townhome area, so I feel pretty secure about him running around. I can hear them from my open window and see them run past every now and then.
I spent the first few years that we were here outside with him while he played with friends. Mostly I was the “Car Watcher:” I was the one yelling “CAR!” every time someone drove into our neighborhood, training my kids and the others to get out of the road and be aware of their surroundings. Now I hear them doing the same thing and teaching the younger ones to get out of the road.
We laid out a very specific set of rules for playing in the neighborhood:
- Stay off of people’s property
- Don’t play around cars (moving or parked)
- Leave the area the same, if not better, than it was when you got there
- Don’t go in anyone’s house without telling me first
- Watch out for the younger kids in the group
- Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own yard
- Someone is probably watching what you’re doing – be good
- Don’t chase the ball into the street
- Be courteous of neighbors and cars
- If you break something (God forbid) be accountable for your behavior
I realized that these rules can be applied to life as well. Playing outside prepares them for life, but it’s done without sitting them down and lecturing them. Once they have a good set of ground rules, it’s the best way for them to learn their limits.
These are skills that they will never learn sitting in front of a computer screen. These are childhood survival skills: get out of the road when a car comes, don’t shoot the neighbor’s car with a Nerf dart, throwing rocks will damage property and people (so will dirt clods, pine cones, and sticks), climbing trees is both exercise and fun, dirt won’t hurt, made-up games are often more fun than organized sports, and getting up when you fall will make you stronger.
Being outside, and playing with friends is probably the best “interactive” experience a kid can have. The best part is that not a single kid is running around with their phone in their hand. Not even the older sibling that shows up on occasion to toss the football around with them.
I’ve witness acts of kindness the older ones have shown to the younger kids: tying shoes, holding hands so that they can stay with the group, teaming up with an older kid when playing hide-and-seek, and making sure everyone is accounted for when a car comes by.
Here’s hoping everyone gets out to play in the sun!