I just finished reading Playborhood by Mike Lanza and was totally inspired! It is right in line with my goal of creating community within my neighborhood. It seems like the perfect first step: creating community with a focus on supporting the growth and development of my kids!
In the book, he talks about several ideas of how you can create such an environment in your own neighborhood. I wanted to highlight a few as goals for myself and what I might be able to bring to my neighborhood.
Create Neighborhood Rituals
It could be the neighborhood easter party or halloween event or it could be a day once a week or once a month that everyone agrees to go out front and work on gardening or playing or hanging out in their front yards. Maybe in the summertime, it’s a BBQ hosted in the front yard by a different family each week or each month.
I especially like the idea of agreeing to go outside as a neighborhood one day a week or even just one day a month. Maybe this is something that could be arranged and agreed upon with neighbors on Nextdoor? The basic idea would be to have an evening where everyone is just out in their front yards or out in the public area, which could allow for more easier kid interactions and neighbor interactions.
Create a Kid Hangout
For my age kiddos, the ideas he mentioned including the importance of: Physical Challenge (like sports, rock climbing, trampoline), Creative Expression (like a whiteboard, chalkboards, easels), Private Domain (forts, playhouses, tents, anything that allows them to take ownership, he also suggested something called “slotwood“). Focus house upkeep and improvements outside. If you want your kiddos to focus their energy outside, make it a place you want to be, and then spend time out there.
For me, this gave me renewed energy to get the front porch that I’ve always wanted. I want to have a nice space to hang out in the front. Maybe have dinners out there, or just have a low key space neighbors could hang out in after work, stop by for a drink, whatever.
As for the kiddos, this is still a work in progress! Right now they’ve got some big cardboard pieces, various bikes, scooters, and trikes. We’ve got an art easel and a big white board. I’d like to add a trampoline, but maybe I’ll just bring my small one around to the front yard for the time being.
Building Community through Games
He created a game called “Huntopoly” which is sort of a mixture of scavenger hunt and Monopoly but using a map of your neighborhood. Mike created a map of his neighborhood on his driveway. It’s at a scale so that kids can add legos and hot wheels to build their own homes on the map. In huntopoly, kids work in teams, and stay on one block, never crossing paths with the other teams. They roll the dice and move their piece to the respective house on the map. Then they venture out to that house. If no one is home, they head back to the map and roll the dice again. If someone is home, they ask for the list of items:
- Picture of the team with the resident
- first and last name of the resident (including pets)
- an interesting fact about the resident that they’d like neighbors to know
- an ingredient to make a cake* (this one changes throughout the game, until all ingredients to make a cake have been found)
- small object from resident for driveway map
- photo of team’s favorite thing in yard or house
- flower from the yard
- rock from the yard
*At the end of the week, all the ingredients are pulled together to make a cake. Before leaving a house, team members give the resident an invitation to the Huntopoly party where the cake will be served.
Once teams have gathered the items, they return and place them one the board. Teams can build a lego house for extra points. At the party, teams also get extra points if invitees show up to the party.
This one is recognizing the fact that most mothers are working full time now, so the summer activities of kiddos has changed…dramatically. “Summer Break” really means more of the same, just at a different “school.” The point of the summer play camp is to bring neighbor kids together in their neighborhoods and allow time for free play. In the book, he suggests the following:
- Recruit kid counselors: This is a neat way to get older kids engaged and involved. Counselors planned activities and snacks and were paid a nominal fee.
- Recruit parent volunteers: Parents played the role of banker, snack coordinator, photographer, first aid point person, and equipment manager.
- have a flexible location: this allows for the “burden” to be spread around different houses and keeps kids on their toes, although he also suggested maybe keeping it in one spot it good as well.
- have lots of fun props on hand: this one is for the kids who are not engaged in whatever activity is taking place or just need a break from the group. Suggested items: sandbox, oobleck, basketball.
- plan an artifact: the two examples he gave for this were tie-dyed shirts and a mosaic. It’s meant to provide a reminder for their time and help the spirit of neighborliness live on after the event.
Fundamentals of “keeping kids lives simple”
- Real World as a fundamental value
- Neighborhood as a fundamental value
- Don’t permit excessive screen time
- Don’t drive when you can walk or bike
- Do let children play on their own
- Do manage TV time
- Have family dinners every night
- Expose children to stories of neighborhood (Books: The Big Orange Splot, Roxaboxen, The Raft, Weslandia, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister. Shows: Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Wonder Years, Stand by Me).
Alright, so I’m a woman who loves to take action. I don’t want to just read about it. I want to take these ideas and put them into action, so here’s my starting point. Things that I think I can start doing NOW. Of course, I want to continue to add things and bring more neighbors on board, but I know that will be a slow process. So here are some things I’m doing now, right away to build in that direction…
1) Add “kid-artifacts” to our front yard.
I’m working to find things we can leave in the front yard. The goal would be to let neighbors know kids are present, but more importantly, to let my kids know that I want them out there.
2) Be outside more.
This is another easy way to show my kids that this is where I want them to be. This is not a big shift in WHAT I’m doing, just a shift in WHERE I’m doing it. They are playing and doing their thing, but I am doing my thing, but I’m doing it outside. Eventually, I hope they won’t need me outside to feel comfortable being out there, but we’ll work up to that!
3) Stay in the neighborhood as much as possible.
I realize that I am guilty of “over-scheduling” us as a family. The more we walk around our neighborhood together, the more comfortable they get with their location. They begin to learn their way around, and feel more confident exploring on their own. This has been a big shift for me. On weekends, instead of packing up and heading out around town, we plan trips to our neighborhood library, park or canal to feed the ducks.