"Go Play Outside!": 2008 versus the 1970s
Something magical happened in our neighborhood recently. Families gathered to play outside together, you know, in the neighborhood without calling each other or scheduling or emailing or texting. Really! It was so fun to do with our 6 year old twins. It also made me fondly remember my childhood neighborhood pals ...and all our crazy 1970s antics.
Below is the recipe that made spontaneous neighborhood play work for us in 2008, with some notes comparing it to my oh-so-idyllic childhood. The biggest difference is that parents were supervising the play last weekend, but maybe that's good considering the unsupervised play of my childhood. (Read on...)
Ingredients for Neighborhood Play - 2008 Style
- Space to Play - Our street was empty of parked cars and cut-through traffic on President's Day. This made a great skateboarding rink and it was visible to any neighbors who wanted to join in. When I was a suburban kid, we had bigger front yards and large asphalt driveways making street play unnecessary. We even played in yards that didn't belong to anyone, but that was usually when we were hiding from angry drivers.
- Parents to Shout, "Car!" to occasionally clear the kids from the street. In the 1970s, I'll confess that hearing someone shout "Car!" had a totally different meaning and it was the reason we frequently had to hide. First of all, it was always another kid yelling, "Car!" It meant to: (1) throw a ball at it; (2) throw a snowball at it; or (3) skitch, otherwise known as: run out of your hiding place and grab the back bumper of a car stopped at a stop sign, then enjoy the ride by letting your feet glide on the snowy street.
- Kids having Fun Attracting More Kids Who Wanted to Have Fun - Same as when I was a kid, except we were up to more mischief back then (see point 2.) and I think some kids probably avoided us. The dirtball and garbage can shield fight comes to mind. Oh, and the gullible kids who thought it was an honor to run to the store to buy us candy — they usually didn't come back.
- Toys - skateboards, scooters, bikes. Same as when I was a kid. Though we had unicycles, pogo sticks, four-square, basketballs, baseballs, tennis balls, and hockey sticks, too. All toys seemed to be in play at all times and things that were not normally used as toys turned into playthings. (See point 3.)
- Spontaneous Groups - A neighborhood family drove by in their car, and they came over with MORE skateboards. Another family joined, too. In the 70s, there were kids just wandering the 'hood without parents in tow. I'll never forget being fascinated by an older boy who stopped by one day. He described playing "Quarters." He said his friends took turns bouncing quarters into cups and if it went in, the child got to demand someone drink a sip of Sprite. No one was allowed to go to the bathroom. It sounded excruciating. A game I definitely wanted to try, but didn't until I was old enough to drink beer.
- Lots of Extra Toys for kids and passersby to try. Extra toys are KEY to a fun neighborhood play day so everyone can trade around. It also got the kids and adults interacting with each other as each helped another try their special scooter or skateboard. With parents like me supervising last weekend, this was pretty sane, but I'll confess again that when I grew up, the antics could include daring other kids to hold ladyfinger firecrackers as they exploded, hanging a smaller child by his belt from a rope strung between two trees, and soaking a tennis ball in gasoline then lighting it and hitting the flaming ball around the driveway with hockey sticks. Maybe all those scheduled activities we have after school these days aren't such a bad idea??
- Lack of Schedules on a Holiday - This was a rare day indeed. Thankfully we didn't get into all the 1970s antics. I'll let my kids discover that stuff on their own, thank you very much!
- Nice Weather! - Same ingredient, whether 1970s or 2008.