Parents Allow Free Play and Children Excel

How many of you remember growing up in a neighborhood where you were allowed to roam and play with your friends? I have great memories of playing with my friends at their homes and mine unsupervised by our parents for hours at a time. What we didn’t realize was that not only were we having fun but we were also building confidence and gaining experience in decision-making, which would aid us later in life. Recently I read about some parents championing this type of play for their children and I want to share their ideas with you and reaffirm why this lifestyle is important.

Lenore Skenazy has founded a movement named, Free-Range Kids. Her motivation was to counter the ever-present helicopter parenting we often see today, cut down on screen time for children and advocate breathing room for play zones. Ms. Skenazy believes that parents are too caught up in the worst case scenarios of life due to the sensationalized media, lawsuits and businesses pushing child safety products for any eventuality. Children are losing touch with the outdoors due to parents being concerned about germs and the fact that if the child is not studying and honing skills they might fall behind their peers. A proven avenue to success is being able to think and problem solve. When our children are not allowed to start this process at a young age, it doesn’t develop properly and they become more dependent on others.

As a new father Mike Lanza’s primary concern was his child having a happy childhood like he had experienced exploring his neighborhood with friends. To help with this concern Mr. Lanza decided to create a playborhood where blocks of his suburban neighborhood could become a safe fun area where his child could play and develop social skills with friends. This started with play structures in his yard, which can be utilized by all children in the neighborhood. Taking this idea one step further two mothers in a sister neighborhood have developed a one week camp starting as soon as school is out. At this camp the neighborhood children become acquainted with each other and start to develop friendships more than with just the family next door. The camp has fostered a sense of community and parents are now comfortable allowing their children to venture out of their own yards to meet friends down the block or in a neighborhood park.

Why is play free of hovering parents important? Peter Gray, a mental health professional at Boston College, says it goes well beyond developing confidence and decision-making. Children often have a need to play in ways that adults might find uncomfortable. These types of play include wrestling, play fighting, climbing trees and running at break neck speeds down a hill. As they age children like to stretch their imaginations and pretend they are facing dangerous situations or create their own worlds. From these experiences children learn to understand their own abilities and develop a respect for risk taking. All of this can happen in a child’s neighborhood but not without freedom to explore.

Parents in any neighborhood can set up a playborhood or arrange camps or mini camps to increase the sense of community for their children which will allow for confident free play for both parents and children. Think about what you can do to foster this in your community.

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