"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, May 25, 2012

If you build it, they will come...


I've just finished reading Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play by Mike Lanza

A word before I begin. I am biased.  

Well, not in the way that requires me to remove myself from writing about this book.  I'm biased because Mike Lanza wants for all children what I had growing up and what I tried to create for my own children: a neighborhood where children play, a Playborhood.

I want to like this book and I do!  Mike Lanza wants to help recreate neighborhoods where children play, not through play dates or other manufactured means, but a real neighborhood, where children can walk down their block and find other children out playing. From my experience as a parent and from what I see as a teacher, this is not happening. The traditional neighborhood community is disappearing.

"We need a road map for solving this problem now. That’s what I promise you here."  

Mike Lanza delivers. This book is not only an effective argument for bringing back the neighborhood where people play (Playborhood), it is also an instruction manual for how to do it.  

Lanza begins by providing compelling statistics and information about the importance of free play. 

"By playing freely, children discover intrinsic motivation and “acquire the skills and attitudes required for successful adulthood.”
"The who-when-where restrictions end up constraining play quite a bit, and besides, a parent or other caregiver is always within earshot. Their presence diminishes the risks kids are willing to take, and some parents demand that kids stay inside so they can keep close tabs on what’s happening. These factors make play dates very different from free play, and they greatly diminish their value."

Lanza demonstrates the value of free play by recalling his childhood experiences and showing how they lead to igniting the Playborhood philosophy.

Thus, kids of today are far less healthy emotionally, and they have far fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, independent thinking, and creativity."

“So, the vast majority of young children have no village of their own. They have no place where they can feel comfortable and safe, while not under the gaze of their parents.”

Having primed the pump, so to speak, the reader is now ready to see examples of Playborhoods.

Lanza presents varied and diverse examples of existing and recently established Playborhoods in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods. Each Playborhood is unique.  The organizers have found and capitalized on the strengths that the neighborhood can offer residents, whether it be a place to gather, the resources for play, or the local geographic features, like a river! 

The last section of the book offers tips and tricks for creating a Playborhood; some are more general, along the lines of: tear down fences, reciprocate care giving of children, create a community garden, host a neighborhood summer camp, plan block parties, while others are more specific, such as: play in the front year where other children and their families will see you and hopefully join in the play.

The obstacles (traffic, crime, and suburban sprawl among others) to creating a Playborhood are discussed but not allowed to deter the desire to establish.  Lanza doesn't dismiss the obstacles, but wisely offers concrete suggestions for overcoming them, some as simple as putting a "Children Playing" sign right in the middle of the street.

The vignettes offer the reader the opportunity to reflect on his or her own childhood play experiences and those of his or her children.  These vignettes engage the reader in the current need for a Playborhood along with facilitating and growing the desire for change.

Make it a beautiful day in your neighborhood! Create a Playborhood! If you build it, they will come...

Why do I think creating a Playborhood is important?  I think they are important because of the opportunities for free play -- unstructured and unsupervised play -- that affords time and space for exploration and experimentation.

As I read this book, I kept thinking of the connections to my life. I grew up in the city where we played hopscotch on the sidewalk, played catch in the street, used alley ways to play hide and seek and thought the local park was ours. 

Despite my great upbringing in the city, I choose to raise my children in the the suburbs.  I still grapple with this decision. There were definitely pros and cons.  The biggest con was the lack of a cohesive neighborhood where my children could walk out of our house and find friends to play with. They subsequently spent a lot of time together.   
My children meeting friends for fishing at the local river.
I was home in the afternoons and summer and could provide that safe place to play or be the house where my children and their friends could base their activities, autumn raking always brought a crowd because we would create huge leaf piles for jumping!

I ran "Camp Reed" one day a week in the summer.
Sometimes the camp moved indoors.
My husband and I created a play oasis in our yard.  We made a swing set (later replaced with a manufactured one) and sandbox and my husband rebuilt our neighbor's playhouse.  We collected all manner of sports and recreational equipment: hockey sticks, roller blades, wiffle balls and bats, footballs, soccer balls, hula hoops, jump ropes, sports nets, croquet, badminton.  Later we added a basketball hoop.  

We didn't let the fact that we experience all four seasons deter our outdoor activities.
Lunch outside in the late fall? Sure!
Our yard is where other children come to build igloos, tunnels, snowmen, and forts along with taking advantage if the back hill for sledding, tubing and skiing.

Winter fun.

"I hope readers of this book will re-evaluate the relative budgets for the inside and outside of their homes."   

Although I am an outdoor enthusiast, I am not sure inside versus outside is the issue.  I think the issue is purchasing items, furniture, toys, etc that will create a Playborhood no matter where your children are.  My children would trip over Lego, Brio trains, Playmobil, Maple Blocks, puzzles or art supplies long before they got to a TV.  I would often leave these creations up for weeks and watch them grow into elaborate worlds as the children added to them. 

Here's my piece of advice to along with Mike Lanza's. 

Give it Time.  

Give it time to unfold and develop.  I hate to steal the line from Field of Dreams, but I will... 

"If you build it, they will come."

1 comment:

  1. What a great review & as I read it, I thought back to my childhood & realised that it was because my parents valued play that ours was the garden/house we all met up in. I think this is the key.