I had the good fortune to live my childhood in climates where outside play was available year-round. If it wasn’t actually raining, there was generally some outside activity in which to engage. And even when it was raining, there might still be the occasional mud puddle.
Nonetheless, the approach of spring was still welcome because opportunities for outside fun became more prevalent. More playmates would come outside and the range of possible wandering became broader. Plus, there are few things as welcome as the first tadpole of spring, the first thwok of a baseball into a newly oiled glove, or the first cannonball into the neighborhood pool.
Which is why I’m a little sad each spring when I see very few children playing in my neighborhood. As Sarah Goodyear of Atlantic Cities writes, play can be a key element of building better adults. Unstructured play, away from the influence of adult coaches or monitors, can provide lessons about personal interaction and conflict resolution that can be learned in few other places. In the right setting, play is a chance to practice being an adult, but with a safety net.
As Michael Lewyn writes in Planetizen, drivable suburbia, although often perceived as a place where play is possible, has generally failed in that role. Instead, it’s the urban settings that accommodate children where outside activities are more likely. And how does Lewyn suggest that adults encourage this play without stifling the beneficial aspects of childhood play? By walking the streets, demonstrating by their presence that sidewalks are a safe environment which children and their parents shouldn’t fear.
And so, as spring approaches, think about taking walks around your neighborhoods, chatting with the neighbors you haven’t seen since fall and sending the implicit message that the sidewalks are a safe place for kids to play. You may do more good than you know.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (email@example.com)