Playing Outside


The other day, as I was driving home from somewhere with Jack in the back of the car, we spotted the neighbors at the end of the street outside with their son, two years younger than Jack, but one of his favorite people to play with all the same. I stopped and rolled down the window to speak to the Mom and Jack rolled down his to speak to his friend. Before I knew it, he was out of the car and running across the yard laughing. She said it was fine and I said I’d be back after I put the groceries away.

As I lifted the bags into the house I marveled at how strange it was that I was not with Jack. I completely trust the neighbors, it’s not that. It’s just that we’ve never really done that. We have arranged playdates where we drop him off and come back later, but never anything ad hoc like that.

It got me to thinking about how at his age, 7 going on 8, I was always out by myself. I would wake in the morning and get on my bike and go up and down our street looking for people to come out and play with me. I would come home at lunch and dinner but otherwise filled my days out on my own or with friends. Sometimes we would sneak into the nearby golf course. Sometimes we crawled through the storm drain pipes that lead down to the river. But we never strayed far. I wondered when society changed so much. When did we stop letting our kids out of our sights? When did we become so protective?

If I tell Jack to go outside and play in the back yard (something we rarely did before installing The Fence) he invariably sulks and says that he’d be bored and couldn’t we come outside and play with him? Even indoors, if he isn’t watching TV, he wants us to play with him.

Today, Ann sent me a link to an article in the Boston Globe which talks to all of this directly. “Sheltered Lives: When did kids stop playing outdoors?” by Jenna Russell talks about the research by Roger Hart, a brit who went and spoke to children back in the day and again today. He is producing a movie about this and I eagerly await its release.

I wish there was a way to give Jack much more freedom yet retain our sense of his safety. Maybe the answer is to let go and allow the greater (possibly perceived?) risk. But then again, knowing what we know about the world around us, I don’t think we could do that. I don’t really know the answers but this is something I want to raise with our neighbors with kids. Maybe we can come up with something together that benefits all of our children.