Editor’s note: This article was updated on Nov. 28, 2019.
Do you live in a neighbourhood that has a roaming group of children that plays outside with little or no interference from adults? One where the local kids knock on your door to ask your child to come out to play?
Kudos if you do. Children are more physically active when they spend time outside. They develop a sense of place and belonging when they’re allowed to explore their neighbourhood. Nature connection is also only possible outside and it’s as simple as watching bees in the garden or following ants on the sidewalk.
Physical activity, community belonging, and nature are all things that are essential to healthy child development and the best place to develop them is outside.
Related read: Our kids need Play Angels
Unfortunately, we don’t all live in neighbourhoods where this happens. I know I don’t. I’ve had to help my daughter find neighbourhood friends. It takes time, but it’s important for her, and for me, to build the village of families around us in our own neighbourhood.
Here are a few ideas to help bring the children out on your block and to start connecting your neighbourhood through play:
Play in the front yard
We often set up elaborate play spaces in our backyards, but if you want to meet neighbourhood friends, try setting up a play space in the front yard. Other families will see you playing outside and perhaps come join you. If traffic is a concern, consider putting up a sign to reminder drivers to slow down.
Go for neighbourhood walks
Cars are often cited as a barrier to outdoor play, as parents fear it’s just too dangerous to allow kids out on busier streets. Learning to navigate sidewalks and roads takes practice and repetition, and the best way to do this is to walk the streets with your children and practice the skills they need. Getting out and walking around the block may help you find new friends too.
Host a community party
Find a park or nearby green space, and invite the neighbourhood to come play together for a few hours. Invite everyone, not just the families you know have kids. Keep it simple: make up invitations and let your children distribute them. Even if just one other family shows up, it’ll be worth it! If it goes well, consider a block party so you can shut down the whole street for play.
Organize a community conversation
Facilitate a conversation about neighbourhood play and how to bring it back in your community by arranging a screening of The Neighbourhood Play Project. (Watch the trailer below.) The Australian documentary follows two communities as they work to encourage more neighbourhood play, and it’s a great conversation-starter. Book a room at a local library or association, put up posters and share on your area’s Facebook groups.
It’s hard (and scary) sending our children out into the big, wide world but we can help by building a safe, welcoming neighbourhood community around them (and us) that allows our kids to feel like they belong. When we know they’re surrounded by friendly neighbours, it makes it a lot easier to let them roam, run, jump, climb, and play in their neighbourhoods.
Christina Pickles advocates for more outdoor play in communities, schools, and childcare settings through Get Outside and Play. She lives in Calgary on the banks of the Bow River with her family.