Let Kids Play! With Mike Lanza of Playborhood

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Mike Lanza is author of Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play. Prior to becoming an author he was a software and Internet entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He recently gained a great deal of exposure both positive and controversial from a New York Times Article, “The Anti-Helicopter Parents Plea: Let Kids Play!”, featuring Mike, his family and their front and back yards. The concept behind “playborhood” is to create self-reliant, confident and independent kids.

In order for kids to want to spend time outdoors, as opposed to being plugged into the readily available technology, they need to have a place that they can go to socialize. This physical location must be close by. If it isn’t close enough, they aren’t going to even try. That’s why using the back or front yard in a neighborhood is the perfect location.

The article has led to a response article, questioning his affluence as the basis for him being able to provide a specialized environment for his kids. Lanza’s response is although his backyard does have some fabricated equipment for activities, these are not necessary in creating these environments.

One of his favorite examples is a place he found and visited in South Bronx: Lyman Place. The South Bronx is plagued with poverty and crime. Despite this, a woman named Hetty Fox has devoted her life to making her city block better. For over 40 years she has made her street a “play street” from 8AM -5 PM everyday during the summer. The streets are blocked and no cars are allowed in during those times so the kids can play without danger.

During his visit, he was immediately taken with a young 2-year old boy, Jacob, who was confidently riding a 2-wheel scooter, socializing with other kids, and speaking with adults. At just 2 years old, Jacob was both confident and physically skilled. Lanza later asked, “Where Jacob’s adult?” and found out there was not an adult present representing Jacob. Naturally a bit alarmed, he found out that Jacob has over 14 family members in the surrounding buildings. So, while not technically supervised by an adult, his family was all around.

In fact, Jacob was following in the footsteps of his Mom, playing on the same street where she played, years before. Because of Heddy’s advocacy and influence, she was able to get the current occupants in the buildings on this block to continue to help create this type of environment and encourage safe play for kids.

At Lanza’s house, his yard is open at all times whether or not they are at home. For the most part, this is an adult free zone. Few kids come with a parent or nanny, most come alone and he finds his kids almost always have playmates.

Lanza shares that his kids have become creative, inquisitive, and confident boys who can entertain themselves with the simplest of materials, including cardboard boxes and sticks. Through self-play and games he sees several skills developing that will serve them, their communities and society. His boys don’t enjoy the rigor and busy work of a traditional classroom but rather the adventures that their imagination can take them in their own home and backyard.

Mike’s Five Tips for Creating a “Playborhood”

1. Simplify kids’ lives to clear out time for neighborhood play.

2. Move to a potential playborhood.

3. Create a neighborhood hangout.

4. Embrace the right kind of technologies that get kids socializing and spending time outside.

5. Show up in your neighborhood to help make it a safe, nurturing and a fun place for kids.

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