The Magazine

Play’s the Thing

Send children outside, and let them be children.

Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By ABBY W. SCHACHTER
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Beyond his own yard, Lanza has gone looking for communities where his emphasis on outdoor play is similarly valued. He found places in Oregon, a street in the Bronx, a new suburban housing development in Alabama, and communities in Washington and Iowa that share his vision. But Lanza’s mission isn’t strictly limited to promoting free play: He offers advice about the positive benefits of walking or biking instead of driving, and he explains why families should sit down together for dinner every night. He also advocates oral storytelling and reading to children as often as possible. At heart, Lanza wants readers to understand that, contra Hillary Rodham Clinton, it doesn’t take a global village to raise a child; it takes an actual, physical one. 

“I strongly believe that it takes a village—an old-fashioned, tight-knit neighborhood—to raise a child. Not some ‘network of values and relationships,’ ” Lanza declares. 

He suggests building physical community by sharing parenting responsibilities among neighboring families with similarly aged children, planting a community garden, having regular community dinners, running a neighborhood summer camp, and organizing block parties. This advice goes beyond the question of playing outside as a means of improving the quality of kids’ lives, however. This is about improving quality of life for all, because there are practical and long-term benefits for adults as well as kids to having a physical community. Not least is the knowledge that you are not alone in this world. And given that many of us do not live near family, the surrounding community can serve the same function—and help us to feel safer, more secure, and happier. 

Abby W. Schachter writes the blog on parenting and government policy.