When I was a kid I lived in a suburban neighborhood that was on the border of a semi-rural area. A neighbor up the road had a small wheat field. If I walked a quarter of a mile in one direction I cam to a small wooded ares, but large enough so we could go in there and get lost, build hide-outs and stuff. A mile in another direction there was a much larger and more mysterious wooded area, right next to the mink farm. And I was allowed to roam the neighborhood freely. We all were.
Yes, there were rules. I had to be home for dinner, get my homework done, and get into bed at the proper time. And there were restrictions as to where I could go, restrictions that got loosed as I grew older. And that was true for my friends as well.
I keep reading, though, that that's over, that kids these days are scheduled and regulated in a way I find, well, borderline pathological. Anyhow, the NYTimes addresses this in an interesting story:
The Anti-Helicopter Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play!
A Silicon Valley dad decided to test his theories about parenting
by turning his yard into a playground where children can take
physical risks without supervision. Not all of his neighbors were thrilled.
The whole thing's worth reading. Here's one representative passage:
As part of Mike’s quest for a playborhood, he began doing research and visiting neighborhoods in different parts of the country that he thought might fit his vision. The first place he visited was N Street in Davis, Calif., a cluster of around 20 houses that share land and hold regular dinners together. Children wander around freely, crossing backyards and playing in the collective spaces: Ping-Pong table, pizza oven and community garden. Mike told me the story of Lucy, a toddler adopted from China by a single mom who lived on N Street. When Lucy was 3, her mother died of cancer. But before she died, her mother gave every house a refrigerator magnet with a picture of Lucy on it. While the founders of N Street formally adopted Lucy, the entire community supported her. Mike pointed out that the childhood Lucy was having on N Street may be akin to one she might have enjoyed in a village in rural China, but it was extraordinary in suburban America. Lucy could wander around fearlessly, knowing she had 19 other houses where she could walk right in and expect a snack.Mike spent some time in the Lyman Place neighborhood in the Bronx, where grandmothers and other residents organized to watch the streets — so dangerous that children were afraid to play outside — and block them off in the summer to create a neighborhood camp, staffed by local teenagers and volunteers. Mike also found his way to Share-It Square in Southeast Portland, Ore., a random intersection that became a community when a local architect mobilized neighbors to convert a condemned house on one corner into a “Kids’ Klubhouse”: a funky open-air structure that features a couch, a message board, a book-exchange box, a solar-powered tea station and toys.