I relied on neighborhood kids to get my daily entertainment when I was growing up. My parents had one car, so being taxied around wasn’t an option. For me, it was either foot or bike to get where I needed to go. Fortunately, my street had a handful of kids and I had a dear friend the block over. Where I grew up, each lot was about an acre (a shocking amount of land, compared to my small 40×100 lot) and often people landscaped the first half, leaving the second untamed.
Under the cover of woods neighborhood kids and I could go exploring, build huts and treehouses, and make fires all day. Yep, make fires.
I’ll never forget the time my big sister let me hang out with her friends and her. They were trying to make a fire but couldn’t. For whatever reason I was really great at making a fire that day, so though they were frustrated that I was clearly “out-firing” them, they begrudgingly passed over the matches. It was one of my proudest moments (obviously since I’m bragging about it 30 years later and it’s probably long forgotten for them).
Today, my daughter is at sleep away camp. She’s slightly homesick but having an awesome time with tons of things to do. From sports to art, tournaments to trips, she’s experiencing things that she wouldn’t be able to at home. When school is in session, there are only so many after school activities you can pack into a day before homework begins to suffer. In case you’re wondering, we follow these guidelines for play time during the school year 1) cap weekly game/practice hours of a particular sport to their age. So if your child is 9, then no more than 9 hours of that sport. 2) Ensure AT LEAST an hour to two hours of outdoor active play.
But I’m digressing.
One of the great things that happened last year was that the neighbor kids started finding each other and began bike riding. Once they had wheels, they packed themselves a lunch and explored or went over to one of the local schools and played on the equipment. Everything wasn’t great all the time. I remember she was completely left behind one day and went missing on another. It was stressful.
But she found something else to do and went to a friends’ house. She was fine.
In fact, she was more than fine. Because our neighborhood is one with houses close by and is highly walkable. It’s a town where you usually know someone along your walk and the community is set up for families. And though I would be the first person to tell you that I haven’t made a large circle of great friends, I can also say that I know enough people who would look twice if they saw something was wrong with my daughter.
As for being left behind, it happens. And she was ok. Sure, her feelings were a little bruised (wouldn’t yours?), but she was able to hold herself together and resilient enough to bounce back from the shunning. Afterwards, one kid apologized. The rest didn’t. It never happened again.
Here’s what they learn
every time when they hang out with the neighborhood kids:
How to navigate social situations: when she’s on her own, she needs to figure out when to go along with the group and when to stand her ground. Neighborhood kids are different from kids around school since they tend to have lowered their guard. Your child has to figure out when to take sides, if taking sides is necessary. Or when to stand up to the big personality.
How to hang out with younger kids and older kids: depending on who he’s hanging out with, he may be a leader or a follower. On any given day his role may change. You know what? That’s great! Hanging with younger kids gives her the opportunity to exercise some leadership chops while hanging with older kids can help him become more mature in order to be able to keep up.
How to be creative: sometimes being on your own means that you aren’t constrained by “adult rules.” That means that when you go to the playground (or somewhere else) you can look at things differently. You can create your own rules. So instead of playing baseball on the field, they may make up their own games, like a version of American Ninja Warrior on the equipment. It’s great!
How to conserve: no, not about the environment here. Conservation is a key milestone for kids. Knowing when to save – energy or resources – helps kids plan their days. She’s learned that giving away her money meant that she didn’t have money another day or for herself. Eating all of her food at once meant she was starving an hour later and had to go home.
How to plan: in addition to conserving, planning is a key skill. When you’re on the road with your crew, you really don’t want to go home because you’re cold or hungry. One cold day without a sweatshirt or a hot afternoon without a cold bottle of water will make your child think twice next time. Sure, they may stuff their gear in a ratty bag or wear something not quite clean, but the fact that they’re thinking ahead is awesome.
The list goes on and on…but one of the great things about neighborhood kids is the sense of familiarity. Not as close as family, but more likely to know the “real” child…these kids are awesome and adaptable, letting your child be who they are while also growing alongside them. 🙂
Another thing that’s great about neighborhood kids? Sometimes kids really connect and bond over shared interests. Maybe they loved swimming together or playing ball. As kids get older and are more interested in unique programs, having a local friend helps parents find carpool partners which can be a huge timesaver. Think your kid’s too shy to hang with the neighbors, or at a new program? Check out this post about SHY KIDS that includes tips for getting your kid(s) in the game. We got so much feedback from it that we had to add another post! That one’s here.
If you’ve figured out what your kid’s interested in, check through ScoutJr.com for a nearby program. Not listed? Let us know and we’ll get them added.