Wednesday afternoons are park days for us. We meet with a group of fellow homeschoolers/life learners in Riverside Park. While the kids disappear into the trees or run around on the rocks, the Moms hang out on the benches. The kids are not always visible, but within earshot, and periodically show up to get snacks or beg money to go buy hot dogs or ice cream from the vendor who parks his stand just outside the playground entrance.
Today, one of the Mom’s who is new to the group asked us what the kids do for the almost 4 hours that we are there. Well, I responded, they play. What do they play? Hmm, well, games they make up. The girls have very elaborate imaginary scenarios that they act out. I don’t know the details, but sometimes the games are continued from week to week. The boys tend to play Ninja or tag or capture the flag or other things involving running, swords and fighting. You know, just…play.
Playing is something all of the homeschooled kids we know do very well. All they need is an open space and some time; no adult supervision, no props, no organization required.
On May 21st a bunch of us plan to participate in an extension of this type of play by taking part in Lenore Skenazy’s “Take Our Kids to the Park and Leave Them There” day. (here’s the link to Lenore’s entry on her blog: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/may-21-take-our-children-to-the-park-and-leave-them-there-again/ ) Not all of us, mind you. There are those parents in our homeschool circle who, like the press, believe that such an outing will be closely monitored by P.O.T.W.U (Perverts of the World United). A feast of kidnapping possibilities! Of course, last year the event went off without a hitch, with parents from Alaska to Australia dropping their kids off at parks for an hour or two and returning to find them STILL THERE!
Here’s the thing. No one is suggesting you leave your toddler at a park alone. But a kid who is around 7 or older should know the basics of self preservation and therefore have no trouble hanging out with their friends for an hour or two without a parent hovering nearby. We’re not forcing them to parachute, alone, into the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and then expecting them to find their way out. They’ll be in familiar surroundings with kids they know doing fun things they enjoy. And although they won’t need it, no doubt 90% of the kids there will have cell phones in their backpacks or bags, just in case.
So breathe easy, parents. Remember, it’s not a solo climb of Everest without oxygen. It’s just playing in the park.