Time for a Block Party! (Yes. Right Now.)

Hi Readers! The other day I got a note from a reader saying, “We need more GOOD news about Free-Raning.” And so, here we go! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: A few weeks ago you posted something that another reader did to create a sense of community.  I’ve been meaning to follow up, but things in Wisconsin have been, umm, kind of crazy lately, as you may have read.

Anyway, I live in the sort of neighborhood where there a lot of
renters, and not very many kids.  My husband and I have been bemoaning
this for years.  There’s a younger child next door to us, and a family
w/ 3 kids about a block up, and that’s it within our 2 blocks.

Well, the mom of the 3 kids decided recently that she wants her kids
to know everyone w/in a 2 block radius.  And so to facilitate that,
she decided to have a block party.  In February.  In Wisconsin.  She
arranged for a landscaping company to push some of the snow into big
hills, got the street blocked off, told people what she was doing, and
it worked out really nicely.  We had about 3 versions of chili there
(in crockpots, plugged into a surge protector on a heavy-duty
extension cord), cocoa in big thermoses, kids making snow forts, etc.
We weren’t able to stay for the whole thing, but there were people
coming & going for at least 4 hours.  For a while I went back to my
house to work on our potluck contribution, and left my daughter out
there to play.  After about 1/2 hour I heard a bang on the porch–she
had run home to get her sled–and she took great delight in running
home *by*herself.

So don’t let the weather stop you from getting to know your neighbors!
People might think you’re nuts, but they’ll usually show up to a
party… Erika

21 Responses

  1. Great idea, Erika. I live in Wisconsin as well – closer to the action than is comfortable. We are in the same boat with not a lot of kids and don’t know many in our neighborhood. You have piqued my interest, and I may just have to head up a block party. Thank you so much.
    And thank you, Lenore, for relaying the info!

  2. We used to do this sort of thing all the time when we were stationed in Spain. We lived on base, the neighbors would pull out a fire pit (that’s something for the kiddos to experience, s’mores!) and the kids would ride bikes and scooters and climb trees and lampposts all night. Jumping on trampolines while we all hung out and grilled burgers, enjoying the potluck dishes. It was a blast! And the kids loved it. I’d even let my kids go home alone and play before falling asleep while me and the husband stayed with the adults a bit longer. My kids were 3, 7 and 8 at the time and it made them feel “big” to be “alone.’ (We were literally within two hundred or so feet but they loved it!)

  3. <3 Love this. Mom of the year, truly.

  4. Momof2, it was a lot of fun! It actually was superbowl wkd (on Sat) so before the other fun really began here. But she’s hoping to have 4 parties/year, using different parts of the block each time. We’re going to need them…lots of public employees in our neighborhood (east side of Madison), plus others who will be affected by these issues.

  5. What a great idea. Getting permission can be tough in some areas – someone tried to set up a block party in my neighborhood when I was a kid, but couldn’t get permission to block off the very quiet street we lived on.

    Still, if you can get one going, wonderful!

  6. Nice. I’d show up for chili. lol

  7. My mom did this every year when I was growing up. But it wasn’t outside. We opened our house and served mulled wine to the adults, and punch for the kids, and a million appetizers that she (with our “help” made.

    It was great!

    Most of our street were parents of grown children, so except for the girl across the street, and the two up the street there weren’t any kids… but we knew everyone on the street, and had no problem showing up at a neighbor’s house if we got locked out, or if we just wanted to visit.

    I still regret that I didn’t do this when my daughter was young. We know our direct neighbors, but not any further than a couple of doors down, and none of the across the street neighbors :(

  8. Thanks for the good news Erika and Lenore! Good to know I’m not alone in believing that block parties are well worth the effort, city hall red tape, and the social courage challenge to knock on a stranger’s door and invite them to a party. The most fun my kids have had at our annual block party is biking and running on a blocked-off street, rolling the BBQ to join the cook-out in the middle of the block, meeting the neighbors we rarely see, and just feeling free to roam our ‘hood. They’ve made new friends, gained some social courage confidence, and learned a little about how to build community. The elders on the block all comment how nice it is to see kids playing outside on the block again: “This used to be a daily event. 20+ kids roaming the neighborhood, up to all sorts of hijinks and fun until one of us called them home for dinner.” Let’s take back the ‘hood and give our kids the gift of community and a more carefree childhood!

  9. We used to have block parties every 3-4 summers. Then the city stopped giving permission. So we blocked off the street without their permission. The first time the police showed up, some of the parents explained what we were doing, showed them how easy it was to take down the cordons (should anyone want to drive through a street full of kids, tables, balloons, etc.), and they left without ‘enforcing’ the law. It seems they had better things to do than harass neighbours.

  10. I should have added…

    Our “block party” was inside, because it was a Christmas party… and it was usually -25C outside!

    We didn’t need police/city hall to authorize it, or anything. You could do a summer party in your back yard without having to involve any “authorities”.

  11. What a great concept! This is not something we do widely in Australia. It is perhaps practiced a little more in “gated communities” where they live in closer proximities.

    But I love the idea….

  12. @Erika – we’re in S.P.!!! ;)

  13. Just be careful what you serve – today’s kids have pretty sophisticated palates. I was helping a friend of mine and his kids at a weekend afternoon school event where the fare was pizza and a big cooler of from-powder Country TIme lemonade. One little boy – I guess around 9 – poured himself a glass and took a sip and said “Yuck! Block-party lemonade!”

  14. Momof2, I met some SP people at the big rally 2 weeks ago.

    Yep, the freedom that kids experience in block parties–scootering/biking in the street, running in & out of houses, etc. is wonderful. Summer block parties are the norm, of course, but winter ones are great, too. I think it was about 15 here. Requires a bit more logistical planning, at least as far as keeping food hot, but still pretty fun…

  15. We’re too rural to have a block so instead we have a Summer Kick-off Party! The last weekend before school is out we send notices to everyone in the kids’ grade, all their friends at school, everyone we run into, etc., clean out the freezers, make a mess of food, put out a bunch of tables and just have at it. So much fun and such a great way to make connections before the long social drought (for the kids) of summer. Win/win/win.

  16. We didn’t need police/city hall to authorize it, or anything. You could do a summer party in your back yard without having to involve any “authorities”.

    But a block party isn’t in your backyard, not typically, it’s done by closing off your block to traffic. That DOES require approval, officially.

  17. Erika,
    Small world… I live and work in your neighborhood! I heard about the party, sledding and all, from Pam who did the shoveling with her bobcat. I am a big believer in community and loved the party. I love it even more now that I know why she threw it!

  18. We have a block party potluck every year in the summer. Consequently we have the best block in the whole neighborhood! Everybody knows everyone else and the kids all play out in the street. They even come from other blocks in the neighborhood to attend our party and get to know their neighbors.

  19. MalloryS, how funny. I knew there must be some Madison free-rangers here…

  20. [...] to Lenore Skenazy of Free Range kids, its time for a Block Party. I know, it’s only March, but read her blog to hear more about gathering together families in [...]

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