These Moms Created a Neighborhood Camp (And So Can You!)

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter about a homemade camp started by two moms that just may inspire you —  the same way THEY got inspired last year, thanks to ideas being spread by Mike Lanza of Playborhood. (Here’s a cool post by him of how he turned his front yard into a neighborhood hangout.) If you start a camp, let us know! L. 
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I wanted to let you know that you, Mike Lanza, and the Camp Iris Way creators inspired me and a fellow mom, Karen Hoffman, to start out own neighborhood camp.  The first annual “Montara Street Camp” happened last week and was a huge success!  Not only did the campers, counselors, families and neighbors love it, but Karen and I had so much fun running it.  Of all the volunteer efforts I’ve been part of as a stay-at-home mom, this one was the most rewarding and fun.
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We modeled our camp after Camp Iris Way, and actually were in contact with Iris Way founder Diana Nemet [see below] when we were having difficulties getting our permit.  Since this was a new concept for the police and city, there were various concerns and hurdles.  However, the permit was ultimately granted and we had so much fun holding the camp in the street.  As a result of our camp, the neighborhood definitely feels closer.  Campers and counselors formed a special bond and new friendships were made.  One of my favorite parts of camp was it pushed parents to let kids walk and ride bikes by themselves, many for the first time.  I just loved watching everyone walk to camp.
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Here are links to the two local articles: HMB Review and  HMB Patch.  We made the front page of our local newspaper and have received lots of positive responses from people in town.  We are looking forward to running it again next year and hope it becomes an ongoing part of our little coastal community.  Again, thanks for being such a great inspiration!  My husband got so sick of hearing me quote your book after I read it last year.  I couldn’t help it!  – Sarah Bunkin

The Montara Sreet campers
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And here’s a note from Diana Nemet, who started a neighborhood camp last year:
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Thrilled to learn of the success of  Montara Street Camp–it’s absolutely wonderful! Reading about it brought back memories of the first year we ran Camp Iris Way. It’s definitely an incredible community-building accomplishment and I’m sure that the kids will enjoy each others company a lot more this summer than they had in the past!
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We had 73 kids attend Camp Iris Way this summer. Neighbors are still astonished that we have this many kids living just on Iris and Primrose Ways. I suspect you’ll see the numbers jump for next year’s Montara Street Camp. Our neighbors actually schedule their vacations around CIW now so that they don’t miss it! 🙂
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I suspect it might be valuable to include another link to the workplan and templates that we provided in last summer’s post. Congratulations Sarah and Karen! I’m delighted to learn of the fun you had, and agree that it’s one of the most rewarding contributions to my community that I’ve ever made.  Best,  Diana Nemet

One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

Hi Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!

 

Notice It Wasn’t, “Wednesday Is Negligent Parents Day”

Hi Readers! This is from the blog, “Free-Range Kids in Film,” by Michael Alves. How I remember this commercial! — L. 

“Anthony” Prince Pasta commercial. Not sure when this was filmed, but it seems like it is the late 60s or early 70s. It shows a school-age boy, Anthony, running home through the streets of the North End of Boston to get his dinner. He is alone. The streets are crowded, but he gets home safely. According to the article below, this spot ran for 13 years. I bet no one felt it was strange that a boy would be out by himself back then. — Michael Alves

And I’ll bet no one called the police if he didn’t run home. — L.

As Recently as 1979, A First Grader Could…

Hi Folks! Just saw this wonderful child development reprint,  courtesy of writer Christine Whitley on a blog called ChicagoNow. She reprinted it from a series of books published in 1979, just one generation or so ago, called, “Your ___-Year-Old.” Each book provided a little checklist of  the milestones the average blank-year-old would have reached.

So, for a six-year-old, in addition to having a couple of permanent teeth and knowing left from right, the book asks:

Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

What a reality check! Can we all pause to remember that the very thing that terrifies so many parents today — a simple walk around the neighborhood — was not something reserved for kids age 10 or 12 or 15 just a generation ago? It was something that first graders did. And presumably those first graders got some practice as kindergarteners!

So when parents gasp at the idea of their kids crossing the street, walking to school, or playing at the playground unsupervised (!), kindly remind them that this is not a mission to Mars we’re talking about, it is a mission the average 6-year-old could handle with aplomb back in 1979.

You might even add that this was back when the crime rate was higher then than it is today. Or just shut up about the crime rate and let it sink in that they are treating their whatever-year-old as less competent than a first grader. — Lenore

Passing the Popsicle Test

Hi Readers — How I love this post by Scot Doyon, “Smart Growth = Smart Parenting,” on a blog called PlaceShakers, which bills itself as “people, news and views shaping community.”

As you know, I think community is pretty much the answer to all our ills. The more we trust and depend on each other, the more confident we feel Free-Ranging our kids, the more fun we have in our lives, the more our streets teem with  life and the less lonely we become.

Add to this the dawning realization on the part of city planners that when a neighborhood works for kids, it works for everyone else, too and you get why it is so important to try to build cities and towns that pass the “Popsicle Test.”

Popsicle Test? It’s simply, brilliantly this: A neighborhood “works” if it is possible for an 8-year-old kid to get a Popsicle on his or her own and return before it has completely melted.

That means the streets must be safe enough to cross and the housing close enough to retail. The kids must feel fine about walking outside, ditto their parents (and the police! and busybodies!).  Once all that is in place, not only can children get around on their own, so can everyone else, including old folks.

Note, as does Kaid Benfeld in The Atlantic’s blog regarding the icy treat test:

…there’s no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it’s all there.

I’m also fond of the “Halloween test”: If it’s a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating, then it’s likely to be compact and walkable. My brother-in-law, who lives in a place that is anything but, drives his kids to the nearest traditional town center on Halloween. Quite a few parents seem to do the same thing by driving to my neighborhood.

As we have pointed out before: The presence of kids outside indicates a good place to live. And the presence of Popsicles? Even better. Which reminds me…it is snack time right now. — L

I KNOW this isn't a Popsicle emporium. But it looked too good to pass up! (Like a Popsicle itself.)

Can’t Argue with Success

Hi Readers! First of all, thank you SO MUCH for the fantastic suggestions on how to help parents get over the fear of BLAME, in the post below this one.  Here’s one response that I wanted to highlight because I hear you: We need success stories here, too. Enjoy this one! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  *Other* parents’ ability to let go of that worry have encouraged me to do the same. A recent example: My 13-yo son is attending band camp, 2 miles from our home, for an hour a day M-F. Problem is, I tutor 2 days a week and am not available to get him there on those 2 days. A friend called and said her son (a friend of my son’s) was going to camp as well, but she babysits little ‘uns and the strain of getting them all out the door for 2 there-and-back trips was a bit much, and would my son want to walk with her son?

I wouldn’t have sent him on his own, because the guilt would have killed me! But with someone else? Why not try?

They have been walking it for almost 3 weeks now. A female friend has joined them, and then another girl came along 1 day, but her father followed them in the family minivan all the way there, and then home again later. (I don’t know whether to be amused or insulted!)

Funny thing is, the friend who “instigated” this venture has an older daughter who also went on foot 4 years ago, but Mom is taking flak for *making* her son do it, because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR. As if that makes him incapable. He’s traveling with 2 or 3 other people, never by himself, and she’s getting guilt-tripped because he’s in a WHEELCHAIR, and how could she MAKE him do it?! And get this, the other kids had to start riding their bikes to keep up with him (he does NOT have a motorized chair, BTW).

Last cool thing: Mom had to drop off a form and did it at the end of the day’s session so she could just give him a ride home. His response was, “Thanks, Mom, but I need to catch up with my friends.” How can you argue with THAT success? — A Mom in Illinois

How to Start a Neighborhood Camp with Kids as Counselors!

Hi Readers! This sounds so fun and do-able. Also sounds like it can really change a neighborhood and all the childhoods in it! A huge thanks to Diana and Jennifer for alerting us to their camp and providing all the info  — right down to waivers, flyers and a time sked — of how to get it off the ground.  Free! If you decide to try starting a camp in your neighborhood, please let us know how it goes! — L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: We thought you’d like an update on our neighborhood summer camp.  As you wrote about in your blog last year, we’re two moms from Palo Alto, CA who have created an old-school, low-key summer camp for our neighborhood.  Last year 43 kids attended.  It was so successful that this summer almost EVERY family with kids attended–a total of 72 kids!  We’ve attached a link to a local article about our camp – we think you’ll like the title!
The details for the camp include:

  • Five mornings for the first week of summer
  • Older kids serve as counselors and design the activities
  • A modest camp tuition gets divided up between the counselors
  • Younger kids (age 4 – 4th grade) are ‘campers’
  • Each day a different family or two adjacent neighbors ‘host’ (i.e., provide space and some adult supervision)
  • Different activities each day — crafts, games, snacks and free play (e.g., water balloons, obstacle courses, lawn bowling, jump rope, sidewalk chalk)
  • Great memories with neighborhood friends and the comfort level to inspire impromptu playdates the rest of the summer
For some neighborhoods, a camp like ours should be easy to implement.  We have a workplan and templates that we are happy to share.  For others, a full-fledged camp would not be practical. The good news is: it can be modified to one weekend day, or one “day off” for the neighborhood.  It could motivate kids to spend time outdoors playing with friends after dinner, for example.
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We have several attorneys on our street who recommended we issue a basic waiver.  Every family signs it for their kids to participate and it protects everyone in the neighborhood.  We wish we could avoid it, but see it as a practical reality that everyone seems to understand.
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The rest of the summer, some kids are home, but most go to organized camps for part of the day. Neighborhood play seems to resume mid-afternoon.
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Last year, the street felt like a ghost town the week after camp.  We suspect the families on our street were so used to scheduling their kids for camps and activities that it didn’t occur to them to keep them home and just play in the neighborhood.  We toyed around with making it a two week commitment this year:  one week of camp and the other of NOTHING.  What would the kids do?  Would we all adjust to a non-scheduled lifestyle?
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We haven’t done this as we feel it would be a lot to ask of households with two working parents who really rely on camps for childcare.  But we’re hopeful this summer, because of the number of kids that participated in our camp, the continued increase in comfort-level between the neighbors that lasted throughout the school year, and the enthusiasm from this year’s camp, that this summer will include a lot more neighborhood play.  We’re already seeing it with the four-square courts sprayed on the street!
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Thanks for all your inspiration.  We’re having a blast! –Diana Nemet and Jennifer Antonow