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Menlo Park father takes child's play seriously

Original post made on Feb 22, 2013

Mike Lanza, author of "Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play," will speak Monday, Feb. 25, on ways parents can promote neighborhood play and help kids develop into "active, meaningful adulthood" through playful childhoods.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 22, 2013, 8:43 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

My kids are young enough I'm not comfortable having them play in the front yards /street without adult (or older kid) supervision. When they do play in front with us they are occasionally joined by neighbor kids and it is very exciting for all the kids. We have some kids living in a house behind ours that frequently play in their backyard. Recently a couple of fence boards fell creating a passageway between the yards. Both sets of kids were playing in their respective yards one day and encountered each other through the fence. Though they are not exactly age-matched they began to play together and now have a great time on the weekends. They fashion bows and arrows with sticks and string and come up with all sorts of games. They leave notes for each other and come and go between the houses without leaving our yards. We've met the family and they seem great. The kids really love this and we think its great for them to have this kind of unstructured interaction.

Posted by Willows parent
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:26 am

Give me a break. Knocking on doors to find out whether children played outside? This guy sounds like a weirdo. Thanks, Mr. Techy Guy for showing us how our children should play. How did we ever get along without you?

Posted by PA Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:34 am

Nice playhouse, but rock pulls leading to the roof are a lawsuit in progress.

I know Perla and Mike and while it might work for them, it can't work for all families.

1. Most neighborhoods don't have enough children but are mixed with retired folks and a huge age range of children, from college to babies.

2. His family is "not big on organized sports" which means they will not likely play on school or club teams in the future because their children won't be able to compete.

3. How about the families who have both parents who work until 5 or 6:00 or later?

4. Lanza has boys "who are now 8, 5 and 3" What else is there to do with elementary children besides hanging out? Those who have children in middle or high school have extracurrilars they have to attend (less time for supervising their children outside).

What Lanza doesn't realize is that it's not all the playtime which creates well-adjusted children. It's a total parenting effort, it's children's personalities. Children can be raised to be well-adjusted without playing with neighbors.

Time has evolved and we are no longer in the 70s where we could bike or skateboard all over town without supervision. A shame it is.

Posted by Another Willows Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

While I appreciate Mr. Lanza's philosophy, I am tired of his condescending attitude. How DARE HE assert that his kids' lives are "better" than everyone else's? We live on a busy street, and cannot afford to move into a neighborhood such as the one Lanza carefully selected. We have a play structure in the backyard, take family bike rides, spend mornings at the skate park, and take full advantage of the Bay Area's rich offerings. My child participates in a few structured activities, and he is very well-loved and well-rounded. My son loves his structured activities as well as his "down-time." But, we CAN'T let our little boy play out front, where cars speed through and strangers constantly walk by. We are doing our BEST with what we have, and Lanza has a way of making mindful parents with different resources feel like they are inferior to him. There's already enough pressure on kids AND PARENTS to do everything "right," and the hard-working parents who struggle to live in the Bay Area should not be made to feel guilty by this preachy entrepreneur!

Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:02 am

Obviously, he did not roll down our street!
There are about 5 or 6 boys and 2 girls (between 6 and 9) that are outside running the streets, riding bikes, yelling and laughing ALL the time. It's great.
My 7 & 8 year old grandsons love to come play with them.
This is about the 3rd generation of kids running amuck(!) in this neighborhood since we came in. I'm counting mine as the first.
My first neighborhood of kids was the Towle area and Chuck Thompson's!
I love Palo Alto!

Posted by Meera
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:26 am

Kudos to Mike Lanza for initiating this moment. Playhood is norm everywhere but in USA. This is how we were raised. There were multiple uncles and aunties and friends (I figured out in my pre-teens that they were actually just neighbors, not relatives) who shaped my childhood.

I had hoped to give same environment while raising my three girls. I am glad to find a small nook in south bay. Yes, I did sneak around counting for strollers and toys left outside before making an offer.


Posted by Michelle Daher
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

We agree that kids need time to play outdoors. We've ignored potential litigation by placing our trampoline in our front yard--completely accessible to anyone who might walk by, but no takers (aside from our own handfull of children). Now we have a camping scene in our front yard hoping we might instigate neighborhood gatherings where parents can meet parents and dispell concerns so their kids can get out of doors!
Biking to school helps too.
We are lucky our City finds time to ensure this infrastructure is in place so we can all feel safe that our kids have room for this active transportation.

Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

That is what BACK yards are for. If people built reasonably sized homes with yards instead of huge homes with no yards, the kids would have a SAFE place to be. Not everybody wants to live next to hordes of kids all over the front yards. Some streets even have basketball hoops in the bike lanes and into the roadway. This is extremely unsafe and thoughtless of others

Posted by An Ohlone Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I agree with Another Willows Mom.

<"There's lots of excitement from certain people -- Ohlone (Elementary School) types -- but for most people it's, 'We like it, but we're not going to start canceling our kids' activities so they can hang out in your yard more,'" he said.>

I'm an Ohlone parent, and the sterile environment that Mr. Lanza hands to his kids (on a silver platter) does not excite me.

Why does everything, down to the way a child plays, have to be so orchestrated? Why work so hard to create a world, using synthetic materials, that may not even fit your child's personality?

What happened to natural play? When it rains, give your child a pair of rainboots (or not) and just let them splash around outside. When it's sunny, slap on the sunblock and go outside to pick weeds or hunt for "bally" bugs. Teach your kids how to fertilize a tree and resuscitate thirsty plants.

Maybe your kids would rather participate in more organized. Did you ever think to ask them what they want?

Posted by Julianne Assange
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I love Mr Lanza's approach... The last two generations of kids have really missed out on street games and free play outdoors. There is a nearby street where the mothers supervise this kind of play so that the kids can ride their trikes and scooters safely, as well as play ball games, things a kid cannot do in the typical miniscule backyards in Palo Alto or anywhere else in the Bay Area. Today's children do not have much chance to play creative physical games outdoors, and it can be time-consuming and impractical to drive to a playground. And then, some playgrounds are not very challenging, or questionable people hang out in them, or older teens "party" in them.

As it is, I have my daughter enrolled in toddler preschool, a children's gym class, and then drive her to a playground on the other side of town five times a week to make sure she gets physical exercise and social interaction. A couple of times we have actually run into adults having "wine parties" on a children's playground, during after school hours!

What is a parent to do when simply trying to do the right thing for the child? I will love to go to Mr Lanza's talk!

Posted by P A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Mr. Lanza's book and blog often come off much more as one-upmanship ("my kids have the best toys, my kids have the best neighborhood, the best childhood), than as helpful advice.

Posted by Mike Lanza
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Ohlone Parent -

We're not very orchestrated here, believe me. My oldest son, age 8, rides home from school every day, and many days like today, he has no activity after school, so he goes to a friend's house, then they often end up at my house. I have *no* idea what they're doing, and our nanny really doesn't, either.

Do I ask him what he wants to do? Yes, and even more, we've provided him with the means to organize it and pull it off with his friends.

Posted by jackie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Mike Lanza,

Please tell us, what do you and your wife do about bullying? Have you had problems with groups of kids ganging up against one kid? Or a more powerful kid being mean to a smaller or less popular one? How have you handled that? If someone told you your kid was picking on another, would you take them seriously or insist that they were mistaken?

Also, have you or your wife had issues with the other kids' parents? If you have, what kinds of issues did they raise and what did you do about them?

I like your philosophy, as long as parents are mature and compassionate enough to be responsible and hold their kids accountable for their behavior, and also to step in when less powerful kids need protection.

Posted by Mike Lanza
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Jackie -

A neighbor boy tormented my oldest son Marco for a short time a few years ago, and Marco came home crying after one episode. I told the boy's dad, and the dad did a great job of making that into a teachable moment for his son. Since then, we haven't done too much with that family, mostly because Marco wants to avoid the boy. This stuff happens.

On the other hand, Marco used to instigate physical fights with kids who came over here, much more so than they with him. We made a concerted effort to have lots of play dates with him here, with some adult watching. He got so much practice that those days are pretty much behind him. I'm happy to say that a few of the kids who he used to be a jerk to are his best friends now - i.e. they stuck with him.

- Mike

Posted by Pffftt!
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto in the 70's when we would have no homework, rode our bikes or skateboarded everywhere, took the bus all over town with a 20 cent day pass at age 11, and found our way home at nightfall. Those days are over.

Lanza's dream of bringing back Brady Bunch days will never materialize. Life is more complicated. There is more drug abuse, child molestation, less stay-at-home moms. And there are computers and more activities for parents these days.

The bigger issue for children is poor parenting these days with less stay-at-home moms. We can't even get moms to breastfeed their children these days because it's too much of a time commitment and they don't want to waste their time holding their children but instead pass them off to nannies or daycare to feed them. And many return to work after 3 months. Why? Why would anyone have a child if they want to leave them with someone else to care for? If a mom wants a career, chose it instead of the child. That said, I have seen well-loved, well-adjusted children because the parents are loving and nurturing. However, this is rare.

How can parents think their children will care for them when they are seniors if they don't care about them when they are babies? Parenting in America is disasterous.

Posted by mattie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Sadly, I find many families in PA and MP, mine included, longing for what I had as a kid in a small mid-western town... gaggles of kids running around town, every day after school not to mention endless summers, mixed ages, mixed personalities, neighbors and cousins and rivals, connected backyards, figuring things out, a bit of trouble now and then, constant sports, lots of fun, not enough money to even think about cigarettes (not to mention drugs), the collective eyes of a community of connected parents, kids "relatively" safe yet adventurously free.

Naturally there are trade-offs around such things, and there are reasons people like myself love the peninsula. Yet we as a community (and my friends and I, more personally) seem to have a mild case of collective schizophrenia. Bigger houses mean smaller yards (and at $1000/sqft, let's maximize the footprint), achievement looks to many to be at odds with frivolities, fences box you in as they box others out, the fine line between "safe" and "sheltered", we want kids happy yet are obsessed with status, "but you love math, don't you?"... I won't go on.

Alas, I have nothing to propose, but I can't help but think that part of such laments is the sometimes strained notion of our suburban communities, as well as our wealth and obsession with status and success. I don't mean to have a tone of doom and gloom or condescension, because that's not where my emotions are, but I will say (with no snark intended) that what we're lacking is not thousand dollar play structures.

Posted by David
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by jackie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:04 am

Mike Lanza,

Thanks so much for your honesty. It takes a mature parent to admit if their kid is being a bully, and to hold their kids accountable and teach them better behavior. It was also brave of you to talk with the dad of the kid who was bullying your son. You were lucky that he was receptive and held his son accountable. Playborhoods only work if all, or most, of the parents are like you and that dad. Way to go!

It would be great if you could address that in your website, blog, and speeches.

Posted by Mike Lanza
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:58 am


Here are a couple of articles I wrote about these issues:

Psychological Bullying in Our Neighborhood
Web Link

Play Dates as a Stepping Stone
Web Link

Marco Graduates From Play Dates
Web Link

Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm

[Portion removedv by Palo Alto Online staff.] If you have a comment at least have the decency to do it without insulting Mr. Lanza.

I for one totally agree with him. Just playing outside every evening with a big group of kids was the high point of my day when I was a kid and while my son had this opportunity a few years ago, I'm finding that many folks who moved recently into my neighborhood don't seem to be interested in letting their kids play outside. As a result my daughter only has organized play dates which is a pity since its usually just one-on-one. Kudos to Mr. Lanza for trying to do something about this.

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