7 Reasons to Let Kids Play in the Streets

CC BY 2.0. Jaime González

It makes for a better city all around.

Don't be so quick to dismiss the street in front of your home as a potential play space for children. For many urban dwellers, getting a child to a playground or park is challenge enough, let alone a forest or wilderness setting. But the street and sidewalk are right there, waiting to be claimed.

A group called Playing Out would like to see parents become more comfortable with letting their kids hang out in the street close to home. The group believes that every child should have the freedom to step out their own door and kick a ball about.

It has created something called the 'playing out' model, where residents of urban streets can come together and get permission from the city to close off their street for up to three hours a month to allow children to play. These regular street play sessions can change the entire feeling of your neighborhood, not to mention kids' lives.

Playing Out short intro from Playing Out on Vimeo.

In order to help adults grasp the importance of street play (if they've forgotten after all those years!), Playing Out has compiled a list of 10 reasons why children should be allowed to do it, whether as an organized street play session or independently. I'd like to share seven of these below.

1. Children need to play. It's crucial for mental and physical development, and is even included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (although far too many adults ignore this).

2. The street is a blank slate. It holds hidden and evolving opportunities for imaginative play that a prebuilt play structure does not.

3. Children like to play near their homes and have traditionally done so. In fact, most parents probably have memories of doing it when they were young.

4. Children need ample space to play energetically. Tiny backyards and apartment courtyards are insufficient play spaces. Kids need to run, jump, yell, and chase. A street allows for this.

5. Street play improves community cohesion. It brings people together across generations, races, and school districts. It builds trust as people get to know each other. The more kids that are playing outside, the more it will attract others.

6. Street play creates opportunities for growth. When kids are out there semi-supervised (parent keeping an eye from the house), they have to deal with situations on their own. They gain communication skills, orient themselves in the neighborhood, and resolve disputes with friends.

7. They have more time to play. When a child does not have to rely on a parent to take them somewhere to play, they are far more likely to play outside every day.

See full list here.

Of course there's the obvious issue of traffic, and some streets are truly too congested to allow for children's play; but there's no reason why a typical urban residential street cannot be transformed into a play zone every afternoon at 4 p.m.