How a Community Saved My Summer

Hanging out in the front yard

Now that summer is past us and the kids have settled into school, I feel like I can finally reflect on our summer. Over and over again this summer, I kept having the feeling that this summer was different. For one, it flew by. It felt like it was June and then I looked up and it was back-to-school. I also kept feeling an overwhelming sense of joy. Our family seemed happy and at peace, and most days it felt as if we were living in the moment as best we could.

Now maybe every summer is like that for you, but it hasn’t been for me. Many times in the past I’ve started summer with giddiness and enthusiasm, only to feel the need to wave the white flag by the middle of July.

I realize that the age of my kids definitely plays into the equation. Every summer is better than the last, as they get older and more independent. They are at a fantastic age, where they don’t need help going to the bathroom or fixing a sandwich, but yet they still enjoy being around their parents. Still, something was at work beyond the kids’ age, making this a wonderful summer. The difference, I think? Our new community.

This was our first summer in this neighborhood and it had a tremendous impact on how enjoyable it was. The kids played outside every day, something I couldn’t necessarily say in our old neighborhood. They strengthened friendships, set new boundaries, and had the time and space to play away from constant adult supervision. I also played outside almost every day. I strengthened friendships as well, and reaped the rewards of not having to constantly supervise my children’s play. It was a beautiful thing, and we were all sad to see summer come to an end.

Of course, not everyone can replicate our neighborhood, or move to a more playful neighborhood on a whim. But I do believe there are things everyone can do to foster community where they live, and in turn make their community a more playful one. And by doing so, we all help each other through the joys and difficulties of parenting. Here are a few steps anyone can take to build community wherever you live.

Spend time in the front yard.

 

When we first looked at this house, we marveled at the backyard and the basement. The backyard is large, wooded, and has an excellent playset. The basement is filled with toys, crafts, and a gaming system. Now that we’re here, guess where the kids spend most of their time? The front yard. I realized, as they wisely did, that the front yard is where it’s at.

Modern households spend a small fortune on making the backyard a pleasant place to be. We build decks, firepits, and massive playsets. This is all well and good, and we do enjoy the backyard as a family. But when you’re sitting back there, no one can see you. And if no one can see you, countless opportunities to interact with neighbors are missed. In the past, houses were built with front porches and stoops, close to the street. In this way, you could see and be seen, and everyone knew their neighbors. Now, too often, we pull into our garages and shut the doors behind us, never to be seen again until the next time we leave.

Make an effort to spend time in your front yard. If you live in an apartment, condo, or an urban area, spend time in front of your building or at the nearest park. You might be the only one out there for a while, but sometimes all a person needs is to see someone else outside to coax them outdoors as well.

Reason #467 why my neighborhood is awesome.

Get to know your neighbors.

 

Now that you’re outside where everyone can see you, strike up a conversation. Kids are great icebreakers for us and give us something in common. Even if the parents aren’t out, it’s great to get to know the kids in the neighborhood. Surprise neighbors with a small treat or flowers, and leave your contact information. Consider organizing a pitch-in or an ice cream social so that everyone can meet and socialize. And if all of that is too overwhelming, just smile and wave. Just recognizing your neighbors is a step in the right direction!

Water balloons

Invest in things kids can do in groups.

 

I say “invest” lightly, because you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get items that will draw kids over to your home. The biggest hits this summer were cheap – water balloons and chalk. The big kids loved having water balloon fights (frankly, so did the adults!), and the younger ones could spend hours drawing with chalk. We put the slackline out front for awhile and no one could resist trying it out. Put out a tub of playground balls. Have frisbees around. Pool noodles make great “weapons” for jousting without the risk of injury. I also loved keeping a supply of cheap popsicles in our outdoor freezer (Yes, the horrible kind that are nothing but sugar and food coloring – sue me). Nothing brings kids together like sugar! It doesn’t matter what you choose, the point is to make it clear that you are a kid-friendly household and that you’re approachable.

How do you encourage community where you live? Has your community been receptive to your efforts?

 

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