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Kids Influencing Kids

Once a month, we attend a family Shabbat service at our temple. The number of families attending is fairly small in comparison to the full temple membership, which makes the low-key service fun for all of us.

But the real highlight comes afterwards, at the potluck dinner. All the kids -- ages preschool through middle school -- gather around a couple of tables. Every month the kids come up with new games and ways to entertain each other. The older kids keep the younger ones mesmerized. The younger ones attach themselves to their favorite older kids. Afterwards, we always notice that our kids learned something about interacting with people that night.

It's the kind of growth you get when you live in a neighborhood full of different-aged kids where the kids roam outside after school. Or the kind that happens during neighborhood block parties where the younger kids watch older ones ride bikes and want to do it themselves. Or the kind you get when kids grab a soccer ball and form teams of all ages on their own and just start playing.

I know these neighborhoods exist. We have friends in New Jersey who live in one. Other friends have been investigating neighborhoods in Loudoun County in part because of the number of kids running around. But in our more city-like close-in suburb, the dynamic is missing. The kids are always grouped by age -- at school, in organized sports, at the park.

How kid-oriented is your neighborhood and how important was the kid/adult ratio when you chose your house? Do you find your children are always playing with kids the same age or do they have chances to mix it up?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Tweens
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Your family shabbat service sounds awesome. Too bad we can't take advantage of it.
No, our neighborhood has a few kids in the early evenings playing in the tot lots. But I would say they are all middle elementary school students. I rarely see young toddlers or preschoolers out at the same time. And I never see the middle school to high school kids just hanging out. My guess is the older kids have activities and the younger kids day are winding down.

Even when I am home on Fridays, I don't see a lot of kids out. I think most kids do organized structured activies or play in their own back yard. Kind of sad.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 24, 2008 7:14 AM | Report abuse

I live in montgomery county. And anyone who bought 2 years ago or earlier than that could not really use the kid/adult ratio as a factor. You just had to put in an offer and pray it got accepted!! It was a little to crazy around here to wait for the perfect anything when it came to housing!

Posted by: HappyDad | April 24, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

We have a lot of kids, different ages, in our neighborhood but it is not the kind of neighborhood where kids just meet up and play. I suspected that when we bought there because it's hilly, there are no sidewalks and kids just don't play in front of houses much. I had that kind of neighborhood growing up and wanted that for my kids but the realities of finding a house we liked, could afford and was close enough to make the commute manageable outweighed those factors. I've noticed things can vary block by block in neighborhoods so it's really hard to buy for that. Having sidewalks and flatter streets seems to help but it also depends on the types of people living there, work/school schedules, etc.

That shabbat dinner does sound great. We are expecting a similar experience when we spend a weekend at family camp with our synagogue. The older kids take care of the younger; the kids roam; should be really nice for all.

Posted by: PT Fed Mof2 | April 24, 2008 8:27 AM | Report abuse

that is one of the reasons i like the after school care for my son. he has the opportunity to play with kids of all ages. as i weigh the idea of retiring or dropping out of the work force the loss of after school care is one of the factors we consider. if i were at home my son would probably only play with kids his own age that are in his class at school. i like the fact that he has friends of varying ages.

Posted by: quark | April 24, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

We have a great neighborhood for kids of all ages and adults. Luckily our street does not get a lot of traffic, there is open space and places to explore. Kids of all ages are out all the time, all year round. There is plenty of knocking at doors to see "who can play" and adults at various locations that keep an eye out. We have block parties and the adults can be found hanging outside and enjoying cocktail in the evening when the weather is nice. To put it sinmply, we have a network and have become friends in this neighborhood.

Besides the discussion yesterday about parents being afraid to let their kids roam, the other problem I see with neighborhoods is the neighbors and their unwillingness to put forth any effort to meet each other and establish a relationship. When I tell people about our great neighborhood they are usually shocked and want to know why it doesn't happen in their neighborhood. My first question is usually, have you introduced yourself to any of your neighbors? Do you even make an effort to establish a relationship? The answer is usually - No. Well, duh. Sometimes it takes a little effort.

Granted, all neighborhoods aren't as conducive to block parties, kids running and playing or even friendships as ours, but how would anyone if they have never made an effort? Go out and shake a hand, get to know the neighborhood kids, have them in your house for a hour to play a video game with your kids, watch each other's animals, take in each other's mail when on vacation and just be friendly. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by: Get Real | April 24, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Our neighborhood consists of a lot of very scheduled kids. The kids are so busy that there isn't a lot of opportunity for that spontaneous gang of kids stuff. We do have a couple of neighbors who are of the same ilk when it comes to letting them fill their own time, but without them we'd be lost. This is part of why we love our kids Montessori schools. My daughter is in a class with kids age 2.5 to 6 and my son is in a class with kids from first through 6th grade. I think they gain so much from interacting with all the different ages.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a "gang" of kids of all different ages. It makes me sad to see how very hard that is to find and how stratified things have become by both age AND gender. To suggest a playdate with a boy and a girl isn't shocking, but it is uncommon. I am also amazed at the unwillingness of people to be friendly and reach out. At my daughter's school, I organize a parent group to get together once a month for coffee. We have a good turnout, but if I didn't make it happen, I don't think anyone else would; and at my son's school, you'd think I wwas asking for a pint of blood just to get the other parents to give a wave and a smile at drop off. I'm still new there, so I'll keep working at it.

I also think part of the phenomenon comes from how busy families are. I know it is more difficult to get my kids together with the children in families where both parents work because the kids are in after care after school and the weekends are often time for the families to reconnect, so those friendships take a lot more effort to maintain from both an adult and child perspective.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 24, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I live in South Riding in Loudoun and it is very kid-friendly. There are usually groups of kids of all ages playing outside informally, playgroups at the playground, and kids in structured afterschool activities and sports. There are events designed for the whole neighborhood, block parties, and impromptu get togethers among neighbors. Last weekend my daughter was playing outside and a big group of girls a year or two older invited her across the street to play and eat ice cream as their patents sat on the deck out back. She was so excited to play "with the big kids".

Posted by: SR Mom | April 24, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

This issue is one reason I chose a home-based daycare for our kids. When they were the youngest, they were the apple of the older kids' eyes, and learned a lot. Our oldest son's first word was the same sing-song-y "uh-oh!" frequently heard from his older buddy. When they're the oldest kids at daycare, they learn responsibility, to teach, and perhaps best of all, that their need to have their shoes tied RIGHT NOW is not nearly as important as the baby who needs reassurance. Great lessons, all around.

As for our neighborhood - there are a lot of elementary school kids, who are unfortunately very busy, and the opportunities for "mentorship" are greatly reduced now our boys are school aged. I'm pretty sad about this, and am pondering how I can change this.

Posted by: SEL | April 24, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I live within a mile of the DC border, and we have tons of kids near us. They walk out the door and play all the time, with kids of all ages. But while our immediate area has lots of kids, there are streets and little pockets in our neighborhood that don't have as many kids and where the experience is not the same.

If you want to be near a lot of kids, you have to look for it when you house hunt. And you can't just look for toys in the front yards, because some of this is cultural. Ask neighbors how much the kids play with each other in the neighborhood. It shouldn't be hard if you go to open houses, since half the people at the open house will be nosy neighbors. ;-)

Posted by: MarylandMom | April 24, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse


"It shouldn't be hard if you go to open houses, since half the people at the open house will be nosy neighbors. ;-)

The Open House idea is a good way to avoid buying a house on Revolutionary Road.

Posted by: Jake | April 24, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's school has a wonderful program where each fifth grader (big sister) are assigned to a first grader (little sister). These girls met the year before when, as fourth graders, the big girls came down to the kindergarten to act as a "reading buddy." They get together as often as possible (sometimes once a week). My daughter is a second grader now and her big sister is in the middle school but they still see each other at lunch sometimes. When the big sisters are ready for graduation from the upper school their little sisters will do something for them to send them off to college.

Posted by: 21117 | April 24, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

We live on capitol hill in Dc and the place is lousy with kids! Parents used to leave the neighborhood when the kids because school aged, but that has changed recently. The small public elementary school my child attends is has children as young as three and as old as twelve -- and the older kids are WONDERFUL with the younger. i was really worried that my little one would not be safe among all the big kids, but I feel completely foolish for such fears now. In after care the kids all play together very well. Academically, the public schools on the Hill may be lagging (i can't say, I'm just not concerned about that at this point), but as far as social interaction it is great. If academics are your focus, perhaps other neighborhoods are a better choice.

Posted by: capitol hill | April 24, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

We have a great neighborhood and it was a huge deciding factor in buying our house. When we pulled up with the realtor the first time we saw it a group of kids ran down and asked my oldest to play. We counted at the last block party and the count was 28 kids 8th grade and under on the block. All of the elementary kids walk to and from school together. They look out for one another and are like a big extended family. There are always pick up games of soccer and basketball, games of tag and monopoly on rainy days. I love feeling like there are 10 additional sets of parents looking out for my girls. There are a few nosy adults who get under my skin, but the sense of community is an even trade off.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 25, 2008 8:47 AM | Report abuse

There is some inter-age grouping in kids activities. Scouts, church, family get tog ethers with cousins.

Generally I think "things" work against it. With semi-competitive activities like sports the kids need to be in a shorter range to even things up.

Once kids get older then the parents of younger ones aren't always so keen on mixing them up -- what if they bully the younger ones or introduce more "adult" ideas?

You mentioned a religious get-together. That's an instance where the families involved assume a shared set of values, so letting kids of many ages intermix is OK. You can't assume a kid at a religious gathering will meet your particular standards, but you can hope.

Posted by: RoseG | April 25, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

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