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No Plans? No Problem!

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No Plans? No Problem!

Photo: During one plan-less weekend this past fall, my boys collected leaves from all over the neighborhood and made a huge leaf pile on the street. I’ve never seen them work so hard and so passionately!

The last couple of weekends, my family had a totally empty schedule – no sports games, birthday parties, play dates, etc. In fact, we didn’t even make a plan to go anywhere like a zoo or park.

So, every morning, we woke up without anything in particular to do. When my wife was in charge, she came up with an idea of where to take our boys (7, 4, and 2) and she loaded them into the minivan. However, when I was in charge, our boys and I wandered around our yard and neighborhood.

Sounds boring, eh?

Actually, we weren’t bored at all. In fact, two of those days were really fantastic, one even qualifying as one of those cherished days I’ll remember the rest of my life.

We walked down the street to a dry creek bed by our house. There, we hiked around playing with rocks and sticks. Most of the time, I let them go on their own, and I went on my own foraging projects. When we got hungry, I put the two young boys in a stroller and we walked to downtown Palo Alto, a mile away. The boys stopped frequently along the way to pick up various little things, alternately playing catch and chase with them. We went to The Creamery for lunch and they feasted on sugary and starchy stuff their mom doesn’t approve of. Our favorite waitress, Amy, waited on us, and Nico (4) sang “Amy, What You Gonna Do?” to her. We chatted with a very nice woman next to us who, Marco (7) and I agreed, looks exactly like our cousin Anna Maria from Italy. Then, we walked home, taking a brief detour at a park. They boys played more games of catch and chase all the way home.

It was a collection of really nice moments, strung together by chaos. We were all firing on all cylinders, totally living in the moment, totally enjoying each other.

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Mike Lanza

Mike Lanza, MA Ed and MBA (Stanford), is a blogger at and soon-to-be-published book author on the subject of kids' play in neighborhoods. He's worked hard to create a very rich neighborhood play life for his three boys - ages 7, 4, and 2 - in Menlo Park, California. He's also discovered and written about dozens of neighborhoods throughout North America that are doing innovative things to make a vibrant life for kids. Prior to his writing career, Mike was a five-time software and Internet entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.


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1:55PM PST on Feb 14, 2013

Thanks Mike.

11:09PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

We took walks around the neighborhood, kids telling me where friends lived. We had some special times walking and talking together. We'd sit on the front step and count cars and wave and smile to people. We rode bikes together finding things in the neighborhood we'd not noticed was a nice close time for us when we'd picnic at the neighborhood park. Watching people is always fun.

8:26PM PST on Jan 26, 2012

We don't make week-end plans ...and NO play-dates for my children! Is such a silly concept to begin with! IF you have to plan to do anything it always comes off as forced or an obligation - just let the chips fall where they may much more fun!

8:17PM PST on Jan 26, 2012

I totally agree that parents should not be over-planning things for their kids.How do they expect them to ever come up with anything for themselves? I suspect this notion that kids need so much structure comes from people who make their living from selling the goods and services that are required for sports and other activitites.And think of the gas you'd save just staying home and playing in the yard.Of course, not everybody has a yard, but I hope you all get the point.Kids need freedom and moms need a rest.

7:59PM PST on Jan 25, 2012

What a lovely gift you gave your sons. Their choices, and your participation.

7:05PM PST on Jan 25, 2012

Ah, free time!

6:35PM PST on Jan 25, 2012


6:09PM PST on Jan 25, 2012

When I was a kid we used to be told to go outside on Saturdays. We didn't have a choice, but we didn't mind. Dad would say if it is sunny.. go outside and play. We would swim in the creek, build forts, have a very unorganized kickball games with the neighborhood kids, ride our bikes, and explore. Even on rainy days we'd go out, and in the snow too. We made friends, got in fights, learned a lot, got hurt a little, and we LIVED and THRIVED. Kid's belong in a place where they can create and imagine

9:57AM PST on Jan 25, 2012

NOTro plan anything now and again IS A GREAT PLAN!

6:41AM PST on Jan 25, 2012

Sounds great! Thank you for sharing :)

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