“It takes a village to raise a child.” ~African proverb
When I was a boy, even as young as four-years-old, mom would send me outside to play, closing the door behind me, and didn’t expect to hear from me again until I was called in for dinner. Once out there, the first thing I’d do is start looking for other kids and if I didn’t readily see any, I’d start up the block, knocking on doors, “Can Johnny come out and play?” “Can Lisa come out and play?” I didn’t care if they were boys or girls, older or younger. I was just driven to look for playmates. Most families in our middle-class neighborhood were doing fine on one income, which meant that there was an adult in each of those homes, so there was little need for preschool or child care: the neighbors collectively cared for us as we roamed up and down the street, from yard-to-yard, learning life’s most important skills by playing together in our community.
It was a different time, of course, and even as we quibble over whether or not the world is now more dangerous or just seems more dangerous (the evidence leans toward the later more than the former), it would be illegal in most places to send your child “outside” the way mothers did in the 1960s and 70s, not to mention the fact that there are few mothers at home any longer as today’s economy demands that households have two-incomes. These twin dynamics, for better or worse, have ushered in an era of mass institutionalization of our youngest citizens into preschools and child cares, often to their detriment.
If you imagine human existence as a 12 hour clock, we lived as hunter-gatherers for 11 hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds of that time. We evolved to thrive within the context of the sorts of small communities of 20 to 50 individuals that characterized this era of human existence, and this is especially true for young children. For people my age, our neighborhoods served that role, but today’s children are growing up in a world of daily commutes, scheduled playdates, and screen time instead of outdoor play with the neighborhood children. As a result, both children and their parents have grown alienated from the neighborhoods, their natural communities, something that shows up in our hunter-gatherer brains in the form of anxiety and depression, which are showing up in today’s children in epidemic levels.
One of the most exciting promises of WEEKDAYS, with its mission of putting an in-home preschool or child care on every street in America, is that it becomes a focal point for reviving neighborhoods. Instead of driving all over town to deliver children to this or that institution, WEEKDAYS parents are walking their children to and from a neighbor’s home, hand-in-hand, meeting the other parents, who are also their neighbors. These are relationships that readily extend beyond the weekday, into evenings as weekends as families come to know and trust one another, not just as the parents of their children’s classmates, but as partners in this project of raising children in the modern world.
Perhaps we will never return to the more carefree days of yore, but we can, by centering our neighborhoods once more around children, provide more of what all of us need, connection to the families around us.