Let’s Party! How and why to plan a Summer Block Party
Rosalie Witt watched as the little girl meticulously examined the materials on her neighbor’s lawn. A box, some tape, streamers—she browsed, then spoke: “I’m intrigued.”
So began her engrossing project, transforming the plain box into an elaborate cardboard house. “She drew decorations on the inside, hung streamers as curtains,” says Witt. “She didn’t want anyone to help at first, but over time other kids took interest and she let them in.”
That was just one snippet from Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekend, a community-wide event launched last year through the efforts of the Wilton Free Play Matters Task Force, a group of local parents striving to bring freedom and fun back into the lives of our often super-scheduled and overly supervised children.
Vanessa Elias, president of the Wilton Youth Council and chair of the task force’s family/neighborhood committee, says the first step is dialing down the fear that shuts down that freedom. “First, we are fearful for our children’s safety, despite the fact that statistically, today’s children are safer than ever before,” she says. “Then we are fearful of the judgment of others; so even if we think our children are safe, we worry about the views and reactions of others—judgment that might even prompt them to call the police.”
The Wilton Free Play Matters Task Force, led by licensed clinical social worker Colleen Fawcett, is working with schools, community groups, and residents to promote the idea of giving children more freedom and independence, all with a healthy dose of guidance. “We’ve raised our kids in captivity,” Elias says. “Of course we should give them parameters, but they also need skills and coping mechanisms if we are to release them into the wild.”
Enter the Wilton Big Block Party Weekend. Back on the calendar for June 2019, it’s an event meant to facilitate personal connections between neighbors, creating a safe “village” of sorts where adults know each other by name, and kids can roam with the security that comes from a more communal environment. Last year’s festivities ranged from egg toss contests on Middlebrook Farm
Road, to a game of street hockey on Downe Lane. Through it all, neighbors kicked back with neighbors, and the kids ran free.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” says Carlie Tardino, who helped to organize her party on Downe Lane. “Then, about an hour before start time, you saw the tables coming out to be set up at the ends of driveways, people rolling out the Radio Flyers with all their supplies.”
Tardino noted one elderly couple who was thrilled to mingle with the young families on the street, saying the opportunity made them feel like they were truly part of the community.
Over on Langer Lane, Kara Berghaus saw the neighborhood kids connect in a way they hadn’t before.
“The initial discomfort comes more from the adults than the kids. Kids don’t have that mindset; they’re more open and naturally want to connect,” she says. “With the mixed ages at our party, there was real mentoring and peer connection.”
The key, say those who helped organize last year’s events, is to keep it simple.
“Don’t overthink it,” says Tardino. “If you bring a lawn chair and a cooler, you’re in.”
The low-key, old-fashioned nature of the block party is fun for kids, and takes pressure off parents, too.
“When the kids are having fun without having to be constantly supervised, it gives the parents a chance to break away from that role and socialize, knowing the kids are okay,” says Witt. “Take it a step further; when you meet the older kids in the neighborhood, you now have potential babysitters so you can go out once in awhile! It’s an important self care element.”
This year’s Wilton Big Block Party Weekend will be June 8 and 9. Veterans from last year are already looking forward to another round, fueled by suggestions and input from newly engaged, enthusiastic neighbors. If you’re thinking of starting one in your neighborhood, go for it! The organizers offer great tips to get you started:
Advertise: Create fliers for about 20 to 30 houses in your neighborhood.
Keep it simple: Bring a little food, some beverages, and the rest will take care of itself.
Involve the Kids: Get their input with ideas, invitations, set up, materials, food prep—all great opportunities to acknowledge their creativity and help teach them organizational skills.
Offer Options: Put out open-ended options for the kids such as building with boxes or drawing with chalk to help them get their creativity flowing.
Most of all, get ready to have some fun!
Reasons to Hold a Block Party
›› Meet and get to know your neighbors
›› Increase a sense of belonging in the community
›› Get outside, make friends, have fun!
›› Find neighborhood playmates for your children
›› Make personal connections, have face-to-face conversation
›› Meet long-standing residents and learn about community history
›› Decrease the stress of snow days by knowing your neighbors
›› Create a neighborhood contact list