My husband and I live on a quiet private street. Other than the occasional Uber speeding by, or a teenager driving a little faster than he should to visit grandma, it is a safe street for our children to play kickball and ride their bikes.

Last summer my husband and I spontaneously set out chairs and snacks in our front driveway and invited the neighborhood families over to enjoy the summer evening with us. And you know what? It was AWESOME, so we did it more often! Soon more and more neighbors started hanging out with us, even those without kids. Our gatherings were not planned and far from Napa chic. We put out a few snacks and inexpensive beverages for the adults and kids. Suddenly the whole neighborhood wanted to participate!

So last Fourth of July we organized a last-minute block party. My husband rolled the grill out front. We asked the neighbors to each bring a side dish to share, a protein for the grill, and of course their beverage of choice. We didn’t have a fancy sign-up sheet or even a flyer. There was no theme. No frills. Just good old-fashioned summertime fun!

This summer we kicked off the Summer Solstice with a block party. The neighbors are still waving and saying hi to my family and commenting on how fun the party was. I continue to smile thinking about the adults singing along to classic Paul Simon playing on the Bluetooth. One dad jumped on my son’s scooter and started riding it around the block like he was eight again! His young daughters wanted in on the action, so he wheeled them around and around. It was heartwarming. I loved watching the neighborhood children play while the adults were getting to know each other better.

It’s such a simple concept, yet in today’s digital age our country has lost neighborhood play, like when we were kids. At the Solstice Party, my children were socializing and keeping up with boys twice their age. I noticed this helped to build their confidence. Additionally, studies show that free play builds creativity and ability to come up with unique ideas. True free play is spontaneous and guided by the child’s imagination without the direction of an adult.

Now that my boys are a little older, I’ve been allowing them to play out front without my constant supervision to help foster their independence. This also forces them to resolve conflict and negotiate with the neighborhood kids (because there is only one GoKart and 10 kids who want to ride it)! And I think it is important my children learn how to entertain themselves.

I think we all agree it takes a village to raise children, yet we are guilty of driving straight into our garage without taking time to get to know our neighbors.

This summer I encourage you to go door to door and invite your neighbors outside! Throw a spontaneous Fourth of July party as we did! It’s a great community builder, but also so important for our kids!

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Claudette Shatto has lived in the Napa Valley for 19 years. She is married with two elementary-aged children. Although she is extremely active in her community and her sons’ school, she is not your average PTA Mom.  She avoids the Pinterest-inspired classroom potlucks and instead lends her expertise to the school’s digital communication efforts.
When not teaching at Napa Valley College you can find her in an elementary classroom teaching the Entrepreneur Mindset to 5th graders.  Her recent passion project is teaching leadership to kindergarten and first graders. She is a classic type A, life-long over-achiever and is dedicated to serving her community.