MENLO PARK (KPIX 5) — A dad in Menlo Park has created an extreme playground for neighborhood kids to enjoy. He calls it a Playborhood — a place where kids can bounce around and take risks.
Within minutes of Mike Lanza and his sons arriving home from school, their backyard and driveway fill-up with kids. They are drawn to Lanza’s Playborhood — a place where neighborhood kids can play freely. So freely, some parents might find it alarming.
“It has enough fun things that kids never get bored,” says Lanza. “Some element of risk is okay. I want my kids to push themselves, and I want them to have fun. Let’s face it, it’s no fun if there’s all this safety stuff around.”
Lanza wants kids to have so much fun they’ll willingly choose this over electronic gadgets and games. He is an app developer in Silicon Valley, so it may seem odd for him to tell kids to get off their screens and go outside.
“I want them to have a great experience in the real world. I think that’s fundamental,” says Lanza.
Eight-year-old Colin Young begged to be dropped off at the Playborhood. What would he be doing if he couldn’t?
“Trying to find ways to do something extremely dangerous at the park, ha,” he says. He insists he doesn’t like it because it’s dangerous.
“It’s because it’s fun.”
The thrill of danger also keeps 7-year-old Brooke Breitenstein coming back.
“When i jumped down, i was like ‘woooo!,'” she says, jumping off a roof. “And then it felt like I landed on a cloud instead of getting really hurt.”
Lanza, who has a Master’s Degree in Education, wrote a book about how Playborhoods could become an alternative for kids increasingly overscheduled with extracurricular activities. At his house, any neighborhood parent can drop off a child to play.
Some experts feel he’s on to something. Best-selling author, Ashley Merryman explores cutting-edge research in child development. She’s found free-play with an element of risk teaches important life skills.
“In fact, research has actually shown that kids who spent more time in unstructured play as children were higher in creativity as adults. You have to problem-solve. You can’t predict what’s happening,” she says.
Ten-year-old Jack craves this type of freedom. His mom supports Lanza’s vision.
“Sure, he could break his leg on the trampoline. We’ll deal with that if that happens,” she says. “You know, I was jumping out of tree houses as a kid. I don’t think it’s unusual.”
I think it’s important to have some faith that your kids are not crazy lunatics; that kids actually don’t want to get hurt… and yes, they may want to show off but ultimately they don’t want to have a broken bone,” says Lanza.
But do parents think Lanza is a ‘crazy lunatic?’
“Maybe,” he laughs.
When the Lanza’s aren’t home, kids are still welcome to use the Playborhood. Yet, Lanza isn’t concerned someone could get hurt and he’d be facing a lawsuit.
“Hey, anything can happen. The other side of the ledger is, what’s the probability that our kids are going to have a wonderful life? That they’re going to have a really fun childhood? And I’ll take those odds any day.”