How (and Why) to Throw a Block Party
Vanessa Elias is a longtime friend of Let Grow, a proponent of play, a parenting coach at Thrive with a Guide, and also — because of all these — a planner of block parties. She’s so good at those, she has released a free Block Party USA Guide to help us all organize block parties in our neighborhoods — starting right now.
“Keep it simple!” is Vanessa’s mantra. “No expensive venue. No decorations or favors. No elaborate menu. Nothing staged for social media consumption. Block parties are about putting away phones, meeting and enjoying neighbors, and fostering more free play for children.”
The benefits of a block party? Let Vanessa count the ways:
- Block parties encourage free play for children. An abundance of free play can make children happier, better problem-solvers, and more energized to pursue learning and develop deep interests.
- The United States is lonely. Block parties offer social connectedness. A survey of American adults by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found 36% feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time.” To address our nation’s epidemic of loneliness, the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released The Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.
- After block parties, you may see an uptick in teenagers being hired by their neighbors – a win-win! Babysitting, pet sitting, watering plants, mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow. Part-time paid work helps teenagers build agency and confidence.
- Block parties can cultivate a culture of showing up for one another in countless ways. After a block party, a one child started decorating everyone’s mailbox for holidays, and a family with a generator offered charging in their house during a power outage.
- When we get together face-to-face, we realize that we have more in common than we are different. Block parties all across the country are proof that neighbors may vote differently and they may disagree on many issues, but you can still laugh together and offer a helping hand. And eat!
In 2018, Vanessa launched Big Block Party Weekend in her hometown of Wilton, Connecticut, with the mission of “building community one block at a time.” The inaugural weekend brought together more than 1,200 residents for approximately 40 block parties. The joy and benefits could be felt immediately and continue to grow. Wilton’s block parties are now a beloved annual tradition.
“I founded Block Party USA as an easy way to achieve connection, civility, and community – and especially to foster free play for kids,” says Vanessa. As the former head of a entire task force on free play, she knows that when kids play with other kids it reduces their anxiety and boosts independence.
What’s more, when neighbors talk to neighbors, in real life, something shifts. “A block party just once a year can have a profound ripple effect.”
Sounds fun and easy. Make it a pot luck and you don’t even have to cook (much)! Here’s the free guide: BlockPartyUSA.org. Party on!