Turning a neighborhood into a playground

Palo Alto mothers get kids out of the house

A water balloon arched in the air and splashed down on 9-year-old Stephanie Nemet's feet Tuesday before she giggled and ran away from the little girl who threw it at her. Little boys played foursquare in the street as girls their age chased each other in their bathing suits.

A lot can be said about Iris Way, a Palo Alto neighborhood located off of Embarcadero Road. It has everything a suburban family could possibly want -- beautiful houses, giant trees, quiet streets and plenty of sun. Now residents have one more thing to cross off their checklists: Camp Iris Way.

Diana Nemet and Jennifer Antonow founded Camp Iris Way, which runs this week from 9 a.m. to noon, so neighborhood kids could play games, do arts and crafts and meet the other children on the block. The camp is for kids ages 4-15 and is limited to those living on Iris and one neighboring street.

Nemet and Antonow decided that they wanted to encourage the kids in their neighborhood to go outside and play after the pair of mothers read blogs on, a Menlo Park-based website.

"We decided to do it the first week of summer so that the kids could to get to know each other more and can play together for the whole summer," Antonow said.

The two sent out e-mails and printed fliers to get other neighborhood parents involved. While Nemet and Antonow originally thought they would only attract enough kids to fill a back yard, the camp directors ended up with 44 of the approximately 60 kids living in the neighborhood. With so many parents wanting their children to participate, Nemet and Antonow had to call the City of Palo Alto to get permission to have part of the street blocked off.

"The idea was for kids to open their front door and come outside to play," Nemet said. "We never thought it would be this big. It's been wonderful to see how much they're already bonding."

The older kids are counselors and the fifth- and sixth-graders are counselors in training. The camp is broken up into four teams to make things more manageable. Each team has two counselors who run the activities for the day.

"I'm moving into this neighborhood over the summer so it's a cool way to meet everyone," said 14-year-old counselor Rachel Wood. "Most of the kids have seen each other in the neighborhood but didn't know them. They became friends really fast."

Stations are set out every morning for the kids to play foursquare and hula hoop. At 9:30 a.m., campers join their teams and play games. After that, they break for a snack and then do an activity with the rest of the campers.

"We let the counselors decide what activities everyone will be doing," Nemet said. "We want the kids to run the camp."

Many other parents have gotten involved. There's a snack coordinator, camp banker, photographer, art supply person, equipment coordinator and two T-shirt coordinators.

Each day the camp moves to a different part of Iris in order for each kid to show the others where they live.

"It's great having all the kids grow up together," said Cathy Vieara, a mother of twins participating in the camp. "We're currently living in Mountain View because we're rebuilding our house on Iris. My kids stay connected to the neighborhood through camp."

The neighborhood kids have already started playing together in their free time.

"Yesterday after camp my doorbell wouldn't stop ringing," Nemet said. "The kids from camp kept coming over asking my kids to come out and play. As far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished."

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Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 15, 2010 at 8:55 pm

This is a great event---the kids had a ton of fun.Huge thank you to Diana and Jennifer!

Will you pleeease run it again next year, :-)...

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Robins
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Great job putting this together, Jennifer and Diana! It's very well organized, and my three kids are loving it. I hope this will become a summer tradition for years to come!

Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I love it, good olde americana, neighbors greeting neighbors and kids being kids, Gotta love it.

Like this comment
Posted by V. Marcos
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 16, 2010 at 6:34 am

Not in the area but wish the best to all the kids ( zac & mike ) . Have & great time only one wee :( , but what a week : ) :) :)

Like this comment
Posted by camp iris way CIT
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2010 at 7:52 am

i'm loving the camp! it's a great way for kids to get to know each other and to even make really good friends!

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Lanza
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2010 at 11:40 am

It's been wonderful to watch this camp unfold from the conception stage. Jennifer and Diana have done a wonderful job!

I'll be running my neighborhood summer camp in Menlo Park's Allied Arts neighborhood in mid-August. Here's my write-up on my lessons learned from last year's camp:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Bev
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

This camp sounds great! Hopefully it'll inspire other neighborhoods to simply send their kids outdoors to play together, even if parents don't have the resources for anything more elaborate.

Like this comment
Posted by Parva Oskoui
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2010 at 10:57 pm

My 2 kids are loving it. They had/have a chance to go to Yosemite starting on Fri; the older has declined because she doesn't want to miss this camp, and the younger accepted only because he knows if he stays, he'll be swimming at a swim meet on Sat which he doesn't want to.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Can we do this for every neighborhood in Palo Alto? What a great idea. Thank you for doing this.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm

It really does take a village to raise a kid. Well done!

Like this comment
Posted by Dee
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Diane and Jennifer - THANK YOU SO MUCH for the fabulous idea and execution of Camp Iris Way. Claire had a great time helping out with camp this week. Way to go!! Dee

Like this comment
Posted by AnoNymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2010 at 5:49 pm

C'mon, seriously. You can't simply tell them to "go play outside?" We did that all day long, and even managed to do so without the benefit of "a snack coordinator, camp banker, photographer, art supply person, equipment coordinator and two T-shirt coordinators."

Of course, our playtime would occasionally be interrupted by minor inconveniences such as earning money, doing things that were just expected (have any of these kids ever mowed a lawn?--that would get them outside! ;-), etc.

And we had even more time to play, given that we were not constantly being "required" to travel to pretty much every location on the globe prior to the age of 18...

Is anyone willing to stop scheduling and spoiling these kids, so that they can actually figure out some things on their own?
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Ano Nymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

First Lady Michelle Obama is engaged in a vigorous campaign called ”Let’s Move” to help children in America. Her primary target is childhood obesity, and for solutions, she’s advocating better diets and more exercise for children.

So, does she advocate free play for children? On this topic, she’s been silent. Check out the Let’s Move page on “physical activity.” Everything there is about adult-supervised exercise.

The Alliance for Childhood issued a press release entitled, ”Free Play is the Missing Link in Anti-Obesity Campaign.” Other pro-play groups concur that this omission is notable and disappointing.

Worse yet, she made a statement today at a news conference that indicates that she’s given up on neighborhoods as a place for many kids to play. She said, “And no matter what you say, in some neighborhoods you can’t tell parents, ‘Just let your kids go out and play,’ because it isn’t safe.”

Certainly, many neighborhoods are very unsafe, but that’s no reason to give up on them. Even in a neighborhood in the South Bronx, arguably the poorest and least safe place in America, a dedicated citizen named Hetty Fox has worked very hard for the last 33 years to provide kids a safe and fun place to play every day in the summer.

Aside from the poorest, most unsafe neighborhoods, crime statistics show that the majority of neighborhoods in America are safer than they were decades ago.

Does Michelle Obama advocate that the majority of American kids who live in these neighborhoods play outside? Nope. Nada.

By advocating that kids “Move” without advocating that they do it freely, in their neighborhoods, she’s done a disservice to the movement for neighborhood play. This is tremendously disappointing. It’s a big opportunity lost.

Like this comment
Posted by Ano Nymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Ano Nymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm

"It's been wonderful to watch this camp unfold from the conception stage..."

Hmm, there had to be a "conception stage" before some kids could go outside to play foursquare and throw water balloons?

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm

My kids have played outside since they were old enough to, but unfortunately all their friends have always been so busy that going out to play has always meant playing with siblings.

The problem is that PA kids are too tied up with activities both during school year and also in summer. Camps, classes, music practice, as well as long trips (often with grandparents who have the time to take them) often mean that they see less of their friends during the summer than during school.

Whereas the concept of this camp is good for the neighborhood, it is still too structured. Why do they need adults to organize this for them? Kids can do it for themselves and will given the chance.

I remember a weekend a while back when a group of 6th graders or similar organized themselves a sand building competition at the local park. They built complicated structures of tunnels and castles, they borrowed sand toys from their neighbors, got snacks from home, used water and sand in imaginative ways, and the parents had to drag them home to bed when it was dark. There was no winner, just a group of happy, tired, sandy children, all vowing to do another one soon. Sadly the follow up never happened (probably because they were never all free at the same time) but the memories of that day stay in my mind of just what is possible when you let the kids be kids.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 20, 2010 at 11:42 am

Ano Nymous - In theory, it would be great for the kids just to go out and play, and maybe this camp didn't need to be as structured. But the best thing about it was the commitment for the kids to be in the neighborhood for the week.

As mentioned above, PA kids spend most of their time in camps, classes and traveling (got to start building that college resume early!) There are also a lot of working parents. Right now, most of my sons friends are out of town, many for most of the summer.

Like this comment
Posted by Ano Nymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

This is an interesting concept. So, the thought seems to be that kids will do better with college applications if they have rich parents/grandparents who send them to expensive camps and classes, and take them on expensive round-the-world vacations.

Let's hear the "non-rich rights groups" weigh in on this! You are being told that it won't be good enough if your kids simply do well in your basic, regular old public school, European vacations be damned!

Would also love to hear what some of the college admissions officers think. Hasn't there been a move to dump the SAT because studies allegedly show that it systematically disfavors certain groups? How then can you justify giving credit to applicants for expensive experiences that their parents buy their way into?

Like this comment
Posted by Ano Nymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm

PS--Who keeps censoring my query as to whether Michelle Obama has ever done anything useful in her life? Fair question...

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Posted by coffeeforbrains
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Chill, Ano Nymous. Just because you were kicked out of the house each day at dawn, began working at age 8, and probably walked to school three miles in the snow each day, doesn't mean you have to belittle the hard work and success of these amazing PA families. I want to move to Iris Way!

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2010 at 7:34 am

Coffee for brains - :)

Ano Nymous - yes, for many colleges, your life experience is important too. And if someone in your family could afford to send you on some cool "volunteer" trips, it looks great on your resume. Doing well in public school will get you in many places, the special items (unusual trips, playing an unusual sport, starting a fortune 500 company) is needed for top tier schools.

Like this comment
Posted by person
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Anonymous--the palo alto weekly online staff is censoring your ridiculous and inappropriate comments. it says "removed by Palo Alto Online Staff" in place of your comment.

Like this comment
Posted by Future Camp Conselour
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I am currently trying to do this same thing except a few high school gos would like to run a camp for 5-8 girls to give them something fun to do and for themselves to earn some extra money. I think this a wonderful idea. Did y'all have a theme or idea for each day or week?

Like this comment
Posted by dsn
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm

dsn is a registered user.

Future Camp Conselour -- Best of luck with your summer camp idea. We had a lot of fun with our camp last year. We divided the counselors into teams and had them come up with the activities for each day. They planned and prepared for the activities in advance so everyone knew all of the activities for the week. It was a lot of fun! We're planning to host our camp again this summer and EVERY kid on our street is planning to attend--a total of 69 kids. It should be a blast! Good luck to you!

Like this comment
Posted by Camp Iris Way Counselor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I was a CIT last year, and now I'm a counselor this year! Its a wonderful way to meet other kids around the block, and maybe get a few babysitting jobs along the way! So much fun!

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