The following article was contributed by the Wilton Youth Council’s Free Play Matters Task Force.
After more than a year marked by COVID-induced social distance, quarantine and isolation, and the pandemic now under control, it’s only fitting that Wilton Youth Council’s Free Play Matters Task Force has renewed its effort to strengthen neighborhood connections, and to create opportunities for face-to-face conversation and play for all ages. The group is once again promoting Wilton’s Annual Big Block Party Weekend, with a theme in its third year of “Building community one block at a time.”
The task force has scheduled the town-wide initiative for Friday-Sunday, June 4-6, (with another weekend event scheduled for Sept. 17-19), with residents of each road or neighborhood choosing their own day and time to gather. As in years past, the task force has said there are no hard and fast rules for how to organize the events, but people are encouraged to keep it simple and think “old-fashioned.”
“Many residents have said that the Big Block Party Weekend initiative was the ‘excuse’ they needed to go ahead and organize something without feeling awkward about it,” said Vanessa Elias, co-leader of the Free Play Matters Task Force. “Even if you can’t do the first weekend in June, we encourage you to organize a get-together soon.”
The initiative continues to have a two-pronged goal: first, to connect neighbors for in-person interaction; and second, to create more opportunities for free play, with families getting to know one another. Over 1,200 Wilton residents participated in the inaugural block party weekends in 2018 and after over a year of pandemic life, people are especially excited to get together with their neighbors again.
Some residents have found that both adults and children are ready to jump into planning. When resident and task force member Tara Rooney’s family found out that Wilton’s block parties got the green light, she said, “My daughters were thrilled and the first question they asked was if they could start making flyers to put in mailboxes again.”
Organizers are asking Wilton residents to share their plans on the Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekend Facebook Page by commenting on the pinned post at the top of the page. Residents are encouraged to use #wiltonblockparty in their social media posts. They are also welcome to post photos and comments to share their planning and the fun they have once their block party happens.
“We know now, more than ever, that human connection is the cornerstone of happiness. Plan your block party and facilitate connection in your neighborhood. You will be so happy you did!” said Elias.
“Let’s introduce our new neighbors to our Wilton spirit and get those kids playing outside!” said resident and task force member Carlie Tardino-Smith.
Information for residents who would like to participate:
WHAT it is:
WYC’s Big Block Party Weekend is an initiative aimed at connecting neighbors for face-to-face interaction and creating more opportunities for children’s free play. In an effort to bring Wilton families together, WYC has inspired neighbors all over town to organize old-fashioned block parties during Wilton’s Big Block Party Weekends.
WHY have a block party? The benefits are endless, including the following top reasons:
- Welcome all of the new neighbors to Wilton, as well as connect with those we’ve known for longer.
- Increase a sense of belonging in the community
- Get outside, make friends and have fun — no excuses are needed to celebrate
- Find neighborhood playmates for your children
- Provide the opportunity for face-to-face connection and conversation
- Meet some of the long-standing neighbors and learn about your community history
- Decrease stress of snow days, storms, and emergency situations
- Create a neighborhood contact list
HOW to have a block party? Be a Block Party Captain. Here are some helpful tips:
- Keep it simple and low-key (try not to go overboard, it can make people feel the event is too much work)
- Recruit another neighbor or two to help
- Decide on a location (road, common space, or yard)
- Decide what day and time work best for your neighborhood
- Decide on the type of event — picnic, barbecue, potluck, etc.
- Establish block boundaries (use natural neighborhood boundaries where possible) to include approximately 20-30 houses. Remember those on adjacent busier roads.
- Have a child create the flyer to put in mailboxes.
- Distribute the flyer in all invited mailboxes — children love to do this task!
- Remember, keep it simple. Think old-fashioned block parties.
- Finally, be sure to follow any state and CDC guidelines.
HOW to encourage participation? The task force suggests making a flyer to put in 20-30 mailboxes of neighbors (especially helpful if you don’t know your neighbors). Tips for a flyer:
- Share some of the reasons to have a block party (see above).
- Solicit opinions on how to handle the food.
- Suggest possible dates and times for the event.
- Use the flyer to encourage attendance.
- Include your contact information so your neighbors can email or call you if they would like to help. Most participating neighborhoods have had two or three residents offer to help.
WHERE to have the Block Party? Note Regarding Road Closures
The Wilton Police Department discourages residents from officially closing their roads, as emergency vehicles need to be able to pass. Permits for road closures will only be considered for dead-end roads. To obtain such a permit, signatures are required from all residents, plus various town departments.
Instead, some neighborhoods have decided to have their block party in someone’s yard, at the end of a driveway, or on the side of their road without obstructing traffic. Experienced block party planners suggest using a combination of balloons, signs that read “Caution Block Party in Progress,” and orange cones to alert drivers to the party in progress.
WHAT is needed? Block Party Survival Checklist
- Signage for oncoming cars
- Name tags (consider including name, address, how long you’ve lived here)
- Sign-in sheet (names, kids’ ages, address, phone number, email address and if your child babysits)
- Bug spray and/or citronella candles
- First Aid kit
- Music player
- Garbage bags and recycle bin
- Plates, napkins, plastic/silverware, cups
- Paper towels/wet wipes for cleanup
- Coolers or beverage containers with plenty of ice — don’t forget a bottle opener
- Community table(s) for food/drinks and tablecloth(s)
- Hand sanitizer or wipes
- Outdoor games — i.e. Cornhole, Giant Jenga, sack races, egg toss
- Flashlights, headlamps, or glow necklaces for children after dark
- Consider hiring a lifeguard, if children will be near a pool
For more information or questions, please email the Wilton Free Play Matters Task Force.
The mission of the Wilton Free Play Task Force is to inspire and educate the Wilton community about the critical importance of Free Play, and to facilitate the creation of more free play and free range opportunities for children. The Task Force is focused on three key areas of Parent/Neighborhood, School, and Community. For more information on the Task Force, contact Genevieve Eason.