Flip a quarter at every intersection or crosswalk. Heads you go right, tails you go left. Get a little lost, then try to find your way back home (no GPS allowed). According to a San Diego State University study, kids who walk or bike a lot can navigate their neighborhoods better than kids always trapped in a car. A good mental map of local geography makes you feel like an insider where you live.
Firefighters, police officers, rescue squad members, librarians. So many people keep your city running, usually with semi-invisible work. Taking notice of them can be a first step in bolstering your family’s civic engagement. Deliver a balloon bouquet or a plate of brownies to your favorite unsung city workers. If you happen to get invited on a behind-the-scenes tour, you’ll adore them even more.
Spend an afternoon downtown snapping pics of things that represent each letter of the alphabet: A is for architectural treasure, B is for bench, C is for candy store. Sometimes we ignore our cities (until we have something to complain about; curse you, traffic!). This is an exercise in slowing down and paying attention to the details.
Being a regular at a local eatery bolsters your sense of place; how can you not feel like you belong here when the bagel shop guy knows your order? Compile a list of every nearby burger joint (or donut shop or Chinese restaurant—pick your family’s craving). Review them all as a family, rank them, then return to your #1 favorite again and again.
In the Woodlea-Melrose neighborhood of Phoenix, a once-a-month hangout called Front Yard Friday is an institution. A rotating cast of neighbors chat for hours on front patios while the kids run crazy. “It’s this built-in playdate,” says resident and mom Patti Karnes. To start a Front Yard Friday where you live, put out the word via your neighborhood Facebook page, stock a cooler, and invest in sidewalk chalk and bubbles. Even easier: an impromptu block party you initiate by shifting your pizza night to your front yard.
One of the best ways to feel connected to your community is to build social capital, which kids do by making friends. Lots of them. Of all ages. A fast-pass method: Start a lemonade stand at the local park and give away cups for free. It’s an irresistible instant icebreaker that practically begs for friendly conversation.
If your city were the object of your affection, what would your love letter say? Maybe “Dear Houston, your children’s museum is awesome,” or “Dear Denver, I love you in the snow.” Put your thoughts on stationery, slip your love letter in an envelope, then leave it somewhere around town for someone else to find and enjoy.