The first thing an expat may realize is that children are not as independent in Houston as they may have been in their home country. Younger children are often only seen in the presence of their parents. Older children not of driving age, generally rely on their parents to drive them from place to place, activity to activity. There are both safety and distance reasons for this.Houston is a very large metropolitan city with busy streets and a lot of traffic, often lacking sidewalks in neighborhoods and no designated bicycle paths. Play grounds can usually only be found in parks. Luckily, there are a lot of parks in Houston and many families can be seen having BBQs and playing games with their children on the weekends.
Many parents prefer the outskirts of Houston with quieter family-friendly suburbs, often indicating “We Love Our Children” and “Children Play Here” through signs on roads to alert drivers. Many suburbs also include a community pool and play ground areas within the neighborhood.
Crime is a problem in a big city such as Houston and it also affects children. Child predators are a big concern for parents and many parents do not allow their children to walk alone, only with friends in a group or they accompany their kids themselves. It is very common to see mothers walking with their younger children or entire families walking together.
The Houston Police Department has a very active public outreach unit working closely with neighborhoods and schools to educate children and parents about safety, for example, back to school safety: http://www.houstontx.gov/police/pdfs/back2school.pdf. Crime Stoppers of Houston also has a Safe School Program: http://www.crime-stoppers.org/school.html.
Due to the great distances in Houston and the lack of a good public transportation system, children are often driven by their parents to the mall, after-school activities, boy scouts, sports, etc. until they are able to get a driver’s permit or driver license at the age of 16.
Overall, Houston is very family-oriented and there are tons of activities for families and their children. The number of youth events, leagues, entertainment opportunities, and play activities are tremendous in Houston. There are many large public parks with play grounds and walk-ways for strollers, opportunities to play soccer (http://www.soccertots.net), to play football (http://www.leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=ghpw ), to join the Boy Scouts (http://www.shac.org/Home ) or Girl Scouts (http://www.gssjc.org ), many after-school day care services offering sports, fun and educational help (such as the YMCA – http://www.ymcahouston.org ), as well as after-school programs organized by the schools.
There are also many attractions for families in the Houston area to entertain children on the weekends, such as zoos, the mall, and museums with special programs for children, visit http://www.familyfunhouston.com for some fun ideas.
Restaurants are also very family friendly with special arrangements for toddlers and play material. Some fast food restaurants attract families with outdoor and indoor playgrounds, such as McDonalds or Willie’s Restaurants.