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Play Today * Parent Perspective

5 Reasons Spring Play is Especially Important!

Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.

We know spring weather is hit-or-miss. Here are five reasons to check your 10-day forecast and schedule in spring outdoor time for the days when you're not buried in snow or rain.

  1. Building endurance
    Just like how our bodies begin to atrophy after missing the gym, our children don't have as much stamina after a winter inside. In order to be prepared for summer hikes, we use the spring to get little bodies ready.

  2. Building a base layer of color
    There is controversy regarding sun exposure. Regardless of the debates there is a lot of research that the body needs vitamin D from the sun, so I don't want my kids slathered in sunscreen at all times. If we wait until the summer to head outside the kids have to be completely covered in sunblock or risk sunburns. When we begin our outside time early in the year, the kids build up a small base layer of color, making it safer for their skin to absorb at least a little vitamin D throughout the summer months.

  3. You will see the most amazing of things!
    Flowers are blooming. Buds are budding. Animals are having sweet, adorable little babies. Bugs are appearing. And the foliage is still thin enough to see through the trees. You can easily get to the often inaccessible areas that in other seasons are poison-ivy or snow covered.

  4. Is there anything more exciting to a child than puddle jumping?
    Children and puddles are like opposite ends of a magnet. Puddle jumping is such a simplistic childhood joy. Since kids grow up so quickly, let's remember to schedule some time to play in the rain and splash in a few puddles. Make it a family activity by playing Follow the Leader!

  5. Enjoy the spring sunshine!
    It's warmer than you think and your family could always use some fresh air 40˚ and some sunshine will feel like Tahiti. So, head outside! Enjoy the spring! Soak up all the educational, social, developmental, and physical health benefits time outside playtime provides. Foster connection, memories, and playfulness within your family unit—even if it is still just a tad chilly.

Photos courtesy of 1000 Hours Outside.

Jen, Lisa, and Ginny are moms who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health, fitness, and education, they are passionate about rivaling screen time with open-air dwelling. They are working to spotlight the myriad of health and developmental benefits that outside playtime provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, crawling, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside is meant to encourage moms, dads, and caregivers everywhere to purposefully schedule outdoor time for their kids. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly prize and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into vibrant and healthy childhoods.

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5 holiday gifts for the playing family

Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.

Think back on your most vivid childhood memories. Do they center around toys or do they center around experiences? I certainly remember some of my favorite toys like my wooden dollhouse, scooter, and Skip-It, but my main recollections are around experiences and books I read. I remember father-daughter canoe trips down the Ausable River in Michigan and piano lessons with my mom. I remember curling up with my Nancy Drew books in this cool bed tent thing my parents bought me. I remember doing crossword puzzles with my mom and lots of family game nights. The childhood things that usually leave the greatest mark do not typically come in a box.

With the holidays around the corner we wanted to offer up top five gifts for the playing family. Our hope is that these suggestions provide memorable childhood and family experiences.

1) Loose Parts Toys
Give your child the gift of imagination this holiday season. Loose parts toys are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in all sorts of ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There’s no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction. Children tend to prefer loose parts over fancy toys. As the joke often goes, a child will play with the box a toy came in more than the toy itself. Loose parts toys that don't come in a fancy box are items like pinecones, shells, beads, stumps, logs, rope, crates, boxes, buckets, and fabric. Loose parts toys you can buy from a store are items like The Tegu Explorer Set, Wooden Tool Box, Think-Its, and Legos. (As with all toys be careful of choking hazards for young children.)

1000 Hours Outside - Gift of Imagination

2) Art and Craft Supplies
Art is good for kids. In a similar fashion to the benefits of free play, letting kids spend time doing open-ended art projects provides many developmental benefits. Art teaches problem solving and open-ended thinking. It develops the whole brain as children increase their ability to focus, think ahead, and work on their hand-eye coordination. There is research showing that children who do art read better and do better in math or science. Art gifts help children express themselves. Here are a few of our favorites: Travel Easel, Young Artist Finger Paint Set, and Drawing Studio.

1000 Hours Outside - Arts

3) Fort Building Kit
Holiday presents can get pricey, especially when it comes to electronics. However, something as simple as a fort-building kit can be inexpensive and yet provide hours of imaginative play for families. Children adore secret hiding places. Your kit could include rope, sheets, clothespins, or a tub of PVC pipes. Don't forget a flashlight!

1000 Hours Outside - Fort

4) Outdoor Clothing
Just as a hoophouse or greenhouse extends a growing season, a good wool underlayer, rain suit, or boots can extend your outdoor season. Remember the saying: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." Provide your child with the gift of outdoor play year round. This is where the memories are made!

1000 Hours Outside - Wool

5) Step back.
It seems that there is already a natural inclination for kids to get outside. We spent time learning some baby sign language when our kids were younger and the sign for "outside" was one they all picked up on quickly and signed often! From increased exercise and activity to better eyesight to enhanced problem solving skills the list of things gained from time spent in vast outdoors is an extraordinary one. Let's buy our kids items that further the lure of the open air. Even if these must be packed away for a few months due to weather you will be happy with your investment come spring! We have all of these on our wish list: Skylight Rocket, 3 Wheeled Scooter, Backyard Slackline, Zipline Adventure, and ChalkTrail for Bikes!

1000 Hours Outside - Races
Photos courtesy of 1000 Hours Outside.

Jen, Lisa and Ginny are moms (both part-time working and stay at home) who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health and fitness and education, they are driven by trying to provide a carefree childhood coupled with all the health and developmental benefits that outside time provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside, is meant to encourage moms and caregivers everywhere to take their kids outside more and discover all of the amazing benefits. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly gift card and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into free play in the open air.

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How to become a playing family

Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.

As the saying goes, "The years fly by, but the hours are long." Raising a family can seem grueling at times and there's an endless amount of choices surrounding how to spend our years rearing children. Of all the options out there, free play and providing time to "just be a kid" often gets lost in the mix. However, the research is out and it points to the overwhelming importance of play. Whether you've always known this or it's just coming to the forefront of your parenting practices, here are five quick ways to infuse play into everyday life.

1) Find a nearby trail.
Use your city's parks and recreation website or look for trails through your local or state parks. There is so much variety in nature. Your kids will be engaged from the moment you step on the path. As a general rule we try and stick with trails that are less than two miles. We don't bring along any toys but we do make sure to have a few snacks and some water! While you're out on your adventures, add photos and rate the trails you visit on the Map of Play.

1000 Hours Outside - Trail

2) Invest in some loose parts toys.
Loose parts toys are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Check out the picture below to get an idea. Instead of buying a plastic toy for the next birthday or holiday, help your child build creativity and imagination with stumps, logs, rope, crates, boxes, buckets, fabric, and the like. Children tend to prefer loose parts over fancy toys anyway.

1000 Hours Outside - Loose Parts

3) Invite some friends along and watch the creativity soar.
It's certainly safer to be outside with someone else and it's more fun, too! All the different personalities and ages that are brought to the mix are good for child development.

1000 Hours Outside - Friends

4) Let loose.
One of my best days ever as a mom was when we came upon a shallow inland lake and let the kids swim in their clothes. You can tell by their faces that is was one of their best days, too!

1000 Hours Outside - Splash

5) Step back.
Spread out a picnic blanket and observe. You will be amazed and inspired. Children are so engaged with life.

1000 Hours Outside - Step Back
Photos courtesy of 1000 Hours Outside.

Jen, Lisa and Ginny are moms (both part-time working and stay at home) who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health and fitness and education, they are driven by trying to provide a carefree childhood coupled with all the health and developmental benefits that outside time provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside, is meant to encourage moms and caregivers everywhere to take their kids outside more and discover all of the amazing benefits. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly gift card and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into free play in the open air.

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In the wake of tragedy, six tips for coping through play

Like many others across the country and world, we were left speechless by the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We turned to Jill Mays, an occupational therapist who specializes in play therapy, for advice on how to move forward. Here's what she has to say:

As the enormity of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. sets in, parents search for ways to help their children in a seemingly hostile world.  Many sites help guide parents on what to say and how to address the crisis, based on the child’s age and comprehension of the situation. These are extremely important to review and have at the ready if and when your child is ready to talk.

Whether or not you’ve had “the talk,” know your child needs more at this critical time to feel loved, safe, and secure.

Despite our compelling need for more information regarding the crisis, this is the time to put down the electronics. Put on a pair of jeans and get down on the floor to play with your child.  Bring out the favorite stuffed toys or action figures, the building blocks, trucks, and ponies.  Children feel safe expressing their feelings when they pretend with toys. 

Here are some tips on how to proceed:

  1. Keep the play open-ended. Let your child create the dialog and scenarios.
     
  2. Respond to expressed emotions with neutral and supportive comments (e.g. that must have felt scary for McQueen; looks like Thomas is very angry).
     
  3. Play on the floor. This allows you to move around using large muscles, which relieves stress and calms the child down.
     
  4. Don’t force the issue of expressing emotions. When a child sees a grown-up close by, playing on the floor, they intuitively feel more secure and loved.
     
  5. For older children, create outlets for pent up feelings. Doing a physical activity alongside your child (e.g. a walk or jog) or playing a board game creates the space to have a heartfelt conversation without the pressure.
     
  6. For very young children without language, bring cushions, pillows and comforters to the designated play area. Climb over pillow-mountains and crawl under blanketed tables. Create a sense of adventure. The movement creates a calming response in the brain. It will help you and your loved one feel better.

After all the horseplay, curl up with a favorite book and hold each other tight. Big hugs help the most.

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The P.E. teacher that every child needs

When asked about his school day recently, my nine-year-old son was faster than usual to share. “We have a new PE teacher and class is more fun than last year.”  My seven-year-old piped in, “We play games like capture the flag and ultimate soccer.” Nodding my head between bites of grilled chicken, I knew I wanted to meet this physical education teacher who was generating such enthusiasm at our dinner table. 

Lindsay Frank—or Ms. Lindsay, as her students call her—believes in the value of play, and this sets her apart.  Rather than focusing on drills, as she was taught by her education professors, she wants her students to take advantage of their natural desire for fun. 

Her inspiration comes from a 6th grade PE teacher who made PE so wonderful that Ms. Lindsay could not imagine a better calling.

The Nike-initiated report Designed to Move: Framework for Action convinced Ms. Lindsay she was heading in the right direction. For generations, physical activity and childhood were considered to be as connected as yin and yang or milk and cookies, but as Designed to Move’s research shows, “physical activity is systematically designed, innovated, and engineered out of daily life.” Elevators replace stairs, motorized scooters replace bikes, and “here’s the iPad” replaces “go outside.” 

Ms. Lindsay’s PE students recognize that she is unusual, and national trends toward organized sports and repetitive drills support their perspective. Outside of school, kids are enrolling in traditional team sports at younger ages, but as KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond points out:

This trend isn’t necessarily setting the stage for an active lifestyle later on in life -- 70 percent of kids give up sports entirely by age 13. When asked by Michigan State University researchers why they quit sports, kids almost universally said, "It's not fun anymore."

With almost half of her students under the age of 10, Ms. Lindsay is working with them at a time when they are shaping their future preferences and motivations. By making the activities in her class accessible to all students, appropriate for their ages, and, most importantly, fun, she helps them develop positive attitudes toward physical activity, which teaching them essential life skills, such as confidence, cooperation, and creativity.   

And the way I see it, these skills are far more important than throwing a perfect pitch.

 

Here are two of Lindsay Frank’s favorite games:

Everyone is "it":
Upon a starting signal, students are encourage to try and tag
as many fellow players as they can. Tagged players must kneel on the ground,  remember who tagged them, and stay until they are freed when the person who tagged them is tagged. Fun comes when students tag each other at the same time and must play rock-paper-scissors. The loser has to kneel and the winner gets to stay in.

 

Ultimate Soccer:
Players are divided into two teams. There are no boundaries, no goalies, and no positions. Players must work together to score on soccer goals. Anyone can defend the goal, but they cannot use their hands unless they are in the goal. If a goal is scored, the person who retrieves the ball from the goal may throw it out or kick it to continue the game. Because there are no rules about where players should be on the field, players get to find out by themselves if they prefer to kick the ball on or try to defend the goals. It is a continuous play game with little lag time so players are constantly moving.

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Every neighborhood needs a playground and a pub

Every neighborhood should have at least one good playground, and every neighborhood should have at least one good pub.

Having had the opportunity to observe both of them within our block, I find myself advocating for both playgrounds and pubs because all humans need more opportunities for play and social interaction. When we consider pubs as more than bars and parks as more than playground equipment, we appreciate their real value as what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls “third places”—those gathering spots that are neither home nor work nor school.

To be clear, I am not talking about specialty bars that are targeted to specific audiences and propped by alcohol specials. Successful pubs and taverns are less about alcohol consumption and more about conversational word play with others. Neighborhood playgrounds, accessible by walkers, focused on individual interactions and exploration, are also different from mega parks, with multiple fields primarily for organized group activities. 

We all need a place in our neighborhood where everybody knows our name.

As someone who was single well into her 30s, I spent plenty of time observing life in pubs. Now, with two children and a home office in a window-filled corner, I find my attention turning to life in the small playground behind our house.

We have a big yard, with plenty of space to run around. There is even a beloved rope swing hanging from the canopy of a live oak tree, but playing in a yard is different than playing in a park. A yard comes with boundaries that require invitations to cross. Parks, like all good third places, are accessible to all who want to use them.

It can be hard to start a conversation with someone walking by a fence, but it’s easy to strike up a conversation while swinging on a swing, or waiting for the slide. A stranger in a yard could be an intruder, but a stranger in a park could be a friend. That’s precisely why one of my sons, upon spotting a potential playmate, yells to the other, “Someone is in the park, someone is in the park!” before running out the door.

Oldenburg writes about the role of regulars play in third places, and I see it out my window. When a tether ball was added to the park, it attracted older kids, including a 12-year-old neighbor. Some days she comes by herself. Some days she brings friends and newcomers.

Before long, she became known as a regular and started to model park behavior for others. Her willingness to play with kids of all ages and her approachability has set a tone for the park that is better than any list of rules or adult monitor could establish. 

In much the same way that I eventually moved on from the pub, in time this tether-ball-playing, benevolent park regular will want to move onto another third place. But when regulars have established a stable, welcoming, home-like spirit, such a void can be easily filled by others who have been mentored to continue the community.

If we want adults to “play nicely,” positively contribute to a community, and interact with a variety of people at pubs and other adult gathering spots, we need good playgrounds and other child-friendly gathering spots where kids can practice these skills.

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The 5 C's of a great playground

Our Summer Playground Challenge just drew to a close, during which over 60 parents explored local playgrounds with their kids, adding over 4,000 new photos to our Map of Play! We asked our newly minted play experts what it is that distinguishes a good playground from a great one.

From their many thoughtful responses, we’ve culled the 5 C’s of a great playground:

1. Creative

Many post-and-platform playgrounds offer the same play options over and over again. A great playground offers something new.

“I like playgrounds that offer interesting options to play on. Clambering up huge tires versus a wall or having a four person teeter-totter as opposed to two changes things up a little.” – Fezeka Saige

2. Comfortable

A great playground offers simple amenities that keep parents and kids playing longer.

“Shade and water fountains are a must! Children usually want to play during the afternoon but with the sun many times it’s not possible. Clean water fountains are also extremely important since kids finish exhausted after so much play.” – Alicia Vazquez

3. Communal

A great playground isn’t just for kids. It’s a gathering space for an entire community, from tots to teens to grandparents.

“I look for a sense of community in a playground. I also like seeing people of all ages... from older people practicing tai chi or playing chess and answering questions from my kids, to the teenagers, to the parents of kids like myself.” – Alex Nguyen

4. Conspicuous

A playground that’s hard to find risks being underutilized. A visible playground teeming with children inspires passersby to stop and play! 

I think [playgrounds] are best when people can see that they are there and that people are playing there. – Dana Wheatley

5. Connected

We know that play is not limited to the playground! A great playground is connected to other play opportunities, particularly green space or other natural elements. 

“My favorites have always been those with lots of trees… and trails for riding bikes. Bonus: if the playground has great view!! We have some here on top of the hill or on higher parts of the city, and it's such a pleasure to be at those playgrounds.”  - Annie

Photos from to bottom: Angelika Paul, KT, torbakhopper (cc), Sasha Yetter.

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5 Playground Olympic events your kids would rock

Let the games begin! Since our brave Playground Challengers are spending quite a bit of time playing this summer, we asked them what Olympic events their kids would rock... if the Olympics were held at the playground.

Here are five of our favorite new Playground Olympic events -- plus one event we hope your kids don't champion!

In which of the following would your kids take home the Gold? Got any new Playground Olympic events to add to our list?

  • "Both my kids would get a gold medal in giving their mom a heart attack! How do they both manage to find the ONE thing that makes me sprint like a maniac?" - Amy Keyishian (Photo by Eric Lewis, cc)
  • "My youngest, who is six, would win the 'I have no fear so I disappear' playground event. You have to keep an eye on this one, she's quick!" - Myrdin Thompson (Photo by W2 a-w-f-i-l, cc)
  • "My six year old said she would beat any kid at running while hula hooping on the playground." - Elizabeth Bonin (Photo by Steven Depolo, cc)
  • "My almost three and four year old do endurance - they are two-hours-in-the-sandbox kind of players." - Angelika Paul (Photo by Alec Couros, cc)
  • "If there was a 'hot lava' competition where my kids didn't have to touch the playground floor? They'd totally own that." - Alex Nguyen (Photo by Nate McBean, cc)
  • "Oldest son? He's back at the house participating in the Summer Couch Olympics. So far he has a gold medal in eating an entire bag of goldfish crackers in one sitting." - Myrdin Thompson

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