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KaBOOM! Explores Toy Fair 2014

Where else do life-sized Tamagotchi Friends greet you at the door? Where else can you get a photo with the original Grumpy Cat? Where else can you get a glimpse into all the new toy trends that are soon to hit retailer shelves across the nation?

Toy Fair, that's where!

The American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association, is the ultimate gathering for toy industry professionals. Designers, manufacturers, and retailers flock to this annual event at New York City’s Javits Center to showcase their wares, check out the latest in innovative product lines, and gather insight into the newest industry trends.

Last week, the KaBOOM! team (Boomers) joined in the fun to explore new innovations for the Go Out and Play Collection and uncover ways to bring these great ideas from the fair to the families in the communities with which we work.

One big thing we noticed was, like KaBOOM!, the industry focus is that children—and the adults around them—should seek quality play opportunities not just in the traditionally designated playspaces, but everywhere.

Understanding that play cannot be confined to a specific activity type or place, the toys and trends we saw really promote active minds, active bodies, and being active together. But as good Boomers do, we inserted a little play into our work. While gathering crucial insights, our investigative play team made sure to test several products to make doubly sure how much fun could be had! There were a few that stuck out in the crowd.  

Active Play

Our Boomers made it our mission to seek out the best active play products. What we found were a lot of toys that make playtime edgier, challenging you to move faster, bounce higher or bring more friends into activities.

The Wing Flyer by Zike combines elliptical pedal movement with a sleek scooter frame. We have to admit that we crashed a couple of times, but that just made it all the more fun!

“Wow, you got a lot of air!”

Boomers were impressed by the bounce in the Jungle Jumperoo. The promotional materials note that 10 minutes of jumping is equal to 33 minutes of running. We’ll have to do some more research into that claim, but we definitely all broke into a sweat after testing it out.

You wouldn’t think it, but walking on stilts takes a ton of balance, core strength, and coordination! It was a challenge, but our Boomer tester had a lot of fun trying!

Retro Games

“Retro” games were also huge at this year’s Toy Fair. These games and toys brought back classic childhood games with a new twist.

 

Giant Connect Four made the much-loved game larger than life!

Made by the creators of the original pogo stick, the Flybar uses elastomeric thrusters to bounce fully grown riders up to four feet off the ground.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—also known as STEM—concepts was another big theme. In particular, toys specifically geared to engage girls in STEM learning seemed to be almost everywhere we turned.

In recent years, there has been growing attention given to the low number of women who are entering STEM-based careers. To try and bridge this gap, there has been an increase in popular demand for more STEM-inspired toys geared toward girls. This market has grown in popularity and has been taken on by a number of manufacturers.

You can never go wrong with classic creative construction sets, like this one from Brio, sold in the United States by Schylling. (And if you’re into creative construction on a larger scale, be sure to check out Imagination Playground and Rigamajig!)

Makey Makey is one of the newest products that aims to teach basic circuitry through hands-on, well, making! Those bananas? They’re not for eating, though we were definitely hungry by the time we got here. They’re for making music! 

Creativity

No Toy Fair would be complete without games that engage the creative spirit. Going further than the traditional arts and crafts kits, many products aimed to engage active and inventive minds in a collaborative setting.

Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons.

The Big Creativity Can by Faber-Castell includes a handful of open-ended materials—like clay, feathers and popsicle sticks—that allow kids of all ages to push their imaginations to the limit.

Even though we found many great toys at the Fair, it’s good to keep in mind that getting a balance of active play every day doesn’t necessitate having a game or toy. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, family and a little creativity.

For more information on the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection and how you can help support KaBOOM!, go to kaboom.org/store

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Making play possible

Good news: you’re already making a difference and the new year just started. Those who gave in 2013 are helping to make stories like Kenneth’s possible for even more children in 2014. Watch this video and see how play is creating positive change for kids like Kenneth. (Want more? Watch Kenneth's first, second, and third videos, too!).

Play is a powerful thing and, by supporting it, you’re giving kids the childhood they deserve.

Thank you for making play possible for children across the country.

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Kenneth on Play

Play can change a person's childhood.

When Kenneth was in kindergarten, KaBOOM! built a playground at his school and Kenneth began to play more outside. His grades improved from B's and C's, to A's and B's.

Where other kids are getting an average of 8 hours of screen time a day, Kenneth is getting outside and playing. The playground led to changes in his life. Hear what Kenneth has to say about play in his third video, below. (And, don't forget to watch Kenneth's first and second videos too!)

Kids really do need a playground. Help give kids like Kenneth the childhood they deserve.

Donate Now

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Kenneth on Friendship

Kids don't always get the play they need. But Kenneth is lucky. When he was in kindergarten, KaBOOM! built a playground at his school—a playground where he got to meet a lot of other kids.

Kenneth will never forget one day when he made a friend on the playground. Hear this story in his second video. (If you haven't seen Kenneth's first video, watch it too!)

Help give kids like Kenneth the childhood they deserve.

Donate Now

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Meet Kenneth

Meet Kenneth, an 11-year-old in Birmingham, Alabama who loves his playground. When he was in kindergarten, his school built a playground with KaBOOM!.

Donate Now

Watch Kenneth describe what happened after the playground opened and the impact it had on his school.

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10 gifts to keep your kids active this winter

The weather is getting colder and, while we’ve already given a fond farewell to the lazy days of summer, that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Winter provides endless opportunities for great, active play, both indoors and out. And, with the holiday season upon us, kids will be clamoring for new things to keep them at play.

Like last year, we’ve done our best to find products that you can bring home to make any space a great place to play. This year, though, we’ve partnered with the play experts at imagine toys to create the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection, a carefully curated list of items geared to bring rich and robust experiences for the whole family.

Whatever their interests, these toys offer your children interesting and exciting ways to keep their minds and bodies moving. Best of all, these toys are also great for groups, which means more time for families to play together!

And, as a special bonus, with every purchase from the Go Out and Play Collection, you're helping to support KaBOOM! make sure that all kids get the active play they need to become healthy, successful adults. It's the holiday gift that keeps on giving!

When you're done unwrapping your gifts, here are some ideas on playful ways to repurpose the packaging.

imagine toys - Inhabit Design & Construction

Inhabit Design & Construction
Tired of the kids using sofa cushions to make their indoor constructions? With the Inhabit Design & Construction Kit, kids can build their own playhouse, fort, arch or whatever their imagination whips up using heavy-duty corrugated cardboard panels.

imagine toys - Piano Mat

Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat
Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons after getting to move around during at-home practices.

imagine toys - Sno-Sculpture Kit

Sno-Sculpture Kit
With winter comes snow! Take the opportunity to create a winter wonderland with this great item. Pack snow into the Sno-Sculpture Kit parts and you can construct forts, castles, igloos, robots, and more. You can even personalize it with colorful designs using the included Sno-Marker.

imagine toys - Jumbo Bananagrams

Jumbo Bananagrams
Skyrocket your traditional crossword game to the next level! Jumbo Banagrams magnify the pocket-sized game of the same name, allowing families to play this mind-bending game together while still getting in a little physical activity.

imagine toys - Sumo Bumper Bopper

Sumo Bumper Bopper
Pillow fighting combined with sumo wrestling? Why, yes, that does sound like fun! Inflate the Sumo Bumper Bopper, jump in, and bop around for hours of energetic play. Caveat: Product does not come in adult sizes.

imagine toys - Berg Moov Starter Kit

Berg Moov Starter Kit
Got an aspiring architect or engineer in your home? Using the rubber rings, grooved metal rods, and laminated plywood in the Berg Moov Starter Kit, kids can make and move their own bike, snow scooter, or crane. We predict that this will be a new favorite pastime for indoor or outdoor play.

imagine toys - Backyard Slackline

Backyard Slackline
It's every kid's dream to be a circus performer. Get them started on their tightrope walking career with the Backyard Slackline, a flat length of suspended nylon webbing that stretches and bounces. The Slackline also helps to build core strength and confidence – a bonus parents can keep secret if they want.

imagine toys - Polka Hop & Stripey Hop

Polka Hop & Stripey Hop
Need something to keep your toddler active? Check out the Polka Hop & Stripey Hop. These phthalate-free vinyl hoppers help little ones bounce their way to stronger bodies. Don’t worry, it comes with a hand-operated air pump, so the only thing keeping you out of breath will be keeping up with your kids.

imagine toys - Night Zone Football

Night Zone Football
The days are getting shorter, but that doesn't mean the fun has to end when the sun goes down. The 8" Night Zone Football lights up the sky with its LED light up strips. Lights can be turned on and off and last for 24 continuous hours.
 

imagine toys - Ring Stix

RingStix
This new way to play catch is fun for kids of all ages. Simply put both Stix through the ring, launch the ring up, and catch!

imagine toys - Backpack

Bonus Item: KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Backpack
Get out and play outside! The KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Backpack can hold all the items you need for all of your outdoor adventures. The backpack comes with a copy of Go Out and Play and a handful of outdoor play essentials.

For more winter play ideas, check out the complete Go Out and Play Collection at imagine toys.

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Why our kids are stressing out, and what we can do about it

The lazy days of summer are winding down. A new school year awaits, full of exciting opportunities to learn, grow, and make new friends.

For many children, a new school year also means more stress. Not all stress is unhealthy—as Marian Wilde of GreatSchools.org points out, “Good stress induces a student to strive for her personal best on an exam, a term paper or on the debate team.”

Yet unfortunately, the stress levels of today’s children are rising at worrisome rates.  According to the American Psychological Association (APA), typical schoolchildren today report more anxiety than did child psychiatric patients in the 1950's, and the National Association of Health Education Centers reports that 9-13 year olds say they are “more stressed by academics than any other stressor—even bullying or family problems.”

Active play is a proven stress reducer, not only helping children during times of trauma, but also to handle the stresses of everyday life. A recent study in Finland found that physical activity helps children cope with stress, with physically active children reporting “happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active.”

Of course, play is not just about active bodies, but also active minds. As cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman points out, imaginative play “allows the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition.” The social aspects of play also help kids feel more connected to their communities, reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion.

Children intuitively understand that play is not only fun, but helps them cope with stress. A boy in a KaBOOM! focus group of eight- and nine-year-olds recently noted: “Play is important because you lose some energy and become calm and make your Mom happy for the rest of the day.”

In fact, play can make Mom (and Dad) happy in more ways than one. A group of Kansas State researchers found that single mothers who play with their kids experience less stress than those who don’t. While all kids need room to direct their own course of play, family playtime can reduce stress for parents and children alike.

That’s why it’s imperative that families, schools, and communities make time to play this fall—during school, after school, and on the weekends. While stress relief for adults has become a powerful, multi-faceted industry, for children it could be as simple as a trip to the playground.

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What kids in Moore, Oklahoma need right now

In the tornado-ravaged town of Moore, Okla., all people want is for things to return to “normal.” What does “normal” mean? Adults no doubt crave the comfort of their own beds, a running refrigerator, a hot shower. But for kids, “normal” might be as simple as a chance to play.   

In the wake of disaster, we must meet our children’s basic needs – food, shelter, water – but it’s not enough. For children whose lives have been turned upside-down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amidst turmoil and helping them to work through emotional trauma. That’s because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not. 

It’s easy to push play down the priority list, but luckily child-serving organizations around the world understand its healing power. After Hurricane Sandy, the international nonprofit Save the Children set up safe play areas in shelters “where hundreds of children can be kids again.” After the 2011 tsunami earthquake in Japan, World Vision created child-friendly play spaces because they considered “emotional support to be just as critical as physical assistance for vulnerable children who have experienced disasters.” And when it came to aiding the children affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Clinton Global Initiative found that play was “one of the best medicines.”

Play is a critical component to both immediate and long-term rebuilding efforts. In 2005, KaBOOM! committed to building over one hundred playgrounds in the Gulf following Hurricane Katrina. We ended up building 143 (and counting). Kathleen Koch, author of Rising from Katrina, noted that adults “were busy trying to replace physical objects--lost homes, cars, and possessions. [But] there was nothing anyone could do to recapture a lost childhood.”

At one of the Gulf sites where we built a playground – a school in Kiln, Mississippi – the principal reported:

The psychologists in our area have been doing studies on kids in the schools in our district, and they reported seeing things… like thoughts about suicide, murder and other types of violence – truly terrible things. But, they also reported that they didn’t see those things in the kids at North Central Elementary and they attribute a lot of that to the playground.

Similarly, when KaBOOM! joined forces with the town of Joplin, Missouri to build a playground there 16 months after a tornado devastated the area, Superintendent of Joplin Schools CJ Huff noted that talk of suicide decreased. "Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," he said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."

Just a few weeks ago, we helped to rebuild Magnolia Park in the City of Long Beach, which had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Long Beach resident Ryan Spel said, “What a great experience, [it] meant a tremendous amount to me be part of rebuilding my hometown… I will never forget it.”

Back in 2006, KaBOOM! supported a playground-building effort at Plaza Towers Elementary School—one of the two schools demolished by the tornado. As we work on a long-term plan to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Plaza Towers and the town of Moore, let’s support the organizations on the ground that are seeking resources to address the community’s immediate needs. Save the Children is coordinating a response effort for affected children and families; please support its worthy efforts by making a donation today.

It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential—because all children deserve a childhood. Even when faced with trying external circumstances beyond our control, it is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t miss out.

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