Stories to outrage you, ideas to inspire you, and photos of playgrounds to make you go 'ooooh'.

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If these snowmen can play outdoors, so can you


As you enjoy your holidays, we hope these playing snowmen inspire you to get outside. Granted, snowmen may be a bit less phased by the cold than us warm-blooded humans, but with the right attire and mindset, you too can race down slides, practice handstands, chuck snowballs, climb trees, hang from tree branches, and play sports.

Wishing you very happy holidays and a wonderful New Year -- from all of us at KaBOOM!.

  

  

Photo credits: Sliding snowman by Shutter Nutty (cc). Snowball-wielding snowman via Artlenastudios on CentralPark.com. Upside-down snowman via Tom Grimshaw. Tree-climbing snowman by Moxfyre (cc). Cricket-playing snowman by Clare and Stuart Skinner via The Telegraph. Tree-hanging snowman via The Instructables.

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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 artist who knitted a playground


If you thought knitting a sweater required patience, try knitting a playground. That’s right—Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (pictured right) challenges our understanding of what a playground can look like by creating breathtaking, interactive “sculptures” from colorful nylon ropes.

ArchDaily editor Vanessa Quirk recently sat down with Horiuchi MacAdam to learn more about her work. (You can read the full interview here.) When asked what motivated her to start creating playspaces for children, Horiuchi MacAdam says: 

"One day I was exhibiting a 3-dimensional open-work textile sculpture I had created in collaboration with a friend. Some children came to the gallery and climbed into it. Suddenly the piece came to life. My eyes were opened. I realized I wanted just such a connection between my work and people alive at this moment in time (not a hundred years from now). I realized I was in fact making works for children. It was an exciting moment for me.

"I was teaching at the Bunka Institute in Tokyo at the time and with 2 of my students I began to look carefully at the situation for children, in particular regard to play. We spent the next three years, mostly weekends, visiting all the parks and playgrounds in central Tokyo.

"The result of our research was depressing. At the time the country was narrowly focused on economic development; few were considering the effects on children of growing up in cramped, high-rise apartments, watching television, often an only child without brothers or sisters to interact with. I was very worried about this. I felt I needed to do something to bring even a little change.

  

  

Top photos and bottom left photo: Wonder Space II, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Hakone Open Air Museum. Bottom right photo: Rainbow Nest, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. All photos © Masaki Koizumi.

"The crochet forms I make resemble the mother’s womb. The soft, elastic surface is familiar to the child. The net membrane is sensitive to the child’s slightest movement capturing his energy and transmitting it back to him. The wave-like motion of the net connects him with other children and they start playing together. Their creative minds start to move and they find new ways of playing. They respond to each other. It is sometimes hard to entice children out of the net; they can sometimes be lost in it for 3-4 hours.

"Our structures encourage children to challenge themselves but with many routes and options. There is no program of play. There are always alternatives. Each child plays at the level he or she is comfortable with. From forty years’ experience I have learned a little about children’s psychology.

"Some groups of children come regularly to play on their own; their play is fantastic. They know what they are capable of and then stretch just a little further, becoming more and more adept. Some of their maneuvers are heart-stopping to a bystander – but they know what they are doing.

"Often it is parents who are the problem. They seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child."

Special thanks to ArchDaily for sharing this excerpt. Read the full interview here.

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25 outdoor play gifts for under $50

When it comes to toys, we have long vouched for the stick and cardboard box. But of course, your kids are expecting a little more under the tree. Along with the gizmos and gadgets that are sure to top many wishlists, we hope you'll consider some toys that facilitate good old-fashioned outdoor play.

After searching high and low for some of the most unique and affordable outdoor play toys on the market today, we are excited to present you with 25 gift ideas that will get your kids moving, fuel their imaginations, and most importantly, bring a smile to their faces. No batteries included -- because there are no batteries necessary!

Want a shot at winning one of these? Enter our biweekly sweepstakes by sharing a photo of your neighborhood playground. Start by downloading our Tag! app -- for iPhone or Android. The more playgrounds you share, the better chance you have to win!

For more gift ideas, check out our Outdoor Play Gift Guide board on Pinterest. You can also pay a visit to some of the toy manufacturers represented here, most notably Hearthsong, Imagine Toys, and Imagine Childhood. And don't miss our list of all-time favorite toys, here.

Buddy Bounce Ball
Branch Blocks
Kitty Hawk Flyer

Buddy Bounce Ball

Branch Blocks

Kitty Hawk Flyer

 

Giant Lawn Bowling
Triple Climbing Ladder
Spooner Board

Giant Lawn Bowling Set

Triple Climbing Ladder

Spooner Board

 

Flingshot Flying Monkey Sets
Fun Wheels
Solar-Powered Airplane

Flingshot Flying Monkey Sets

Fun Wheels

Solar-Powered Airplane

 

Circus Stilts
Catamaran Construction Kit
Twizzler

Circus Stilts

Catamaran Construction Kit

Twizzler

 

Fairy House Kit
Dodgeball with Shield Set
Stomp Rocket

Fairy House Kit

Dodgeball with Shield Set

Stomp Rocket

 

3D Sidewalk Chalk
Zipfy Sled
Unbelievably Big Bubbles Kit

3D Sidewalk Chalk

Zipfy Sled

Unbelievably Big Bubbles Kit

 

Brick Construction Kit
My Little Sandbox
Super Swingball Outdoor Game

Brick Construction Kit

My Little Sandbox

Super Swingball Outdoor Game

 

Connecting Sled
Happy Giddy Tunnel
Catapult Kit

Connecting Sled

Happy Giddy Tunnel

Catapult Kit

 

Tree Swing
Check Out our Pinterest Board

Tree Swing

 

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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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Need a place to hide? Here are 13 handsome homemade forts.


As the cold sets in, most of us will feel an urge to find a cozy retreat. Small spaces beckon to us, spaces where we can huddle up with loved ones and perhaps enjoy a steaming cup of hot cocoa or tea.

Children have mastered the art of building small spaces, often out of scraps and other loose parts. Let's look to them for inspiration -- because who says forts are for 'kids only?'

Have your kids made a great homemade fort? We'd love to share it -- please post a photo to our Facebook page

  • Photographer Ken Mayer says, "My brother, sister, myself, and our friends built this ultimately 3-story monstrosity from scrap we found along the I-66 right-of-way." Photo by Ken Mayer.
  • "My son and his friends constructed [this] out of scrap wood a couple of years ago... I was so impressed... I was also jealous," says Jeff. Photo via Upstream of Consciousness.
  • Says the photographer, "Few things are as captivating as an honest-to-goodness homemade fort!" Photo via Take Joy... Take Peace.
  • Homemade forts don't have to be elaborate. Cardboard boxes or some blankets and scrap wood will do. Left photo by Brian Mooney (cc). Right photo via A Delightful Glow.
  • Old blankets, sheets, shower curtains, or scrap cloth always add a cozy finishing touch. Left photo via Let the Children Play. Right photo via Child Central Station.
  • Too cold outside? Indoor forts are always an option when the elements aren't cooperating. Photo by ZRecs (cc).
  • Says the photographer, "Fort Awesome was erected in Harvard Yard in the Winter of 2004. It is one of Harvard's greatest engineering achievements." Photo by David Mooney (cc).
  • Snow provides endless, and potentially elaborate, fort-building possibilities! Photo by Emily Carlin (cc).
  • Here's another "snow brick" fort -- and a great place to hide from errant snowballs. Photo by paula (cc).
  • Sticks and stones can break my bones... or they can be used to build an amazing natural fort! Photo by Jason Wilson (cc).
  • Sometimes the best view is from the inside looking out. Photo by John M. Cropper (cc).

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Four tips for fighting winter cabin fever


Think kids can’t handle cold weather? Apparently some schools do, keeping students indoors for recess at mild temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees.

One the other end of the spectrum, one Minnesota elementary school principal told USA Today that his policy is, “if it’s 15 below (or warmer), they go out, no matter what... At 20 below, it gets iffy.”

One of our favorite mantras, courtesy of ActiveKidsClub.com, is: There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. While this may not hold true during extreme weather events -- for instance, a certain hurricane named Sandy -- it is a good mantra for families to live by as the darkness and cold set in.

So bundle up, and get outside! Here are four of our favorite winter play ideas :

Hold a block party.

It’s tough to get your kids outside when all the other kids in the neighborhood are holed up in front of the TV, so use a block party as an excuse to lure nearby families out of their homes.

Free Range Kids posted a story on one such party in February — in MINNESOTA. If it can be done in Minnesota, you can do it too. Tempt your neighbors with the wafting aromas of chili and hot chocolate and the delighted squeals of playing children.

Photo by Daa Nell (cc).

 

Build a fort.

Kids love an outdoor hide-out, and you don’t need nails or construction skills to build one. Kids can build their own with whatever “loose parts” on hand: for instance, tablecloths, shower curtains, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes, or newspapers.

The best part? The structure isn’t permanent so they can keep themselves busy destroying and rebuilding it over and over again. Here are some of our favorite homemade forts.

Photo coutesy of popupadventureplay.org.

 

Freeze things.

Use the weather to explore the properties of matter with your kids and get artistic while you’re at it. Create cookie cutter sculptures, colored blocks, lanterns, balloon marbles, and lace -- all out of ice! Visit our Winter Play Pinterest board for more inspiration.

Photo via queenvanna.com .

 

 

 

Play with fire.

Fire helps stave off cold and darkness, two elements that can bring on the wintertime blues. If space in your backyard permits, teach your kids how to safely build and feed a fire. It’s an amazingly simple way to keep your family entertained outdoors for hours after dusk.

Plus, you can turn winter walks in the park into “treasure hunts” for kindling.

Photo by Daniel Imfeld (cc).

 

What advice do you have for playing outside through the winter?

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A playground designed and built by teens


We've written here before about folks who want to ban teens from playgrounds. But Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop has a much better idea -- why don't we get teens building playgrounds instead?

From October 1-15, a group of Philadelphia teens worked with Public Workshop to "design-build" a one-of-a-kind adventure playground in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s PHS Pop-Up Garden. The teens built the framework, then invited kids and their families to imagine what was on, around, and in between. They designed and built ramps, the climbing wall, the swing, a treehouse, a see-saw, and much more.

Using simple materials found at any hardware store, the teens, kids, and parents exemplified a can-do spirit while highlighting the importance of play, civic engagement, and community building.

Alex says, "smartly targeting certain age groups to design and build particular portions (relative to their abilities)... leads to maximum social impact, a well-built structure, a really cool playground that was singularly impossible to imagine by one person or a group, and a heck of a lot of FUN." Check out these inspiring photos:

Photos courtesy of Alex Gilliam at Public Workshop. Check out more photos and like Public Workshop on Facebook.

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