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  • The P.E. teacher that every child needs

    November 20, 2012 Julie Hussey

    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.

  • 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).

  • Four tips for fighting winter cabin fever

    November 02, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    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?

  • A playground designed and built by teens

    October 24, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    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.

  • 11 costumes you can make from a cardboard box

    October 17, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    If you've been following this blog for a while, you might say we're a bit obsessed with cardboard boxes. Well, our love affair continues. If you're thinking about dashing to the store to buy some uninspired costume-in-a-bag this Halloween, think again!

    First, check out these 11 DIY cardboard box costumes. Not only are they cheap, creative, and environmentally friendly, but your kids can get in on the fun.

    Have you made a costume from a cardboard box? We'd love to share it -- please post a photo to our Facebook page

    • Kids love trucks. Even garbage trucks. This costume wins the prize for cuteness and authenticity. Photo via Dabbled.
    • Witches and ghosts are so unoriginal. Why not let your kid dream up (and make) a costume no one else will have? Left photo via Oli's Glob. Right photo via The Oregonian
    • Amid all the Halloween candy, these costumes will satisfy your salty cravings. Left photo via Family Crafts. Right photo via The Lovebug Journey..
    • A cardboard box makes for great crocodile jaws! Photo via Evil Mad Scientist.
    • Let your kids air your dirty laundry. This photo comes to us from "Coolest Homemade Costumes," and we're inclined to agree. Photo via Coolest Homemade Costumes.
    • We saw lots of Lego people when looking for cardboard box costumes. This Lego Harry Potter was our favorite. Photo via The Oregonian.
    • Ahoy, mate! Photo via Creative Crafts.
    • By consuming his body weight in sugar and wearing this airplane costume, your child can fly high on Halloween! Photo via LilSugar.
    • If your child is obsessed with the Avengers, it's time to put your art skills to the test! Photo by Nikejerk3, via Gfest.

  • Would you bring your kids to the bar?

    October 17, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    No kids allowed! The blogosphere has been abuzz lately about the growing popularity of banning children from airplanes, restaraunts, and even grocery stores. The latest story comes from Brooklyn, N.Y., where a beer garden has banned children after 4 p.m.

    OK, some might ask: Why would anyone want to bring kids to a beer garden?

    Actually, the beer garden (pictured right) was created to be family-friendly, boasting lots of outdoor space and even bocce ball courts. In some ways, the environment seems to echo what we look for in an ideal playground, minus the beer. We celebrate multigenerational gathering spaces that offer a little something for everyone -- if not alcohol for the adults, then shady benches, or chess tables, or even fitness equipment.

    Regarding the question of whether or not children should be allowed in bars, our admittedly ambiguous answer is: It depends. In Ireland, the classic pub has long been regarded as a family-friendly spot -- a place for children and adults alike to unwind after a long day. On the flip side, we doubt many parents have ever thought to bring their kids to an upscale wine bar, or to a college bar pushing Jager shot specials.

    Which is precisely why these "no kids allowed" bans have us scratching our heads. Gathering places tend to self-select their clientele based on what they offer and how they offer it. Clearly, all adults, whether or not they have kids, need some space of their own. Likewise, all adults, whether or not they have kids, should also have spaces where they can interact with people across the generational spectrum. The health of our communities depends on it.

    Secret clubhouses might be "kids only," but playgrounds are for everyone. Maybe some beer gardens should be for everyone, too.

    What about screaming adults? Top right photo via Urban Edge. Above photo by Mr. T in DC (cc).

  • There are lots of reasons why you should send your kids outside to play, and here's another: You might be giving them five more years to live.

    It may sound like hyperbole, but with one in three kids being overweight or obese, today's children are on track to be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. A recent study published in Pediatrics found that surprisingly, older overweight children actually consume fewer calories than their slimmer peers. It concludes that low levels of physical activity "may contribute more to maintaining obese/overweight status through adolescence."

    Clearly, establishing healthy eating habits is vital to our children's health. But kids also need to move and play. It's not just about their health as kids but throughout their adult lives. This great video from Designed to Move says it best:

     

  • Treehouses to drool over

    October 02, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    There is something about a treehouse that appeals to children's inner adventurers but also to their desire to find somewhere cozy and secret to hide. In fact, our fascination with treehouses may be one aspect of childhood we never really outgrow. 

    Can anyone look at these photos and not feel overcome by an itch to take up residence in a tree somewhere? Go ahead. We dare you. 

    • The Gibbon Experience in Laos consists of a number of treehouses like this one, each connected to one another by a zipline. Photo by Christian Haugen (cc).
    • This reflective glass treehouse in northern Sweden blends into the forest so well, it's become a hazard for unsuspecting birds. Photo via Dwell.
    • In Crossville, Tennessee, this monstrous treehouse spans seven trees and boasts over 80 rooms. Photo via fubiz.
    • The home of the Danilchiks in Port Orchard, Washington. Photo via 9 Wows.
    • A cozy treehouse retreat in Whistler, British Columbia. Photo via Dwell.
    • The Magical Treehouse in Vermont. Photo via Blue Pueblo.
    • A handicap accessible treehouse along Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. Photo via origamidon (cc).
    • This treehouse in Kerala, India has trenches dug around it on the ground below to dissuade curious elephants. Photo by Pandiyan (cc).
    • Kadirs Treehouses in Olympos, Turkey offer accommodations for adventurous travelers. Photo by Jon Rawlinson (cc).

  • Every neighborhood needs a playground and a pub

    October 01, 2012 Julie Hussey

    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.

  • In some parts, sending your kids outside to play has become a criminal activity. And we're not being melodramatic -- we mean that literally. Over the last few months, three different mothers have been arrested for allowing their children to navigate The Great Outdoors beyond the confines of their homes.

    Most recently, a Tammy Cooper in La Porte, Texas was thrown in jail for "child endangerment" after a neighbor called police to report that her children were playing outside on scooters unsupervised. That the neighbor's accusation was actually incorrect -- Tammy was keeping an eye on them from a lawn chair on the sidewalk -- is even beside the point. Tammy and her six- and nine-year-old children live on a cul-de-sac, which should be a perfectly acceptable environment for a couple hours of loosely supervised outdoor play. Though the charges against Tammy were dropped, the ordeal has cost her family over $7,000 in legal fees.

    In July, Betty Abena Anane in Manchester, Connecticut was charged with "risk of injury to a minor" after police say she allowed her seven- and 11-year old children to walk a few blocks to buy pizza unsupervised. As one commenter on Free Range Kids put it, "It’s a 10 minute walk on a stunningly ordinary residential street." Here, Google maps shows the route they took:

    Outraged yet? Hold on, there's more. In June, April Lawson in Johnson City, Tennessee sent her five- and eight-year-old children to play at a playground a block and a half away from her house. When she sent someone to check on them an hour later, she learned they were not at the playground and immediately called 911. It turned out the kids had left the playground and gone to play at a nearby friend's house, arriving home right before the police arrived.

    So after a harmless mix-up, everything was OK, right? Not quite. April spent the night in jail and was booked with felony child abuse and neglect charges.

    The basic plot of all three stories is this: Mom trusts her kids to roam around for a few blocks outside. Mom trusts her neighbors to help keep a collective eye on them. Mom gets thrown in jail. Are these the lessons about 'right' and 'wrong' we want our law enforcement officials teaching our kids?