Play Today

  • Dad and SonLast Friday, Rush Limbaugh assigned his listeners homework. He asked them to read Hanna Rosin's Atlantic piece, "The Overprotected Kid," and then to call his show and tell him what they thought of it. Invariably, audience members dialed in and lamented the decline of an era when American parents gave their kids the freedom to skin their knees, sprain their ankles, and return home at dark for supper.

    Whether or not you agree that today's affluent, "helicopter parents" are over-supervising their kids' playtime, Hanna Rosin's piece was not intended to address the challenges of the one in five American kids living in poverty. For these young people, the operative question is not whether their play is over- or under-chaperoned. Rather, it's how can we, collectively, ensure that they have safe places and regular opportunities to play at all?

    "The Overprotected Kid" describes today's middle-class parents as paranoid and afraid to leave their children alone because of perceived dangers. But in many communities where kids in poverty grow up, the dangers are all too real. For these kids, the primary goal should not be to introduce more danger, but rather to make sure they get the support and attention of caring adults that they need to thrive.

    This is why KaBOOM! and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have launched the America's Most Playful Family contest, which showcases families that are finding creative ways to make play a part of their everyday lives. We have received submissions from an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of American life, from the family who can't afford a karate lesson but serves up a dance party with dinner, to parents who hand their kids a soccer ball instead of an iPad. For these families, play is not a destination, but rather a way of life. We need to make it easier for all families to play actively together—on the city sidewalk, at the bus stop, in the neighborhood park, in the school yard, on the front stoop and even in the living room. And that won't happen without families, schools, communities, and cities getting involved.

    Like Rosin, we agree that "reasonable" risks are essential for a child's healthy development. We are fans of so-called "dangerous" playgrounds, ourselves. But the risks that kids face when adults don't provide them with safe opportunities to play are far from reasonable—and this is what we really need to be talking about.

    Today's kids play less than any generation before them, and rates of childhood obesity, ADHD, and toxic stress have skyrocketed as a result. Now is the time to change the conversation. Play matters. Without it, no child can reach her full potential.

  • 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.

  • How to become a playing family

    November 05, 2013

    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.

  • What to do with bored kids this summer

    May 16, 2013 Kerala Taylor

    Boredom. Kids hate it, and parents hate hearing about it.

    So we turn to sports camps. Video games. Amusement parks. But do we have to “fight boredom” with an endless chain of activities?

    In fact, some boredom can be good for your kids. It essentially tells them: Figure out something to do. Use your imagination. Newsweek notes, "In the space between anxiety and boredom [is] where creativity flourishe[s]."

    Professor of Social Psychology Paddy O'Donnell points out in The Times, "Boredom shouldn't last long if children are in the right environment where they're dragged off either by curiosity or the desire to socialise. It continues only if there's no one to play with or the environment's too restrictive."

    Of course, there's nothing wrong with a week of sports camp, an occasional video game, or a trip to the amusement park, but instead of constantly conjuring up activities to wage war against boredom, think about how you can foster the “right environment” and how that environment can include other kids.

    Creating these environments at home, on your street, and at your local park or playground may require some initial legwork, but will save time and headaches down the road. You can relax, bring on the boredom, and watch your child's creativity flourish!

    Here are five ideas to ensure that your kids make the most of their boredom this summer:

    At home:

    Build a DIY sandbox

    Bring the beach to your kids

    Can't get to the beach? Bring the beach home. If you've ever watched your child effortlessly wile away an afternoon digging in the sand at the water's edge, then you know how much they love manipulable environments where they can tinker, explore, create, and destroy. Consider these affordable DIY sandbox and sprinkler ideas.

    Photo by courosa (cc).

    Collect materials for a pop-up playground

    Collect scrap materials for a pop-up playground

    A pop-up playground can pop up anywhere -- a back yard, front yard, garage, or sidewalk.The best part? It doesn't have to cost a dime. While it may be difficult for adults to envision the play opportunities presented by, say, a cardboard box, paper towel roll, or stack of newspapers, children will inevitably turn scrap materials into their own magical kingdoms.

    Photo courtesy of popupadventureplay.org

     

    On your street:

    Close a street for play

    Close a street for play

    Does your house or neighborhood have limited outdoor space? There's always the street. By petitioning a city to close a residential street to cars at a regularly scheduled time, a community gets an "instant playground," even if it lacks swings and monkey bars. Transportation Alternatives, a New York-based nonprofit, offers a handy PDF guide to help you set up your own play street.
    Start a neighborhood summer camp

    Start a neighborhood summer camp

    Want to make sure your kids get a summer camp experience full of free play opportunities? Start your own camp, then—on your own street. Inspired by Playborhood founder Mike Lanza’s Camp Yale, neighbors Jennifer Antonow and Diana Nemet have been running Camp Iris Way for two summers now. Last year, the camp attracted a whopping 72 children and teens—more than 90 percent of the youth in their neighborhood! Jennifer and Diana offer six simple steps to starting your own camp, insisting that it's not nearly as daunting as it may seem.

    Photo via Aaron Selverston, Palo Alto Patch.

     

    At the playground:

    Challenge your neighbors to get to the playground

    Challenge your neighbors to get to the playground

    For three summers now, we have challenged families to visit as many playgrounds as they can. Tired of seeing so many empty playgrounds, Playground Challenger Liza Sullivan decided to take our Challenge one step further by inviting her neighbors along. The Last Days of Summer Park-A-Day Challenge gave families one park or playground destination each day for one week.

    Photo by Joe Shlabotnik (cc).

    What ideas do you have for making the most of boredom this summer?

  • 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.

  • The summer of 2010 was a summer I will always remember—but not because of an exotic vacation or cross-country road trip or adventure-filled summer camp. Instead, I stayed right at home and explored local playgrounds with my twins. We were one of six families to participate in the first-ever KaBOOM! Summer Playground Challenge.

    When the Challenge ended, I observed a marked change in my children – they appeared healthier, happier, stronger, and more self-confident. While everyone knows that outdoor play is  beneficial for kids, what I didn’t expect was how transformative the Challenge proved for mom as well!

    Here are five reasons why parents should join the 2012 Playground Challenge:

    1. Regular outdoor play is good for the soul. Activities like swinging, building sandcastles, rolling down grassy hills, and running through a fountain on hot summer days help you feel like a kid again. You will also have incentive to escape from computers, piles of laundry, and other distractions.
       
    2. It’s easier to get your kids to bed. Each day will provide your children with opportunities to be physically active as they increase their strength, coordination, and endurance. As a result, they won’t be as squirmy at home and will rarely have trouble falling asleep at night!
       
    3. Play opens doors to teachable moments. Rather than constantly playing the role of disciplinarian, you become a support to your child’s exploration, discovery, and learning. As you explore playgrounds and nature areas, your children will undoubtedly ask you endless questions, and each day will be filled with teachable moments.
       
    4. You meet new people in your neighborhood. As you explore, you will inevitably strike up conversations with other parents, contributing to a sense of community and connectedness. This can be particularly meaningful for stay-at-home parents – a job that is sometimes very isolating.
       
    5. Your family can experience new places right at home. Many participants, myself included, found that until they took on the Challenge, they were unaware of the surprising number of parks, playgrounds, and nature preserves in or near their community. They discovered hidden gems and explored nearby neighborhoods they had never had reason to visit before.

    As a gift to yourself and your children this summer, allow for plenty of time to play, and consider being a part of the national 2012 Playground Challenge!


    The 2012 Summer Playground Challenge asks parents to visit playgrounds and add them to our Map of Play using our soon-to-be released Tag! mobile app. If you need another reason to join our Challenge, participants will earn points and badges toward great prizes throughout the summer and toward one of three Grand Prizes--a trip for two to Washington, DC! Sign up for more information here.

    Photo by Liza Sullivan, 2010.

  • A family that plays together stays together

    May 08, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    We talk a lot about allowing kids time for unstructured, unsupervised play, but we know there are other ways to play. We also support kids playing under the guidance of coaches, teachers, and of course, parents.

    In fact, making time for family play is critical to family well-being. Playing with your kids can mean chasing them around the playground, challenging them to chess, or building sandlcastles together. But parents can also inject a playful spirit into routine chores and activities, like chopping veggies for dinner, shopping at the grocery store, or walking home from school.

    Does your family need more play? This video, made possible by Foresters, will show you why it's important and how you can make family play a priority. Tell us how your family plays together in the comments section below!

  • Encouraging risk in a risk-averse world

    March 19, 2012 Danielle Marshall

    This story originally appeared in the Altruim Institute’s Health Policy Forum and has been adapted for kaboom.org.

    Ever since the arrival of my daughter, my ears have been primed to pick up on the conversations and behaviors other parents are modeling for their children. Lately, it feels like more and more of these conversations are geared toward coaxing children away from taking risks. There are the well-known fears to which many a parent can speak to: gangs, drugs, perilous streets, and so forth. Yet, it seems as if we are moving in the direction of proclaiming things fearful that past generations simply considered a part of growing up. Riding a bike to school, swinging to soaring heights only to jump off, and even roaming the neighborhood with a group of friends have been traded for the “safety” of our children.

    Earlier this month I came across a blog titled “An Itemized Tour of the Most Terrifying Playground in the World. EVERYBODY PANIC!!!”. The author takes readers through a point-by-point list of, as she states, “the stressful aspects of this park that brought out the neurotic parent in me.” While sympathetic I was mostly troubled by this post.

    In addition to the playground elements that cause “stress” in parents, there is an underlying fear that our children will be hurt, abducted, or meet some other undesirable fate while on the playground. As an advocate for playgrounds and outdoor play in general, it is alarming to see the number of people who agree that playspaces should be made less risky. Nobody wants anybody’s child to get hurt, but if we are always there to catch our children before they fall, they will never learn to brace themselves for the impact. This is as true for the tumbles they will take on the playground, as it is for the ones that await them as adults.

    The media has contributed significantly to the cultural shift in our perception of risk. As a colleague so aptly says, “It is difficult enough being a parent, you are literally responsible for someone else’s life. When you couple that responsibility with the fear created by the media, it is easy to see why more parents are becoming risk-averse.”

    There has also been a shift toward increased structured enrichment activities for children. We are living in a society where we feel as if we are doing wrong by our children if we don’t fill every opportunity with a “life-enhancing experience.”

    These activities often come with predefined rules and expected outcomes that further limit children’s ability to take risks. It is in our attempts to protect and raise children ready to tackle the 21st century that we have inadvertently taken away one of the best learning opportunities: space for children to challenge themselves, take risks, and acquire vital problem-solving skills. The need for constant protection of our children speaks to our society’s inability to simply let our children fail at anything, no matter how trivial.

    It is inevitable that children will encounter obstacles in life. It is through risk taking that children develop the capacity to think creatively and develop solutions. Those obstacles and risks begin on the playground.

  • Wordless Wednesday: Homemade jungle gym

    March 14, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    Would you let your children build this? We stumbled across this amazing photo on the blog, Mama's Minutia. Says Jennifer Jo, the author and mother of the children pictured:

    "There is a shift that takes place when your kids gain the skills to construct monumental forts that reach truly frightening heights. I’m not exactly sure what to do with their newfound ability to threaten their physical well-being."

    For more photos and the wonderful story behind this homemade jungle gym, including its eventual demise, read the full post, "rise and fall."

  • Won’t someone come out and play?

    February 16, 2012 Melissa Taylor

    My two elementary-aged daughters sit at our kitchen counter munching apples and Ritz crackers. My kids aren’t with their peers at ballet, basketball, piano, art, karate, gymnastics, or swimming. They do take lessons occasionally, but I limit their activities to once a week. For JJ, it’s ballet and for Ani, it’s Lego engineering.

    “Can we go outside now, mom?” Ani asks, already grabbing her coat and running out the door.

    Our suburban backyard faces other backyards, separated by bike path and a small creek. During the school year, we can be outside for hours and not see or hear another child the entire time. My kids check the trampoline of our next-door neighbor just in case, hoping for a friend to play with.

    "Mom, why can’t I have a play date?" Ani asks.

    It’s hard to explain over and over.

    "No one can play. All your friends are busy in activities and sports. Maybe during the next break."

    My kids are each other’s best playmates thankfully.

    I watch their legs pump on the swings out and back, out and back; listen to the giggles and screams; feel the warm Colorado sun on my face. Am I a crazy person, the only one in the universe, who thinks it’s better to play than to take so many lessons?

    Doubts creep into my mind. No one else is doing it, Melissa, the doubts whisper. Your kids should be in activities. They’re missing out.

    Richard Louv’s book title, The Last Child in the Woods, resonates with me today. I feel that we’re the last family in the woods, and it’s lonely.

    Where is everybody?

    Won’t someone come out and play?

    Am I doing the right thing?