Play Today

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • What does a high-quality preschool look like?

    April 02, 2013 Kerala Taylor

    In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama made the case for expanding access to high-quality preschool opportunities, arguing that “in states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children… studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”

    We know that already, but the question lingers: What does “high-quality” mean? Does a high-quality preschool look like this?

    Or like this?

    Manhattan mother Nicole Imprescia would likely argue the former—in 2011, she sued her child's preschool because, in her words, "The school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom." Imprescia worried that all this play was ruining her tot's chances of getting into an Ivy League college.

    Meanwhile, many early childhood educators emphatically believe that preschool should be one big playroom—and don’t forget about an adjoining outdoor playspace!  A recent study by Oregon State University found that the key social and behavioral skills that play develops -- such as paying attention and persisting with a task -- are better predictors of whether or not a child completes college than his or her academic abilities.

    Educators like Nancy Carlsson Paige worry that policy mandates, like the Common Core state standards, are already squeezing play out of the preschool curriculum by “causing a pushdown of academic skills to 3, 4 and 5 year olds that used to be associated with first-graders through third-graders.”

    A teacher in a Brooklyn kindergarten that has adopted the Common Core standards told The New York Post they are “causing a lot of anxiety.” After watching three different children break down sobbing in the course of one week, the teacher said, “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”

    Washington Post guest columnist Deborah Kenny wonders if the problem is inherent in standards themselves or in how they are implemented. She points to one teacher who taught his kindergarteners “gravity, anatomy, speed, addition and subtraction, and measurement,” which are all included in the Common Core standards, by building a “life-size paper model of how humans would need to be designed in order to fly.”

    Either way, Kenny argues that the “right curriculum for kindergarten” is, without a doubt, play. As we begin to invest more in “high-quality” early childhood education, let’s make sure that “quality” doesn’t mean filling out worksheets at a desk. We know that parents like Imprescia just want what’s best for their children. Let’s listen to the research and make sure that “quality” includes copious amounts of active, creative, sensory, and social play—in the mud and beyond. 

    What does a quality preschool mean to you?


    Top photo via iStockphoto. Bottom photo via Shawn Perez (cc).

  • 5 ways to spring into spring

    March 21, 2013 MJ Kurs-Lasky

    Now that spring has officially sprung, it’s time to enjoy the warmer weather and longer days. Take advantage of the change in seasons with these five outdoor play ideas, and post a comment or send us a tweet to share your own.

     

    Catch a playground sunset

    Catch a playground sunset

    Daylight saving time means extra time outdoors! Take a post-dinner trip to the playground and play until the sun goes down. (It’s a great way to make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.) While you’re there, snap a photo of the setting sun and add your picture to our Map of Play.

     

    Photo by Hari Hamartia (cc).

    Play puddle hopscotch

    Play puddle hopscotch

    Don’t let the inevitable April showers deter you from going outdoors. Pull on your boots and get ready to puddle jump. Puddles make for great natural hopscotch courses—use a small rock to determine where to jump next.

     

    Photo by joeltelling (cc).

    Go on a flower scavenger hunt

    Go on a flower scavenger hunt

    They say April showers bring May flowers. Hit your nearest park or nature trail and challenge your kids to see how many shapes, sizes, and colors of flowers they can find. (If flowers haven’t sprouted up in your neighborhood, go on a spring scavenger hunt and look for worms, birds’ nests, and flower buds.)

     

    Photo by cabby dave (cc).

    Make a pebble pal

    Make a pebble pal

    Make a pebble your pal by transforming it into your favorite creature. For added fun, paint a dozen and “hide” them throughout your neighborhood to surprise and delight passersby. Unlike eggs, they won’t go rotten!

     

    Photo by Avia Venfica (cc).

    Plant a pizza garden

    Plant a pizza garden

    What do kids love more than pizza? What about growing their own pizza toppings? Spring is the perfect time to get a garden started—all you need are some seeds and a container or two. If you don’t feel like splurging on flower pots, get creative and use old books or a recycled milk jug. Download our guide to starting a pizza garden or watch this video.

     

    Photo by Rachel Tayse (cc).

     

    Does your family have a favorite springtime game or activity? Share your ideas in the comments section below, or send us a tweet (@kaboom).

  • If these snowmen can play outdoors, so can you

    December 20, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    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.

  • 25 outdoor play gifts for under $50

    November 27, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    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

     

  • 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?

  • 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: