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"Play. That's the best way kids learn -- doing something they enjoy." Trish Thomas, America's Most Playful Family Contest winner
Where else do life-sized Tamagotchi Friends greet you at the door? Where else can you get a photo with the original Grumpy Cat? Where else can you get a glimpse into all the new toy trends that are soon to hit retailer shelves across the nation?
Toy Fair, that's where!
The American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association, is the ultimate gathering for toy industry professionals. Designers, manufacturers, and retailers flock to this annual event at New York City’s Javits Center to showcase their wares, check out the latest in innovative product lines, and gather insight into the newest industry trends.
Last week, the KaBOOM! team (Boomers) joined in the fun to explore new innovations for the Go Out and Play Collection and uncover ways to bring these great ideas from the fair to the families in the communities with which we work.
One big thing we noticed was, like KaBOOM!, the industry focus is that children—and the adults around them—should seek quality play opportunities not just in the traditionally designated playspaces, but everywhere.
Understanding that play cannot be confined to a specific activity type or place, the toys and trends we saw really promote active minds, active bodies, and being active together. But as good Boomers do, we inserted a little play into our work. While gathering crucial insights, our investigative play team made sure to test several products to make doubly sure how much fun could be had! There were a few that stuck out in the crowd.
Our Boomers made it our mission to seek out the best active play products. What we found were a lot of toys that make playtime edgier, challenging you to move faster, bounce higher or bring more friends into activities.
The Wing Flyer by Zike combines elliptical pedal movement with a sleek scooter frame. We have to admit that we crashed a couple of times, but that just made it all the more fun!
“Wow, you got a lot of air!”
Boomers were impressed by the bounce in the Jungle Jumperoo. The promotional materials note that 10 minutes of jumping is equal to 33 minutes of running. We’ll have to do some more research into that claim, but we definitely all broke into a sweat after testing it out.
You wouldn’t think it, but walking on stilts takes a ton of balance, core strength, and coordination! It was a challenge, but our Boomer tester had a lot of fun trying!
“Retro” games were also huge at this year’s Toy Fair. These games and toys brought back classic childhood games with a new twist.
Giant Connect Four made the much-loved game larger than life!
Made by the creators of the original pogo stick, the Flybar uses elastomeric thrusters to bounce fully grown riders up to four feet off the ground.
Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—also known as STEM—concepts was another big theme. In particular, toys specifically geared to engage girls in STEM learning seemed to be almost everywhere we turned.
In recent years, there has been growing attention given to the low number of women who are entering STEM-based careers. To try and bridge this gap, there has been an increase in popular demand for more STEM-inspired toys geared toward girls. This market has grown in popularity and has been taken on by a number of manufacturers.
You can never go wrong with classic creative construction sets, like this one from Brio, sold in the United States by Schylling. (And if you’re into creative construction on a larger scale, be sure to check out Imagination Playground and Rigamajig!)
Makey Makey is one of the newest products that aims to teach basic circuitry through hands-on, well, making! Those bananas? They’re not for eating, though we were definitely hungry by the time we got here. They’re for making music!
No Toy Fair would be complete without games that engage the creative spirit. Going further than the traditional arts and crafts kits, many products aimed to engage active and inventive minds in a collaborative setting.
Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons.
The Big Creativity Can by Faber-Castell includes a handful of open-ended materials—like clay, feathers and popsicle sticks—that allow kids of all ages to push their imaginations to the limit.
Even though we found many great toys at the Fair, it’s good to keep in mind that getting a balance of active play every day doesn’t necessitate having a game or toy. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, family and a little creativity.
For more information on the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection and how you can help support KaBOOM!, go to kaboom.org/store.
Good news: you’re already making a difference and the new year just started. Those who gave in 2013 are helping to make stories like Kenneth’s possible for even more children in 2014. Watch this video and see how play is creating positive change for kids like Kenneth. (Want more? Watch Kenneth's first, second, and third videos, too!).
Play is a powerful thing and, by supporting it, you’re giving kids the childhood they deserve.
Thank you for making play possible for children across the country.
Play can change a person's childhood.
When Kenneth was in kindergarten, KaBOOM! built a playground at his school and Kenneth began to play more outside. His grades improved from B's and C's, to A's and B's.
Where other kids are getting an average of 8 hours of screen time a day, Kenneth is getting outside and playing. The playground led to changes in his life. Hear what Kenneth has to say about play in his third video, below. (And, don't forget to watch Kenneth's first and second videos too!)
Kids really do need a playground. Help give kids like Kenneth the childhood they deserve.
Kids don't always get the play they need. But Kenneth is lucky. When he was in kindergarten, KaBOOM! built a playground at his school—a playground where he got to meet a lot of other kids.
Kenneth will never forget one day when he made a friend on the playground. Hear this story in his second video. (If you haven't seen Kenneth's first video, watch it too!)
Help give kids like Kenneth the childhood they deserve.
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.
Inhabit Design & Construction
Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat
Sumo Bumper Bopper
Berg Moov Starter Kit
Polka Hop & Stripey Hop
Night Zone Football
Bonus Item: KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Backpack
For more winter play ideas, check out the complete Go Out and Play Collection at imagine toys.
The lazy days of summer are winding down. A new school year awaits, full of exciting opportunities to learn, grow, and make new friends.
For many children, a new school year also means more stress. Not all stress is unhealthy—as Marian Wilde of GreatSchools.org points out, “Good stress induces a student to strive for her personal best on an exam, a term paper or on the debate team.”
Yet unfortunately, the stress levels of today’s children are rising at worrisome rates. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), typical schoolchildren today report more anxiety than did child psychiatric patients in the 1950's, and the National Association of Health Education Centers reports that 9-13 year olds say they are “more stressed by academics than any other stressor—even bullying or family problems.”
Active play is a proven stress reducer, not only helping children during times of trauma, but also to handle the stresses of everyday life. A recent study in Finland found that physical activity helps children cope with stress, with physically active children reporting “happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active.”
Of course, play is not just about active bodies, but also active minds. As cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman points out, imaginative play “allows the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition.” The social aspects of play also help kids feel more connected to their communities, reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion.
Children intuitively understand that play is not only fun, but helps them cope with stress. A boy in a KaBOOM! focus group of eight- and nine-year-olds recently noted: “Play is important because you lose some energy and become calm and make your Mom happy for the rest of the day.”
In fact, play can make Mom (and Dad) happy in more ways than one. A group of Kansas State researchers found that single mothers who play with their kids experience less stress than those who don’t. While all kids need room to direct their own course of play, family playtime can reduce stress for parents and children alike.
That’s why it’s imperative that families, schools, and communities make time to play this fall—during school, after school, and on the weekends. While stress relief for adults has become a powerful, multi-faceted industry, for children it could be as simple as a trip to the playground.
In the tornado-ravaged town of Moore, Okla., all people want is for things to return to “normal.” What does “normal” mean? Adults no doubt crave the comfort of their own beds, a running refrigerator, a hot shower. But for kids, “normal” might be as simple as a chance to play.
In the wake of disaster, we must meet our children’s basic needs – food, shelter, water – but it’s not enough. For children whose lives have been turned upside-down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amidst turmoil and helping them to work through emotional trauma. That’s because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.
It’s easy to push play down the priority list, but luckily child-serving organizations around the world understand its healing power. After Hurricane Sandy, the international nonprofit Save the Children set up safe play areas in shelters “where hundreds of children can be kids again.” After the 2011 tsunami earthquake in Japan, World Vision created child-friendly play spaces because they considered “emotional support to be just as critical as physical assistance for vulnerable children who have experienced disasters.” And when it came to aiding the children affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Clinton Global Initiative found that play was “one of the best medicines.”
Play is a critical component to both immediate and long-term rebuilding efforts. In 2005, KaBOOM! committed to building over one hundred playgrounds in the Gulf following Hurricane Katrina. We ended up building 143 (and counting). Kathleen Koch, author of Rising from Katrina, noted that adults “were busy trying to replace physical objects--lost homes, cars, and possessions. [But] there was nothing anyone could do to recapture a lost childhood.”
At one of the Gulf sites where we built a playground – a school in Kiln, Mississippi – the principal reported:
The psychologists in our area have been doing studies on kids in the schools in our district, and they reported seeing things… like thoughts about suicide, murder and other types of violence – truly terrible things. But, they also reported that they didn’t see those things in the kids at North Central Elementary and they attribute a lot of that to the playground.
Similarly, when KaBOOM! joined forces with the town of Joplin, Missouri to build a playground there 16 months after a tornado devastated the area, Superintendent of Joplin Schools CJ Huff noted that talk of suicide decreased. "Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," he said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."
Just a few weeks ago, we helped to rebuild Magnolia Park in the City of Long Beach, which had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Long Beach resident Ryan Spel said, “What a great experience, [it] meant a tremendous amount to me be part of rebuilding my hometown… I will never forget it.”
Back in 2006, KaBOOM! supported a playground-building effort at Plaza Towers Elementary School—one of the two schools demolished by the tornado. As we work on a long-term plan to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Plaza Towers and the town of Moore, let’s support the organizations on the ground that are seeking resources to address the community’s immediate needs. Save the Children is coordinating a response effort for affected children and families; please support its worthy efforts by making a donation today.
It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential—because all children deserve a childhood. Even when faced with trying external circumstances beyond our control, it is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t miss out.
Is our play deficit linked to our children’s growing attention deficit? As we kick off National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s time to seriously examine the mental repercussions of denying our kids the time and space they need to move and explore—in short, to be kids.
New data from the CDC reveals that 11 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed with A.D.H.D., representing a 41 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of the 6.4 million children who have been diagnosed take a prescription for a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall.
According to The New York Times, “stimulants can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.”
Let’s be clear: doctors and parents know best, but there is an all-natural stimulant that many recognize as effectively addressing our children’s increasing stress and deteriorating mental health: active play. Recent research shows that play in open green spaces was associated with milder symptoms of ADD and ADHD, even in children whose symptoms do not respond to medication. Research also shows that "periods of play improve social skills, impulse inhibition and attention" and results in "neurochemical changes...especially in those brain areas in which ADHD children are deficient."
Though some girls are diagnosed with ADHD, it’s overwhelmingly a “disorder” of boys—boys being boys, in most cases. They were not made to sit in a classroom for six hours per day... They need to be outside playing in tree houses and organizing their own baseball leagues and exploring the woods—even just being quiet by themselves.
Growing trends toward squeezing play out of the school curriculum are forcing our children to sit for longer and at younger ages. According to studies cited in USA Today, “40 percent of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess to allow more time for core academics,” which is not only worrisome, but actually counterproductive. The American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that among many “cognitive, physical, emotional, and social benefits,” recess improves children’s attention spans and classroom behavior.
In Finland, where students’ test scores top international charts, elementary-aged children get 75 minutes of recess daily. Interestingly, about one percent of children in Finland take a prescription drug to treat A.D.H.D.
Of course, our country’s play deficit extends far beyond school walls. Our children’s homes are filled with screens, and their neighborhoods lack safe places to play.
During National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s important to acknowledge the vital role of active play when it comes to our children’s happiness and well-being. If teachers, parents, community leaders, and policy makers united to prescribe our children more play, perhaps our doctors would be prescribing fewer pills.
Our vision is a playground within walking distance of every child in America, but if we had our way, the same would one day be true for every child in the world. The play deficit is not a uniquely American problem.
It’s telling that in some of the most impoverished countries—where many families struggle for basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter—children still find ways to play. As Sports Without Borders puts it: “There is no childhood without play.”
Here are three inspiring recent initiatives to bring play to children in need:
Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Plimpton tells the story behind the first playground built in the town of San Luis de Canete, Peru:
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my first project was to survey local neighborhoods to determine local needs and possible projects. As I went from home to home, I noticed that there were often young children inside, watching television or playing games indoors, even though it was summer and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.
"I was puzzled by this and asked why. I was told there was no safe place for the children to play outside, and homes here are built side by side, with little or no yard. I collaborated with Angel Garcia, my community partner and San Luis Parks and Recreation Director, to write a grant proposal, which was approved by the Mayor and town council. Dozens of my friends contributed the $1200 donations, which the Municipality matched with land, labor, transportation and materials.
"Nearly all the materials were obtained or created locally. Used tires were donated by local tire shops and the local fire house donated rolls of used fire-hose. A last-minute addition was the shade tarp, to temper the intense summer sun of the tropics. The park is PACKED every day. The city has now applied for money from the Federal government to build two more, as well as a skate park. Seeing the smiles and laughter of the children has been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.”
In Zanzibar, the One World Futbol Project has partnered with the Zanzibar National Sports Council and Save the Children to distribute 20,000 virtually-indestructible balls to all the schools and youth programs on the islands of Unguja and Pemba. Says Sandra Cress on the One World Futbol blog:
"Even in the hot mid-day sun, with no water to drink and no shoes on their feet, the children play football with abandon. They play with balls that are made up of rags tied together. They play with old soccer balls that have no outside leather left, and no air in them—deflated bladders so that balls just barely roll. They play on the beaches; on the stone streets in Stonetown; on thorny, patchy fields that double as cow pastures. The goals are made up of sticks, PVC pipes, even coconut tree trunks.
"The children imitate the moves of their soccer heroes—Messi, Ronaldo, Mata, Van Persie, and other global soccer superstars. Someone calls a foul, and one child studiously paces off the 10 meters from the free kick. The 'Beautiful Game' helps these children be healthy in unhealthy circumstances. It allows them time to feel good and experience joy, to bond with teammates. Playing soccer helps them learn and follow rules of the game. It builds self-esteem and teaches them to treat each other with respect.
"Mubarak Mambud, the tireless Director of Save the Children, Zanzibar, speaks of how much more attentive and productive children are when they have time to play. Having access to a ball in school even reduces truancy and decreases behavior disruptions in school."
On February 28, a team of 20 traveled to Haiti to install a Kids Around the World (KIDS) playground at an orphanage in Saline Mayette. There are over 100 children in the orphanage and 310 children attending the school. Most of the children come to the orphanage with at least second-degree malnutrition. Using refurbished playground equipment, donated by the Chicago Ridge Park District, KIDS was able to build for $50,000 a playground that would have cost $225,000 to $250,000 in the United States. Says Julie Rearick, the NE Satellite Director of Kids Around the World:
"My favorite part of a playground build was playing with the children. As we worked on building the play structure, the children always gathered around to watch. I took jump ropes and soccer balls along so I could play with them. By the time the playground was dedicated, I already knew a number of the children. There are no words to express the emotions I felt when those children scream with glee and laughter running towards the playground. I have grown to live by this quote: 'I do for one, what I wish I could do for all.' "