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

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What backyard games did you invent growing up?

How many kids see "no running" signs at swimming pools and suddenly feel compelled to run?

We all know that kids don't like being bound by a rigid set of rules, prefering instead to bend or outright defy them. T-ball or pee-wee soccer can be a painful spectacle to watch, largely because the players don't understand why they can't run to another base whenever they feel like it, or why they can't pick up the soccer ball and throw it.

For kids, the best part of learning the rules to a new game is figuring out how to creatively adapt them. How many of you played "customized" versions of Red Rover or Capture the Flag? Or how many of you invented your own games from scratch, creating and revising the rules as you played?

In honor of National Backyard Games week, share with us a game you invented growing up in the "Comments" section below.

We'll feature our three favorite games on our blog and send the inventors a free copy of our new Go Out and Play! book, a collection of great outdoor games.


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Leave your children at the park and your paranoia at bay

"Take Our Children to the Park... and Leave Them There Day" (Saturday, May 19) has a provocative name for a reason: to call attention to itself.

Had Free Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, who originally came up with the idea, named it, "Give Your Children A Chance To Gather Outside With Other Neighborhood Children and Engage in Unstructured, Unsupervised Play for an Hour or Two," I'm not sure that so many people would be taking notice.

Parental paranoia has risen dramatically over the last two decades. It's a trend driven by fear--fear of crime, fear of injury, and even fear of children growing up to be failures. Some parents, like Lenore, have decided that enough is enough.

The world has dangers, yes, but it is not the inherently evil, threatening place that we often make it out to be. As Lenore and others point out, rates of violent crime are lower today than they were in 1974, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and have been steadily declining since the 1990s. Parents fret about child abductors while carting their children around in cars, even though kids are nearly 12 times more likely to die in a car wreck than they are to get kidnapped by a stranger.

And yet, people accuse Lenore of being "out of her tree."

All that she is asking, really, is that parents use their common sense. She is not issuing a decree that ALL parents MUST take their children to the park this Saturday and leave them there... or else! This day is really all about empowering, not endangering, children. Lenore is hoping that by making a big deal over leaving kids to play together at a park, it will, over time, cease to be a big deal.

As Lenore puts it,

"Clearly we are in the middle of a vicious cycle--there are no kids outside so I won't let MY kids outside, so there are no kids outside, so you don't let YOUR kids outside, so I don't let MY kids outside, etc., etc., etc--which is why the holiday (or whatever it is) is even necessary. It is a day to break the cycle. A day to get kids outside to meet each other and re-learn the lost art of playing!"

Will you be taking your kids to the park... and leaving them there?

A longer version of this piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Virtual funeral: Farewell to the slides at Union Grove

Friends in play, we are gathered here today to mourn the imminent passing of three dearly beloved playground slides. As longtime residents of Union Grove, Wis., these slides have brought joy to countless children who have reveled in their thrillingly tall ladders and periliously long snouts.

Alas, tomorrow's children will never enjoy such singular pleasures. In the name of safety (and, ahem, liability), the insurance company of Union Grove is seeing to it that our eccentric, rickety friends meet their demise.

Though not everyone is mourning the passing of our dearly beloved slides, even they admit that "kids are going to be sad." As are we. Not just for the children of Union Grove but for children the world over who are forced to contend with shorter, stouter, yawn-inducing slides. Tall slides of Union Grove, and tall slides everywhere, you will be dearly missed. Friends in play, we invite you to pay your respects in the "Comments" section below.


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Where the wild playgrounds are: A tribute to Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak once said, "Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy." He gave kids a lot more credit than we tend to these days, respecting both their resilience and their imaginations.

Many of today's playgrounds do neither, lacking both whimsy and risk. After receiving the Caldecott medal in 1964, Sendak said, " is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things."

In honor of Sendak, here are some of our favorite "wild playgrounds":

Check out our related post, Our favorite dangerous playgrounds.

For more inspiration, visit our Wacky & Wild Playgrounds Pinterest Board.

Want to pay tribute to Maurice Sendak? Earn your very own Maurice Sendak Tribute Badge by signing into our brand new Map of Play. By taking action for play now, you can help fuel children's imaginations for generations to come!

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A family that plays together stays together

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!

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5 creative outdoor activities for Screen-Free Week

Yes, it's Screen-Free Week, which begs the question: What are you doing in front of a screen?

But wait! Before you go, take a minute to get inspired by these creative outdoor activities from some of our favorite bloggers. For more awesome ideas, see our Screen-Free Ideas for Parents Pinterest board.

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Why not turn a vacant house into a giant ball pit?

According to New Orleans artist Josh Ente, there's no reason why not. Abandoned houses denote ruin and despair. Ball pits, by contrast, are bright, happy places, full of gleeful children. Josh says that since Hurricane Katrina, the number of vacant housing units in New Orleans has doubled, and he, for one, is sick of seeing homes in his neighborhood left to slowly decay.

So Josh is taking action. Having successfully raised funds on Kickstarter, he is now busy renovating a vacant house and purchasing the raw materials. Learn more about his project here:

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Our favorite dangerous playgrounds

Are today's "safe" playgrounds really any safer?

In honor of National Playground Safety Week, we present our favorite "dangerous" playgrounds--that is, playgrounds that make no secret of the risks they present. Interestingly, the perception that a playground is "safe" may cause children (and parents) to act carelessly, potentially leading to injury. By contrast, when risks are obvious, children are likely to proceed more cautiously.

Knowing that the injury rates on Adventure Playgrounds, which are depicted in some of the following slides, are not substantively different from those on "standard" playgrounds, we have to ask ourselves: Which hurt our children more? Playgrounds that bore them, or playgrounds that challenge and engage?

For more on risk and play, read our CEO Darell Hammond's Huffington Post piece, "Dangerous Playgrounds Are Good for Your Children." For more mouthwatering photos, see our Dangerous Playgrounds Pinterest board.

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