Bright Ideas

Anatomy of a Swing Park


Swing ParkEnjoy this guest blog post from Patrick McDonnell.

About a year ago, I saw an article about musical, light-weight swings at a bus stop in Montreal. Fascinated, I began researching and stumbled upon a few other swing projects like the Water-Fall Swing by Dash 7 and the Red Swing Project. After learning about the other projects, I was inspired to create something similar in Dallas that brought back childhood memories and was affordable.

In April 2013, I went to an outdoor market held in an empty parking lot, and it occurred to me that the lot would go back to being empty as soon as the market was over. A light bulb went off. Why not put a swing set in an empty parking lot, so that the space could be useful and active after market hours—and yet still be used as a parking lot during the day and weekends?

In June, I came across the HOLSTEE Fellowship while reading articles on GOOD. HOLSTEE, the folks who wrote the "Go Live Your Life" Manifesto, were giving away monthly $1,000 grants to individuals to seed their dream project. I entered the mobile "Swing Park" - a pop-up swing set to transform a parking lot into a park.

I made a 60-second video, and was selected to compete for the public vote on Facebook. People in Dallas helped me campaign from July 1–10 and I won! In August, I received the grant and began to build.

Building the Swing Set

Initially, I wanted to use reclaimed wood to build big, elegant two-person swings inspired by visual artist Ann Hamilton's "The Event of a Thread," a large-scale art installation in New York City. But function quickly trumped form since the swing was going to be outside and had to be mobile. Instead of a wood frame, I decided to use a metal one and made it detachable.

I bought most of the materials on a playground equipment website SwingSetMall.com, and purchased the metal poles and sandbags at The Home Depot, spending a total of $975.37 of the $1,000 HOLSTEE grant.

Here are the materials I used:

  • 4 CoPoly Deluxe Residential Belt Seat with 8'6" Plastisol Chain $195.80
  • 2 End Frame Fitting $269.90
  • 1 Middle Fitting Frame $169.95
  • 8 Galvanized Ductile Iron Pipe Beam Swing Hanger $143.60
  • 8 5/16" S-Hook $6.00
  • 8 2 3/8" X 10' Corner Post $147.76
  • 12 60lbs Quikrete Sandbags $42.36

The Swing Park debuted at this year’s PARK(ing) Day celebration in Dallas. PARK(ing) Day is a global event where citizens reclaim a parking space and transform it into a mini park to promote people-friendly streets and the importance of public spaces. Parks range from yoga classes to pet adoption areas to book giveaways to lounges.

I spent about three hours pre-assembling the swing structure. On PARK(ing) Day, it took twenty minutes to unload it and set it up.

I’m happy to report a few people have contacted me about creating their own Swing Parks. In Dallas, I’m continuing to pop-up the Swing Park around town at different events and eventually want to transition it to a more permanent venue.

My hope is that Swing Parks become a new way to create mini play areas in neglected urban environments like empty parking lots and bus stops, desolate underpasses, dead plazas, or other overlooked city corners that could use a bit of whimsy and fun and serve as a place for people to come together.

Swing Park

Swing Park

Swing Park

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How to play it cool at the playground


It’s summer, and the heat is on. Does your neighborhood playground look like it’s about to melt? This playground in Houston, Texas actually did:

When the temperature outside is 90-100 degrees, playground equipment and surfacing can get as hot as 130 to 150 degrees, putting kids are at risk of second-degree burns.  There’s a reason that hot cities suffer from “empty playground syndrome.”

But some cities are starting to wise up, making sure to incorporate shade elements into new playground designs and adding them to existing playgrounds. Not only does shade limit UV exposure, but its cooling effect is remarkable. Ian Smith, the Director of Athletics from the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima, CA says, “Before [adding shade structures], the kids were not able to play on the playground during the day. Now that we have shade, the temperature of the playground area is 15-20 degrees cooler and the kids are able to play safely!”

As Ian points out, during the heat of summer, shade can make the difference between an empty playground and one that’s crawling with kids. At a shaded playground, kids will stay longer and play more often.

  

At KaBOOM!, we try to incorporate shade into our playgrounds when possible. Left: The VIET playground in New Orleans stays crowded all summer long. Right: Kids rejoice in the shade at the Alliance for Women and Children playground in Abilene, Texas.  

Know a good shady playground in your area? Help other parents in your area by adding a photo on our Map of Play.

Know a playground that needs some shade? Don’t just wring your hands! Listen to this podcast to get some helpful hints for planning and budgeting for a shade project, plus check out these grants from the American Academy of Dermatology and the Shade Foundation of America.

Got any other tips for playing it cool at the playground?

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What to do with bored kids this summer


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?

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Recipe for a perfect playful block party


This Saturday, on April 27, GOOD is asking folks around the world to celebrate Neighborday, "a global celebration of the people with whom we share space."

And what better way to celebrate than to turn that space into a place to play? After all, it's not fair that cars always get to hog your street, when it could be filled with hula hoops, bouncy balls, chalk art, and cardboard boxes.

So this Saturday, it's time to claim your street, play with your neighbors, and generally make merry. Just follow our tried-and-true recipe for a perfect playful block party:

How will you celebrate Neighborday?

Illustration by our talented artist in residence, Marian Blair.

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5 ways to spring into spring


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).

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Saving childhood with a repurposed ambulance, an underground playground, and big blue blocks

All children deserve a childhood. But when faced with external circumstances like illness, war, natural disaster, or extreme poverty, some children risk missing out on the simple joys of running, laughing, discovering, and creating.

As our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond recently pointed out in the World Economic Forum blog: “For a child whose life has been turned upside down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amid turmoil and helping to work through emotional trauma. This is because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.”  

The right to play is universal. Here are three innovative initiatives that are bringing play to children most in need:

In Deir Ezzor, Syria, citizens have set up an underground school and play area to help children cope with the stark realities of war. Before the school opened, 12-year-old Sultan Mussa told the Al Arabiya News, “I spent the whole day closed up at home because my parents were afraid of the bombing and wouldn’t let me go out.” Says principal Beda al-Hassan, “This isn't the sort of life children should have.”

The school holds classes in the evening, when it is less dangerous for children to venture outside, and though its students are unable to play outdoors, they can use the toys, ping pong table, and chess boards to reclaim their childhoods. Ten-year-old Sidra likes coming to school “because I can play here. My house was bombed and I lost all my toys.” The principal’s five-year-old son Qutaiba says, “I can't wait for school to end and for play time to begin.”

In Blantyre, Malawi, a hospital is harnessing the healing power of play by offering its patients an ambulance-turned-playground. The ambulance, repurposed by a pair of Dutch designers, sports a slide, swing, monkey bars, clubhouse area, and fireman’s pole. It is handicap-accessible so that the hospital’s wheelchair-bound patients can play alongside other patients and children from the neighborhood.

  

Photos via Sakaramenta.

Lastly, the P.L.A.Y. initiative, a pilot program created by UNICEF and supported by our national partner Disney, brings our portable Imagination Playground units to children living in disaster-recovery conditions and extreme poverty. Recently launched in Haiti and Bangladesh, the initiative helps kids living in challenging circumstances to reconnect with their childhood, and return a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. See Imagination Playground in action:

Whether in the United States, Syria or Haiti, kids intuitively understand the importance of play. We just need to make sure that we’re giving them the time and space to be kids.

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7 playful acts of kindness


Are you getting ready for National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day? What about No Socks Day? There are all sorts of random holidays, but this week we celebrate a different kind of random—Random Acts of Kindness Week.

Here at KaBOOM!, we know all about the joys of spontaneous play. Whether you want to call them playful acts of kindness or random acts of play, here are seven ways to make friends and strangers smile, this week and beyond:

Give a high five--or five!

Give a high fiveor five!

It’s impossible not to feel energized after a high five. Use this week as an excuse to give out as many high fives as possible, to strangers and friends alike.

Draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk

Draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk.

Turn someone’s routine walk into a hop, skip, and a jump by sketching out a hopscotch board with sidewalk chalk. For extra fun, target a business district to inject some play into the daily grind.

Give classic toys to adults and kids in need

Give classic toys to adults and kids in need.

Know an adult who takes life too seriously? A kid who needs more playtime? Slip them one of those irresistible good old-fashioned toys, like a Slinky, Etch a Sketch, rubber ball, or blob of Silly Putty.

Carry bubbles with you

Carry bubbles with you.

Waiting in line at the ATM? Waiting at the bus stop? Waiting to cross the street? Break out some bubbles to pass the time and inject a soapy dose of silliness into a stranger’s day.

Create a pop-up playground

Create a pop-up playground.

Bring cardboard boxes and other found objects to a park, plaza, or other public space near you. Let your kids start building and creating, and encourage curious onlookers to get in on the fun.

Leave painted rocks in unexpected locations

Leave painted rocks in unexpected locations.

Turn frowns upside down by painting cheerful faces on rocks and “hiding” them throughout your neighborhood.

Take a group of kids to the playground

Take a group of kids to the playground.

Every kid needs some playtime, and every parent needs some “me” time. Make everyone happy by offering to take your friends’ kids to the playground. While you’re there, get in a bonus act of kindness by teaching the kids a new outdoor game. (Need ideas?)

 

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If these snowmen can play outdoors, so can you


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.

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Four tips for fighting winter cabin fever


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?

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11 costumes you can make from a cardboard box


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.

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