KaBOOM! News • page 14

January 10, 2012 Michele Whitaker

Using parental superpowers for play

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 5th place is Michele Whitaker from Orange County, California…

I am a community playground blogger and take my KaBOOM! Playmaker Pledge seriously. I know the value of play.

However, I feel the play deficit all around me. It’s easy to blame schools and their rules. It’s easy to blame lawyers and litigious legislation. It’s easy to blame fear and laziness. Even KaBOOM! regularly lays blame to Play Haters.

I don’t think laying blame does any good. I think we collectively need to do something about this play deficit and blaming takes away time from playing. Because, really, who has the power to change things?


Parents have the power to let their children play. If they don’t agree with a school policy, they can try to change it. If they don’t like playground rules, they can start asking questions and lead the charge. If they want merry-go-rounds and see-saws at playgrounds, parents can go to the City Council meetings or the Recreation Committee meetings and say: “Hey, I’m a parent and I want these experiences for my kids.”

As a parent, I wish for my kids the same playful childhood that gives me such happy memories as an adult. In fact, I wish for even better playgrounds: nature playgrounds, adventure playgrounds, and playgrounds beyond my imagination.

But a parent’s true power lies in a simple act: taking their child by the hand and walking with them to the local playground. Opening the door and heading to the backyard. Grabbing the remote control and using the OFF button once in a while, All of these simple acts will turn this deficit around.

I am sad when I see parental superpowers going to waste. Not long ago, I watched my 9-year old son trying to start a conversation with a new friend. That new friend couldn’t focus on his words. He couldn’t pay attention. In fact, he asked his mom if he could go to the car and grab his Nintendo DS rather than talk to my son. Guess what she did? I want to tell you that she said “no” and handed him a basketball. I want to tell you she said “no” and told him to go play.

Unfortunately, she gave him the keys.

Parents: use your superpowers to promote play! You have the power to change everything.

January 05, 2012 Mary Anne Peabody

Playgrounds or grounded in play

Playgrounds….a play on words…leveling the playing field…play into someone’s hands….play ball….playing around…play fair….play fighting….play by the rules…plays well with others…..etc.

The word play is part of our culture…our expression…our language. As humans we play as a natural necessity and for children it is their preferred form of communication. In fact, play is essential for both physical and mental health.

From lullabies, to peek-a-boo, to playground adventures… to family board games… to sports…we communicate and connect through play. Observing children at play on a playground, or anywhere where play is allowed, one bears witness to a variety of relationship skills and stories. Playgrounds are ripe with opportunities for social skills, imagination, creativity, conflict resolution, and learning. It is through play that children’s thoughts, emotions, needs and wishes are expressed.

Yet…we have to honor and show interest in play. We have to take time for play that is imaginative and know that play helps connections.  We have to ensure it becomes part of the experiences we value for our children and for ourselves.

It’s easy to be too tired to play….it’s easy to be too busy. Many years ago, as a pregnant working mom (a play therapist in an elementary schools no less) I was exhausted one afternoon after picking my daughter up from day care.

“Mom can we play?”

Usually those magical words would be a wonderful invitation, but not that afternoon. That afternoon my response was “Oh Katie, not right now…I’m so tired. Why don’t you find something else to do besides play?” 

She titled her head, and a confused expression came over her face. She eloquently responded with the wisdom delightfully capable of a four year old…“But Mom, playing is what I do!”

There you go….Child development lesson 101.  Parent education lesson 101. If we want to connect and communicate with children, we must be grounded in their language of play!

January 03, 2012 KaBOOM!

The best from you in 2011

As we leave the year behind we thought it would be fun to take one last look at the state of play in 2011, as seen through the eyes of the greater KaBOOM! community. Sifting through videos, blogs and photographs sent to us from parents, teachers and city officials, we were reminded of just how playful – and inspiring – our fellow play advocates can be. As the heart of our movement to save play, it is your stories that keep us going. So, we hope you enjoy some of our favorites from across the country and that they motivate you to keep sending in your play-related stories – whatever form they take – in 2012.

This year we encouraged people to go out and find the best parks and playgrounds in their communities and add them to our Map of Play through our Park a Day Challenge. One Florida mom hit pay dirt when she found this aeronautical-themed playground at the Albert Whitted Airport Park in St Petersburg, Fla., and then again on a trip to Seattle, where she found a rather unique place for her son to play.

At KaBOOM! we do our best to prioritize low-resource communities for our playground builds and grants. That’s why we were thrilled to be able to award a $15,000 grant to the Cornerstone Community Shelter in Chicago, Ill. After watching this video, we’re sure you’ll be as moved as we were to help save play for the Cornerstone kids.

From cooling off with a real fire hose to beach volleyball and face painting, Ankeny, Iowa sure knows how to throw an All City Play Day. Ankeny is one of the 151 Playful City USA honorees from 2011, prioritizing play in their community. We’re glad they captured the fun with this great video.

A big part of the KaBOOM! mission is to build community. That’s why we love it when someone takes the time to share what they’ve learned with others. In this blog post, KaBOOM! alum extraordinaire Liza Sullivan gives six tips to getting the most out of your playground visits.

As you may know, the KaBOOM! Map of Play is a major initiative to help us determine where all the playgrounds are in the United States. Once we know where they are we’ll be able to create a Play Desert Map of where the playgrounds are NOT, helping us be even more strategic with our resources. One of our Park-A-Day Challenge participants walks us through some great tips on finding and adding parks and playgrounds to our map from the comfort of your own living room.

Who says playgrounds are just for kids? Not this mom from Orange County, Calif. who balances her video camera in one hand and holds onto the swing with the other. The result is this light-hearted video that reminds us never to take ourselves too seriously.

Two-thousand attendees made Meriden, Conn.'s first-ever Community Block Party and National Play Day a huge success. This snappy video captures the fun and might give you some ideas for planning your own community’s play day. Remember, you don’t need to be an official Playful City USA to host a play day!

This is one of our favorites, because where the sidewalk ends, play begins. Check out this video from Jennifer McEntee and the Lake Murray Park playground project in San Diego, Calif. We loved the little boy and his friend the swing, animated in the style of the beloved Shel Silverstein.

Nothing says fun like silly hats and bouncing green horses. The Bring on Play Committee of York, Pa., sent in some great photos of their seasonal “Plaza Palooza” Sundays. Hosting a play day is one of the requirements for our Playful City USA national recognition program. Check it out.

From surveying the land to designing the perfect playground, this video used to recruit volunteers takes you through the entire planning process. After watching this, you can’t help but become a part of the dream for a new playground in El Dorado Park, Fresno, Calif.

We don’t build playgrounds for the thanks, but they sure are nice to hear. Especially when they come in the form of a song, composed and performed by kids. We think you’ll enjoy this special thanks from the students at Williams Preparatory School in Dallas, Tex. as much as we did!

Let’s admit it: we all love seeing smiling, happy kids enjoying a great playground. This video from the Temple Corporation Community Center in St. Louis, Mo. sure fits that bill. We’re not sure who has more energy – the official Energizer Bunny who helped with the build or the first kids to try out the new equipment. You decide.

Gypsum, Colo. is so playful, they’ve made their own, professional commercial celebrating the state of play in their town. We hope it encourages other cities to apply to be recognized as a Playful City USA.

January 03, 2012 Connie Krebs

Just let them play!

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 6th place is Connie Krebs from Lakewood, Ohio…


As a parent you want your children to be safe, but it seems to me that parents today are taking this mantra a bit too far. All across the country phrases like, "Stop running!" and "Don't climb that, you'll get hurt!" are being said in parks and places where children are meant to run, play, climb, dig, and fall.

I was sitting at the park watching my two oldest daughters climb and yell to their heart's content, playing games with other children and digging in the mud left from the last rain. Next to me was a mother who had a son about three years old. She was in the little boy's face, telling him what to do and what not to do. "Kyle, come slide down the slide! No, put down the wood chips, come over here and slide so I can take your picture. Kyle, come here!!! Put the stick down, you will get hurt…." It went on and on, becoming an annoying drone that poor little Kyle chose to ignore, to which his mother responded with even more demands. I so wanted to tell that mother to just let her child be, to let him pick up the stick or wood chips, that dirt washes off, and everything would be ok.

I remember as a child playing Red Rover with the neighborhood kids. I was tiny for my age so I was almost always called over – the kids liked seeing me flip over their well-linked hands I guess. Memories of playing hide-and go seek throughout the neighborhood, mastering the monkey bars, getting propelled off the see-saw... these are things that enhanced my childhood and taught me many life lessons. (One being, hiding in poison ivy is definitely not a great idea!) It worries me to see so many children deprived of the freedom to just play. When do they get to run and shout? How are they going to learn the lesson of perseverance if they aren't allowed to at least try?

I am not asking that parents ignore their child or not stop them from doing something that is really dangerous, like playing in a busy street. There is a distinct difference between neglect and keeping a distant but watching eye on your child while letting him or her have some freedom. I beg fellow parents to just take a step back and savor the experiences that natural play has to offer. You will be amazed at what your child can do, what they enjoy. They will gain so much more than if you try to direct their every move. Please, just let them play!

December 27, 2011 Myrdin Thompson

Free Range Play

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 7th place is Myrdin Thompson from Louisville, Kentucky…

I am not a helicopter parent. I don’t hover. Not over homework. Not over fashion choices. Not over meals. And definitely not when it comes to play.

When I take my daughter to the park, I let her loose, to “free-range play.” Sure I scan the area, observant of all potential hazards: broken glass? Trash? Child who desperately needs a tissue? But I don’t hover. This is HER time. Not mine.  Will she fall? Probably. She’s six and has legs like a gazelle and once her momentum gets going sometimes she gets off kilter. Does that mean a scraped knee or elbow, or even a bloody nose? Possibly. But that’s what anticeptic, bandaids and tissue are for (yeah, the tissue you want to give the walking plague you saw when you walked onto the playground but don’t want to interfere in someone else’s “parenting”).

Don’t misunderstand, free range play means establishing rules in advance of going to the playground:

  • I stay put so she doesn’t have to.
  • Hand sanitizer will be liberally applied after play, but not during play. In fact, we may use the whole bottle, but when you are playing, touch whatever you like. Within reason of course.
  • Collaborate, communicate, create. Play with someone. Share ideas and respect theirs.

It’s not easy, but after years of playground experiences with her two older brothers I learned a few things:

  1. Sand tastes bad. You can do everything in your power to ensure they don’t eat it, but they eat it anyway. Because they are curious.  And maybe hungry. So bring a bottle of water. Rinse out their mouths. Move on. Don’t freak out. Address the issue. Go back to your bench. Repeat if necessary. 
  2. Children get tired. Just because I want to avoid the pile of laundry at home by going to the park doesn’t mean we stay until the cows come home. Sure, kids might pitch a fit when you “make” them leave, but you know it was time when you pull out of the parking lot, look in the rearview mirror and they are asleep. Gone in sixty seconds.

What is the purpose of play? Life complicated enough. Socks have to match, hair grows back slowly after your older brother has “helped” with a haircut, green veggies don’t taste good (even if they are good for you). If we don’t give our children the opportunity to navigate world when they are young, they will be less able to navigate it when they are on their own. Children need to be confident in their abilities, courageous in their choices, and criticial in their decision making. You can give them the tools, but you can’t live their lives. If I want her to dance like no one is watching, then I need to let her play “and forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” (Khalil Gibran).

December 22, 2011 KaBOOM!

From our CEO: Simple play for the holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and that means the rush to find the perfect gifts can cause parents to automatically gravitate towards the latest high-tech games and gizmos. With news outlets listing off the "hottest new toys" of the year, many forget just how much fun kids can have with the most basic of playthings.

In his latest Huffington Post piece, KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond provides some examples of traditional toys that can be both entertaining and educational:

A simple box of sidewalk chalk will bring out your child's inner artist and may also be used to draw those old-fashioned games like hopscotch, four-square and Tic Tac Toe. Small or large, bouncy balls can be thrown, kicked, hit with a stick, and, yes, bounced. Jump ropes, marbles, and soap bubbles all provide hours of entertainment.

Want your child to have the latest educational toy? Fear not. Even the Silicon Valley's high tech elite know that low tech is the smart choice.

Read the full post here.

December 20, 2011 Robert Rice

...All the parks are so boring!

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 8th place is Robert Rice…

It was an average afternoon at the Rice family household a few months ago. The weather was warm outside, and we were all just mulling about the house. “I’m bored,” came the first complaint from my youngest son. “There’s nothing to do,” his older brother agreed. Being the problem-solving father that I am, I gave them what I thought was the perfect solution and told them both: “Let’s go to a park!”


I was pretty proud of my quick thinking, and was ready to bask in the loving accolades of my children when I was immediately slapped in the face with the response, “…but all the parks are so boring!” I would have none of this negativity and I told them to get their shoes on, we were going out to play. They groaned and grudgingly complied, but they remained persistent in their complaints:

“The parks are no fun”

“There’s nothing interesting about them”

“Every playground is the same”

Now I could have remained the firm paterfamilias, but I really want them to have fun and to be excited about getting outside to play. Let’s be honest, what child doesn’t love to play at the playground, right? So I offered my boys a deal, “I will take you to as many parks as it takes until we find one that is really fun.” I really should have thought my offer out a little more.

We were at the local park in a flash. “Look how great this playground is,” I said with an air of naïveté. According to my adult mind it had everything a kid could want: swings, a slide, some monkey bars and pole or two. What’s not to love?  And look at the pretty colors too! Again, I marveled at my own brilliance and prepared to sit down in victory and read my book while the kids played. Then I heard, “This park is boring!”


“Now wait a minute,” I said. “There are swings, a slide, and all types of things to play on.” I stood now pleading my case, but my two young Supreme Court justices were not buying my argument. “That doesn’t mean its fun,” my oldest said. “We want to go to another park”.

We visited five more parks, driving miles between them. My sons went out to inspect the park while I consulted the maps on my iPhone to find the next one. At each successive park I began noticing some reoccurring patterns. They all had the same playground pieces and seemed to follow the same generic formula. I found that I couldn’t disagree with my kids’ assertion that “The parks are no fun.”

We pulled into the seventh park and at this point I was a broken man. But something was different about this one. My kids did something that they didn’t do at all the previous parks; they ran excitedly towards the playground. I caught a glimpse of the playground myself, and began running right behind them. 


I was in awe. Here was a playground that didn’t follow the same formula that we had been trudging through all day. The entire playground was designed to look like we were in the Old West. There was a three-story barnyard, a general store and even a sprinkling of rocking horses to add to the theme. My kids were playing on the structures, but were also playing with their imaginations. They were wrangling cattle, protecting the barn from the Indian invasion (I know it’s not “PC”, but they’re kids), and I was inspired to jump right in along with them and play too.


We stayed at the park playing for the rest of the afternoon. When we were leaving my younger son said, “I really wish all playgrounds were like that.” I asked him why and he replied with something profound: “Because it didn’t feel like a playground, it was just fun.”

December 13, 2011 Mike Lanza

The road to independence

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 9th place is Mike Lanza from Menlo Park, California…


“How is it that you feel so comfortable letting Marco roam in your front yard and neighbors' yards without your watching,” a mom recently asked?

I froze, realizing I hadn’t really thought about how we decided to give our six-year-old son so much freedom. Upon reflection, I realized it was an awful lot of incremental adjustments. My wife and I didn’t just wake up when Marco turned six and say, “OK, Marco, it’s time for you to start hanging out in our front yard on your own.” Rather, we started taking steps that led to that from the time he started walking, working almost daily on his independence skills.

For example, four years ago we let Marco chase balls down on the sidewalk in front of our house. Sometimes I had to yell and/or chase him down to keep him from endangering himself. However, he learned daily from these experiences, and I’m sure that he became a bit better than other two-year-olds at exhibiting self-control when close to a street.

When Marco was three, I took him bike riding on sidewalks. He would go wild on his training-wheels bike, and once again, I had to scream and chase him down quite a bit. Eventually, though, he got pretty good at bike riding.

The next year, when he was four, we began to let him play for very short amounts of time in front of our house without our watching. Briefly losing him once, we panicked until we found him behind a bush in our neighbors’ yard. We reprimanded him sharply, and he began to understand how freedom comes with some responsibility.

At five, Marco began riding his bike in the street without training wheels. Little by little, I let him ride further and further away from me, and now, he sometimes rides a block or two on his own to a friend's house.

Every day, we've kept in mind independence and self-reliance as an ultimate goal for Marco, and every day, he's gotten a little better at being independent. Sure, we've made some mistakes, but these mistakes were never huge because we gave a little more rope every day.

I’ll give you an analogy. When you start teaching your children to recognize letters in the hope that they will one day learn to read, you take an incremental approach. Your next step might be to try to get him or her to recognize a few words like “ball.” You don’t wait until they’re six, give them a book, and expect them to read.

I can’t bear to think right now of Marco crossing El Camino Real on his bike alone. Likewise, even though he can read some sentences with simple words, I can’t imagine him reading a Harry Potter book on his own. Both will come at the right time if we work toward those goals every day. We’ll get there, together.

We at KaBOOM! would like to give our biggest congratulations to Linda Prout, who on November 25th, 2011 volunteered on her 50th playground build!

Linda's playground-building work began in 2005 with the KaBOOM! Operation Playground initiative to build 100 places to play in the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A retired school teacher from New Orleans, Linda has devoted her time, energy and spirit to the cause of bringing play to the Gulf Coast. Starting in 2008 she and her husband Lee even went so far as to begin raising more than $50,000 for the cost of funding a playground in their son's memory, which came to fruition at Geraldine Boudreaux Elementary School in Terrytown, La. in June of 2009.

The 50 playgrounds Linda helped create will provide smiles, laughter and fun for more than 25,000 children every year and will eventually serve more than 350,000 kids throughout the lifetime of the equipment.

You can see photos from her 50th build at Andrew H. Wilson Charter School here.

Congratulations, Linda, and thank you for all your hard work!

These highly imaginative and exciting play structures from Copenhagen, Denmark are the work of a playground design group called MONSTRUM. A group of artists and theatrical set-designers, MONSTRUM focuses on visual design, motor challenges, safety, and they believe that, "playground design should be a reflection of the world surrounding us."

I certaintly hope there aren't giant spiders rampaging across the streets of Copenhagen, but if there are, I'm glad to see they've inspired these incredibly imaginative play structures.

Wordless Wednesday - Unique playscapes from Copenhagen

There are many more interesting designs and pictures of the playgrounds above on the MONSTRUM website. What's the most interesting play structure you have seen? Have you added it to the Map of Play yet?