KaBOOM! News • page 16

The good news? Chicago recently announced a mandatory return of recess to all public schools.

The bad news? Not all these schools have playgrounds.

A front page story recently ran in The Chicago Tribune detailing the significant challenges that schools are facing when it comes to reintroducing recess to children. But luckily, solutions are at hand. Kids can play just about anywhere -- they don’t necessarily need a massive playground or wide open space.

Here are five creative, low-cost ways that schools can give kids the time guidance, and space they need to play:

  • Paint games on unused asphalt
    Stretches of plain asphalt at your school present valuable opportunities for play—just add paint!
  • Close a street for play
    If space is tight, consider petitioning the city to close a nearby street for play at a regularly scheduled time.
  • Add loose parts
    Transform any space into a playspace with the addition of loose parts, which allow children to constantly reconfigure their environment and to design their own course of play.
  • Institute "Instant Recess"
    Recess doesn't have to be confined to the schoolyard. A few 10-minute physical activity  breaks throughout the day can work wonders for reducing squirminess and increasing concentration.
  • Train a recess mentor
    A recess mentor can help restore healthy, inclusive play to schoolyards of all sizes by teaching kids those "old-fashioned" games that many kids these days don't know how to play.

Of course, we ultimately believe that every school should have a playground. KaBOOM! and Dr Pepper Snapple Group are awarding Let’s Play grants ranging from $750 to more than $20,000. For those who think that building a new playground might be too much work, take a lesson from our friends in Playful City USA community Shirley, Mass., who just built a new playground at Lura White Elementary School using a Let’s Play grant!

Does your child's school have recess? Does it have a playground? How does your child play at school?


October 26, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Why the world needs more swings

In an era of flashy gizmos and gadgets, some "old-fashioned" pastimes will never go out of style. And let's face it: Few things in this world beat the pleasure offered by a simple swing.

The world could always use another swing. That's Jeff Waldman's guiding philosophy, who has been raising funds to hang "illicit" swings in Bolivia. He says:

Apparently, others agree that the world needs more swings because the project raised over $6,400 more than its modest $4,800 goal. Here's a list of what the project still needs.

We love seeing play inserted into unexpected places, despite the unfortunate liability issues such "guerilla" actions may raise. Here's what it comes down to: A world with more swings is a world with more smiles, and it's tough to argue with that.

See The Red Swing Project for more illicit swing fun.

A tree house in Fairfax, Va. may soon meet an untimely demise. That is, if the Fairfax County zoning board gets its way.

When he left for Iraq, Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, promised his two sons he would build them a tree house when he got home. He wanted to give them a special hideaway, the kind that he had growing up, when according to The Washington Post, he and his friends “built a tree house using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.”

In this day and age, Grapin knew his childhood tree house would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. So when he returned from Iraq, he invested $1,400 to build a sturdy structure and made sure to contact the county to ask if he needed any special permits. He was assured he did not. It was only after he built the thing that the county board of zoning enforcement told him he had to take it down.

Why? Because Grapin owns a corner lot, and his backyard is actually considered a front yard, meaning he has to follow the zoning code. Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Washington Post, “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”

Well, except that it’s a tree house. It’s one of the coolest things a kid could ask for, inviting hours of imaginative outdoor play not only for Grapin’s sons but for their friends in the broader community. To destroy it over a zoning technicality sends the message that we care more about rules and regulations—whether or not they make sense—than we do about the health of our children.

Grapin appealed the zoning board’s initial ruling and on Nov. 30, he has one last opportunity to plead his case. Let’s join forces to tell the Fairfax County Zoning Board to let the tree house stay!


Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.

Watch out, parents: Just when you thought your children were safe, balloons and party whistles are now officially out to choke them, and teddy bears are plotting to infect them with deadly diseases.

At least that’s what the EU toy safety directive claims. Under its new guidelines, children under the age of eight who live in the European Union can no longer be trusted to blow up balloons without an adult by their side. They must wait an additional six years before they can blow a party whistle all by themselves.

And we know that non-machine washable teddy bear looks innocent, but don’t let him fool you. His cuddly fur is only a ploy to spread germs to children under the age of three.

    Where are these poor children's parents? Do they realize their kids are in imminent danger?!

If we want to know why parents are getting more paranoid—and why children are taking fewer risks—we need look no further than guidelines like these. Extremely unlikely events, like choking on a balloon, turn into dire threats that children must be protected from at all costs.

According to CBS News, between 1990 and 2004, approximately 68 kids died in the United States from choking on latex balloons. While each of these deaths is unquestionably tragic, that’s fewer than five kids per year in a country that boasts 74 million people under the age of 18.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, echoed our sentiments exactly when he told The Telegraph, "These bans diminish the experience, both of having fun and learning, by turning play into a danger zone with rules that stifle life and adventure for children."

We don’t need any more bans based on extremely improbable threats. We need to back off and let our children play.


"Calculate the medical damage, and let them fall. How else are they going to learn balance?"

So asserted Julia Steiny, a columnist for Education News, at a recent community discussion on "Kids, Play, and Risk" at the Providence Children’s Museum. Though some parents might bristle at Julia's suggestion, she’s right.

When we don't allow children to take acceptable risks in their play, we take away crucial learning opportunities. Risk teaches them how to fail and try again, test their limits and boundaries, become resilient and acquire coping skills, interact in groups, and negotiate rules amongst themselves.

Would you let your child do this?

Or this?

Why are kids taking fewer risks? Three culprits named in the discussion were increasing liability concerns, heightened perceptions of risk that lead to “helicopter” parenting, and fewer “eyes on the street.”

The benefits of risk are something to think about, particularly when confronting stories of schools banning running at recess, towns outlawing tree-climbing or fort-building, health departments issuing warnings on classic children’s games, or even grappling with our own inclinations to intervene immediately when we see children rough-housing.

Maybe we should turn to mother Angelica Almlid Barrows, whose children attended an outdoor preschool in Norway and were exposed to a natural environment that provided for acceptable risk. Angelica said, "perhaps because of these experiences, my kids are rarely bored and take on mental and physical challenges – learning a new skill is something they have patience with, and confidence they will succeed."

Do you let your kids take risks? How would you define an "acceptable" risk?

For more on the community conversation and the benefits of risk-taking, visit the Providence Children’s Museum’s blog.

October 17, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Should we ban teens from playgrounds?

Teens have a bad rap, and it's not entirely unjustified. They have been known to be rowdy, use foul language, and sometimes vandalize property. That's why a council in Limerick County, Ireland, might start banning children over the age of 12 from using its playgrounds.

We understand the impulse, but does a ban on teens address the right question? Should we be asking how to get teens off the playground, or how to better engage them once they're there? Should we be punishing bad behavior or inviting good behavior?

We have long argued that playgrounds aren't only for kids. They should be multigenerational, multi-use community spaces, with play opportunities for everyone from toddlers to grandmas. That's why we've opposed bans on unaccompanied adults in the past.

Amenities to engage the big kids, like ping-pong tables or chessboard table tops, don't have to take up tons of space or cost buckets of money. But in making them available, playgrounds can potentially discourage loitering and other unsavory behavior while offering ways to exercise the body and mind. Might the teen pictured put down the rock if we gave him a ping-pong paddle instead?

Would you support a ban on teens at your local playground?

In honor of National School Lunch Week, MAT@USC has created "The Childhood Obesity Epidemic" Infographic, which offers a look at the disheartening state of affairs when it comes to our children's health. Although good nutrition is vital, it is only part of the solution. For each healthy school lunch a child eats, she also needs an opportunity to run around and play.

Consider the following stats on physical activity. Visit MAT@USC to view the full infographic.

Keep out! According to the New York Post, the real estate firm Related Companies has padlocked the entrance to the only playground in the city’s most densely populated neighborhood. Not only that, it has hired private security guards to patrol the area.

For more than 25 years, Ruppert Playground has served a vital role for residents of Community Board 8, which ranks dead last in publicly accessible recreational space. Related wants tax breaks to keep the park open. If the city fails to meet its demands, neighborhood children will pay the price. 

Related has owned Ruppert Playground since 1983, when it bought the site from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) as part of an urban renewal plan. It agreed to maintain the park for public use until 2008 in exchange for tax breaks.

Now, Related wants more tax breaks to keep the playground open—and if the company doesn’t get what it wants, it may just go ahead and build a high rise there instead.

The community has long opposed the sale of Ruppert Playground to Related, and for years, NYC Park Advocates has been campaigning for the city to reacquire the park. They say:

"Allowing this heavily-used park to be developed will have a serious impact on the quality of life for tens of thousands of residents. [The park] is a unique public space where teenagers, pre-schoolers, adults and seniors coexist… [it] is used 365 days a year and… provides desperately-needed recreational and green amenities."

It’s time to stand up for a child’s right to play! Join us in petitioning the CEO and President of Related Companies to demand that they unlock Ruppert Playground and give it back to New York City.

Keep out, kids! Why don't you go inside and watch some TV instead?

Photo by Nathanael Boehm (cc).

October 05, 2011 Kerala Taylor

How to get more kids walking and biking to school

How did you used to get to school? Perhaps you never trudged five miles through the snow—uphill each way—but if you walked or biked, you were part of the majority.

Not so anymore. While 71 percent of adults walked or rode their bikes to school as children, a mere 17 percent  of their own children currently do so. Fifty-three percent are driven by a parent. Sadly, these kids are missing out on a chance to be active and enjoy some fresh air before and after school – particularly during a time when outdoor play opportunities during the day are getting slashed to make room for more academics.

In honor of International Walk to School Day, it's a good time to think about how to institute a less car-dependent culture at our schools.

Parents often cite safety issues as one of the primary reasons they are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school, but there is always safety in numbers. A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school, or as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable, and a regularly rotating schedule of trained volunteers.

Driving is also tempting simply because it's fast and easy, which means that walking and biking might require a little added incentive. Boltage is a parent- and volunteer-driven initiative that uses a solar-powered device to count daily trips. Children and parents can view and manage their data online, and students receive awards based on activity level.

Within five years, this low-cost model has significantly increased physical activity and has spread to 35 schools in both affluent suburbs and low-income urban communities. To date, Boltage has tracked over 650,000 kid-powered miles, which have saved 58,000 gallons of gas.

Before and after Boltage.

Do you have other ideas for getting kids to school using the power of their own two legs?

Photo credits:


Get our new action guide by signing our Back-to-School Pledge!

When you sign, we'll get you started with a PDF copy of How to Save Play at Your School -- featuring these and 13 more action ideas for teachers and parents to get more kids moving and playing at school.


A playground where kids can frolic amidst rusted machinery and throw rocks from a 225-foot-high smokestack? It sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen, but that never phased Bob Cassilly (pictured left), who described his vision of "Cementland" as a playground "where we can do things that are normally illegal.”

True to its name, Cementland is an abandoned cement factory in St. Louis that Cassilly was vigilantly working to transform into an unconventional playspace and tourist attraction. Tragically, it was while he was working there that he died at the hands of a bulldozer on Monday at age 61.

We pay tribute to Cassilly's vision and the guiding philosophy he seemed to carry with him throughout his eclectic career: "What a shame not to be 11."

These images capture the spirit of the not-yet-finished Cementland:

Photo by lolololori (cc). Top right photo by Bill Streeter (cc).

Photo by mulch.thief (cc).



Left photo by lolololori (cc). Right photo by velo_city (cc).


Photo by lolololori (cc).


Photo by lolololori (cc).



Photos by velo_city (cc).

Photo by pasa47 (cc).


Photo by pasa47 (cc).

Click here for a slideshow.