KaBOOM! News • page 11

April 24, 2012 Kerala Taylor

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.

April 19, 2012 Kerala Taylor

How to give the perfect high five

We at KaBOOM! are big fans of the high five. After all, we work for an organization with an exclamation point in its name -- naturally, we're an enthusiastic and positive bunch. But it wasn't until our recent annual Play Academy that many of us realized our high fives just weren't up to par.

Luckily, staffers Naudy Martinez and Allie Farrington stepped in to save the day. Their enlightening presentation taught us common high five pitfalls as well as advanced high five techniques.

As we're sure you're aware, today is National High Five Day. So before you go around doling out potentially defective and artless high fives, please take a moment to perfect your skills:

Kids don't have to think very hard about why they need to play. They just need the time and space to do it.

Even so, kids seem to intuitively understand that while play is first and foremost about having fun, it's also about challenging oneself and learning from failure. As we continue to be baffled by school policy makers and administrators who are slashing recess and other play opportunities, fourth graders like Diego remind us of the important life lessons that our playgrounds have to offer.

Here is his eloquent ode to monkey bars:

Monkey Bars

You’ve taught me a lot of good lessons

You’ve taught me to be braver than I am

To swing out as far as I can

To keep pushing forward

To move one step at a time

To fall into a heap in the dirt

And then get up and try again

Monkey Bars, you’ve shown me the stars

- By Diego, 4th grade

Diego is a student in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, where this poem was originally featured.

Photo by Andy Schultz (cc).

We don't have anything against soccer -- or soccer camp, for that matter. But the video, "Caine's Arcade," that has been madly circulating around the Internet is a stunning testament to the power of boredom. We've written before about how our quest to keep our children stimulated at all hours of the day -- whether through scheduled activities or screen-based enterntainment -- fails to give them the down time and breathing room they need to nurture their creative juices.

Had this 9-year-old boy spent his summer in sports camp or in front of the TV, he never would have felt compelled to look at a pile of discarded cardboard boxes and imagine alternate possibilities. Before you rush to plan your children's summer, take a moment to watch this video. If you've already seen it, watch it again!

And last thing: Can we reiterate how much we love cardboard boxes?

April 11, 2012 Kerala Taylor

Take a trip to Kangaroo Land

We are staunch advocates of recess, but how many adults truly remember what recess is all about? It isn't just 20 minutes of mindless running and screaming. It's a time to create imaginary worlds, take on new personas, make friendships, break friendships, learn new skills, scrape a knee, engage in mischief, and much more.

"Recess Stories," a web series that bases its episodes on true stories, captures the delightful complexity of life on the playground. Take a look:

Please, remind us: Why are we taking this away from our kids?

See more episodes at recessstories.com.

April 10, 2012 Kerala Taylor

Banning ice cream on playgrounds? Really?

Both synonymous with warm-weather outdoor fun, ice cream and playgrounds seem like a perfect fit. Maybe that’s why a proposed ban on ice cream vendors at a Brooklyn playground has caused such a stir.

Why the ban? Well, on the one hand, ice cream isn’t very good for you. But on the other hand, it’s delicious. Health-conscious parents are sick of dealing with the temper tantrums that their children will inevitably throw when they behold a cart full of heavenly frozen treats… that they can’t have.

But is a ban on ice cream vendors from the playground an absurd or practical solution? Are well-intentioned parents looking out for their children’s health or are they being ridiculous control freaks? 

When it comes to the health and safety of our children, the challenge is this: How do we protect them without extracting every opportunity for the joy from their lives? Even today’s playgrounds routinely fail on that front. Just as the thrill of climbing is universal (even though a child could fall off and break an arm), so is the thrill of ice cream (even though it’s full of fat and sugar).

We’re big proponents of children’s health, but we’re also big proponents of joy. Being the first nonprofit to have its own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, we’re also big proponents of ice cream.

Of course, the main difference between ice cream and playgrounds is this: There is definitely such a thing as too much ice cream, but there is not really such a thing as too much outdoor play. As long as parents and children stay mindful of this fact, we say: Let the ice cream trucks stay!

Should we ban ice-cream-shaped slides while we're at it?

Photo credits:

Mom says, "Go outside and play." Kids go outside and play. It used to be that simple. But for a number of reasons, few parents these days feel comfortable letting their children roam the neighborhood without keeping a watchful eye. 

Danielle Smith, a blogger on strollerderby, asks in the video at right, "Do you let your kids play outside alone?" Though she admits it's unlikely, she worries about her kids getting abducted by a stranger and simply can't bear the thought of anything happening to them on her watch.

Many parents are equally reluctuctant to send their kids outside unsupervised -- so many, in fact, that our neighborhood streets are now eerily quiet, void of the shouts and screams of playing children. And that's precisely the problem. In the "good old days," kids weren't playing "alone." They were playing with all the other neighborhood kids. 

After all, playing alone is boring. And more dangerous. In the extremeley unlikely event that a child abductor were to be perusing your neighborhood, he or she would be far more likely to prey on your children if they were alone.

We strongly believe that children need time for free, unstructured, unsupervised play -- but they also need other children to play with. So the question of letting kids play unsupervised is one we need to pose not only to individual parents, but also at the neighborhood level.

Of course, getting a whole neighborhood on board with unsupervised outdoor play is no easy task. (You can read about one father's worthy efforts here.) But since April is officially "Get Outside Month," there's no better time to start.

>> See our "Get Outside" board on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration.

Does your neighborhood look like this?

Photo from PlayingOut.net, an organization dedicated to activating street play in your neighborhood.

April 03, 2012 Kerala Taylor

5 ways to get outside this month

Of course, every month should be “Get Outside Month,” but in April it’s official. Join the youth-inspired, youth-led Children & Nature Network initiative to Play, Serve and Celebrate—outside!

When we think of the “outdoors,” we often think of weekend destinations like beaches, forests, rivers, or mountains. These natural treasures are all well worth a visit, but this month we also encourage you to explore the Great Outdoors that exists right outside your front door.

Here are 5 ideas to get your family—and your neighborhood—playing outside in April. For more inspiration, check out our "Get Outside" board on Pinterest.

  1. Hold a Play Day

    Bring some old-fashioned fun to your neighborhood by organizing a Play Day on your street, at your school, or at your local park. Can you believe that some kids these days have never played Red Rover or fallen down in a three-legged race? A Play Day is a chance to gather your community to build awareness for the importance of play and teach kids those old-fashioned games that we all know and love.
  2. Conduct a neighborhood scavenger hunt

    Help local kids get to know their neighborhood—and each other—by organizing a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Give kids a list of elements to find, take pictures of, or request from fellow neighbors. See some sample hunt ideas at Playborhood and Free Range Kids.   
  3. Hide natural treasures on your street

    Think of it as a scavenger hunt in reverse. Create a few natural treasures—like painted rocks, shell wind chimes, or fairy houses (pictured at right)—and hide them in unexpected places throughout your neighborhood.  When other neighbors stumble across your treasures, they are sure to smile in delight—and perhaps be inspired to create their own.
  4. Visit every playground in your neighborhood

    Set a goal of visiting every park and playground in your zip code during the month of April. See which playgrounds are already marked on the KaBOOM! Map of Play and then use our mobile and online tools to fill in the holes and add to existing data. To maximize fun, share times and dates for each playground visit on a neighborhood listserv so that other families can get involved.
  5. Organize a walking school bus

    A mere 17% of children currently walk or ride a bike to school. Not only does walking let children flex their muscles, but it immerses them in a rich play environment. Riding in a car is a sedentary, sterile and uninspiring experience by contrast.

    If safety is a concern, remember that 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 rotated schedule of trained volunteers.

What ideas do you have for getting your family and neighborhood outside this month?

Bottom photo by MoBikeFed (cc).

We say, "It starts with a playground," but really "it" can start with any community project that unites a neighborhood and brings more joy and color to people's lives.

At right is the central square of Santa Marta, a community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Or at least, that's what Santa Marta used to look like — before a community-driven intervention that brought to life the vision of Dutch artist duo Haas & Hahn. After a crash course in housepainting basics, residents took a month to paint the buildings around the square.

Here's what the square looks like now:


Photo credit: Haas & Hahn for favelapainting.com.

Learn more and see other painting projects.

Did you have a best friend growing up? These days, you just might be breaking the rules. That's right -- according to our friend Tim Gill at Rethinking Childhood, at least one UK school has enacted a "best friend ban."

Educational psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni told The Sun, "They are doing it because they want to save the child the pain of splitting up from their best friend. But it is natural for some children to want a best friend. If they break up, they have to feel the pain because they're learning to deal with it."

Let's face it: Pain is part of growing up. Skinned knees teach children valuable lessons about their physical limits, just as a waning friendship helps to emotionally prepare them for future losses. Trying to protect them from either is not only fruitless, but can actually do more harm than good.

And while it's clearly beneficial for children to learn how to play in groups, no one should have to sacrifice a close friendship to do so. Rather than criminalizing a normal, and often healthy, element of growing up, why not gently encourage more group play by teaching collaborative recess games? (Our good friends at Playworks are experts in this realm.)

What would you tell your school if they implemented a best friend ban?

Photo by cobalt123 (cc).