Bright ideas - KaBOOM! News • page 3

July 05, 2012 Kerala Taylor

What you can do with a cardboard box

Each summer, parents dole out hefty amounts of cash to keep their children entertained. Yet the wildly popular recent video about Caine's Arcade -- which chronicled the creation of a cardboard arcade built by a bored boy who had to tag along with his dad to work last summer -- proved that not only can a bit of boredom fuel ingenuity and creativity, but also that kids don't need a whole lot to occupy themselves. 

This summer, try giving your wallet a break and your kids a cardboard box. Even better, give them a dozen boxes so they can build their very own pop-up playground! Get inspired by some of our favorite photos of cardboard box play from around the web:


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.

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:

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

Learn more and see other painting projects.

February 14, 2012 Kerala Taylor

7 ways to show your playground some love

Playgrounds don’t improve themselves—they need love and care to thrive. If you’re lucky enough to have a playground within walking distance of your home, here are seven ways to ensure that it stays safe, well-maintained, and most importantly, played on by young and old alike. In honor of St. Valentine, let’s show your playground some love.

1. Put it on the map

Are you sure new neighbors know where your playground is? Add photos to our Map of Play, and be sure to let folks know about its condition and the amentities it offers. If your playground is already on the map, you can help provide more information by adding your own comments and reviews.

>> Visit our Map of Play or download our mobile Playgrounds! app

2. Paint games on unused asphalt

Stretches of plain asphalt present valuable opportunities for play—just add paint! Markings for simple games, like hopscotch and foursquare, help incentivize children to engage in play and physical activity. Plus, they increase motor skills, create learning opportunities for conflict resolution, and maximize the potential of your playspace.

>> Get stencil sets and rules guides at

3. Make it shady

Many playgrounds offer no shaded areas, which discourages use in hotter months. Shade structures come in all shapes and sizes and can be added to existing equipment to provide some respite from the sun. You can also build shade structures over benches so that parents don’t burn up while supervising their children. And don’t forget about planting trees, which not only provide shade but also beauty, greenery, and potentially, new climbing opportunities for children!

>> Get step-by-step instructions for do-it-yourself shade structures
>> Learn all about planting trees at playgrounds

4. Make it fun for the “big kids”

Playgrounds aren’t just for little ones. A few simple additions to the area surrounding your playground—like planters, benches, chessboard tables, stages, and chalkboards—can transform it into a multi-use, multi-generational space, engaging kids, teens, and parents alike. With a bit of prep work, you can invite groups of volunteers to build these items, all of which can be completed in a single day.

>> Get step-by-step instructions for do-it-yourself side projects

5. Organize a playground watch

Much like a neighborhood watch, a playground watch empowers citizens to protect their playgrounds and the families who use them. Put parents at ease and encourage more playground use by gathering a group of volunteers to rotate shifts on a playground watch. Not only does this ensure that a responsible supervisor is always at the playground, but it protects against vandalism and crime. Enlisting teens is a great way to encourage community involvement and a sense of investment in their local playground.

>> Learn more and download a sample recruitment flyer

6. Add loose parts

Imagination Playground™ in a Box or Cart is a semi-mobile kit of parts to encourage unstructured, child-directed play. A set includes a storage unit on wheels and Imagination Playground™ Blocks—loose parts that allow children to constantly reconfigure their environment and to design their own course of play. Instead of, or in addition to, Imagination Playground™, you can create a “PlayPod” for found and donated items ranging from fabrics to safety cones to cardboard boxes.

>> Learn more about Imagination Playground™
>> Get inspiration for a PlayPod

7. If it's broke, fix it!

Many playground maintenance issues go unreported simply because people don’t know who to call, or because it seems like too much work. Coordinate with the body in charge of your local playground to set up a reporting system so that the appropriate people can promptly notified about broken equipment, graffiti, or any other issues that may arise. It could be as simple as posting a prominent sign at the playground with a phone number.

>> Learn about San Francisco’s online reporting system

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.

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.


We love playgrounds, but as any child knows, the concept of confining play to a designated area is somewhat absurd. As we work toward our vision of a playground within walking distance of every child, we also love to see play opportunities beyond the playground -- for kids and adults alike.

Our popular guest blogger Alex Gilliam, from Public Workshop, wrote last year about implementing "a citywide play circuit," drawing from inspiration he found abroad. He's not the only one who is fond of this notion. Tim McGill, author of Rethinking Childhood, says, "The word is playability. A playable space is one that encourages play alongside other functions."

So why not play with trash cans, at bus stops, and down flights of stairs? Kids do it naturally, but adults may need some extra cues:



Photo credits: Swing at bus stop:; hopscotch and trash can basketball:; slide at metro station:; free throw line and street maze:

See more fun street art on our Tumblr blog.

What good is a playground if it sits empty all day? Playgrounds are about play, of course, but they are also about providing a space for neighbors to gather and socialize. Many of our Park-A-Day Summer Challengers—who have taken it upon themselves to visit as many parks and playgrounds as possible with their children this summer—have lamented that their quest can get lonely at times.

That’s one reason why Liza Sullivan, a 2010 Summer Challenge alum, decided to take our 2011Challenge one step further by inviting her neighbors along. The "Last Days of Summer Park-A-Day Challenge," a collaborative effort amongst The Alliance for Early Childhood, the Winnetka Park District and the four neighboring park districts, is giving families one park or playground destination each day this week.

Today’s destination? Gillson Park (pictured), which is Liza’s "family favorite."

Lee Volpe, superintendent of recreation at the Winnetka Park District, told The Winnetka Current, "Kids are too regimented on structure, it's important to get back to the roots of playing. The program allows a time to make plans to be together and go do something new. It doesn't cost anything, it's going to be really fun."

After all, communities that play together, stay together. Organizing your own week-long challenge can be as simple as compiling a list of seven playgrounds and spreading the word. Or, extend the challenge into the fall and choose a weekly destination. As we continue on our quest to build a playground within walking distance of every child, help us make sure that these playgrounds are getting the attention and love they deserve.

Use our new Playgrounds! iPhone app to share, find, and review your local playgrounds. (Android version coming soon!)