Summer challenge - KaBOOM! News

Over the summer, we challenged parents across the country to visit as many playgrounds as they could—and to share photos using our Tag! mobile app. Of the 65 moms and dads who rose to the Challenge, four went above and beyond, each earning themselves a trip for two to Washington, DC!

Our four Grand Prize Winners visited a collective total of 727 playgrounds in six weeks and took 2,713 photos! Now, a drum roll please for:

Alex Nguyen

Kenmore, Wa.
Earned 163,680 points and took 700 photos

Best part of Challenge: “It gets your family moving! Seriously,I lost 9 lbs doing the Playground Challenge, and that doing nothing special except being outside and chasing after my kids!”

What makes a good playground: "I look for a sense of community in a playground. I like it when I bring my 4yo and 7yo to a skate park, and the teenagers let them take turns, and check themselves... I also like seeing people of all ages at the park, from older people practicing tai chi or playing chess, and answering questions from my kids, to the teen agers, to the parents of kids like myself."

Funniest thing overheard at the playground: "I was climbing up to get a picture of my oldest. Another kid already there looked at me and in all seriousness went, 'Is this thing going to break now?' I told him no, playgrounds were made for adults, who are just big kids too. He then went on to exclaim, 'REALLY?' and was happy that I didn't break the playground."


Dana Wheatley

Calgary, A.B.
Earned 96,550 points and took 456 photos

Best part of Challenge: “You can do something great for your community, while having a blast with your kids and learning about your city all at the same time!”

What makes a good playground: "I think shade is the most forgotten element that takes a good playground up to a great one. Location is also important. I think they are best when people can see that they are there and that people are playing there. And with green space around it instead of crammed by a school, parking lot and tarmac."

Benefits of playground-going: "[My son] had been dropping his naps (he's 3) but we've been really wearing him out in the playgrounds so he's started napping most days again. I told him that when we got home it would be time for his quiet time. He yells, 'No! I want a nap!'"


Annie Cheng

San Francisco, Calif.
Earned 78,730 points and took 833 photos

Best part of Challenge: “You get to explore so many playground you would otherwise miss. We used to go to the same ones all the time. Now after the Challenge, we found so many fun places to go.”

What makes a good playground: "My favorites have always been those with lots of trees, shade and trails for riding bikes. Bonus: if the playground has great view!! We have some here on top of the hill or on higher parts of the city, and it's such a pleasure to be at those playgrounds."


Sara Russell

Waterville, Me.
Earned 70,945 points and took 724 photos

Best part of Challenge: "IT PAYS TO PLAY! Your children will benefit from fresh air, socializing, learning about their community and exercising. You will benefit for all the same reasons + tired kids = earlier bedtimes."

What makes a good playground: "A good playground is a playground with some seated shade, green grass and plenty of equipment to climb on. Steps, shaking bridges, and rock walls allow for some risk-taking, bravery and adventure."


Inspired? The Challenge goes on this Fall. Take photos of the playgrounds you visit and be entered to win gift cards for toys, outdoor gear, ice cream and more in our biweekly sweepstakes. The more playgrounds you visit, the better chance you have to win! Download our Tag! app to join: iPhone | Android

Over the summer, we challenged parents across the country to visit as many playgrounds as they could -- and to document them on our Map of Play. Sixty-five moms and dads rose to the Challenge with gusto (and earned some cool prizes along the way)! See the impressive results below. 

Inspired to join? The summer may be over, but the Challenge goes on! Visit our Map of Play for details. 

Are your kids getting enough outdoor play this summer? We wish we could tell you to open your front door and shoo them outside, but sadly, many will find only empty streets, void of other kids to play with.

We can help you fix that. Here are five ways you can save play in your community, by not only getting your kids outside, but also the whole neighborhood. Click on each photo below for instructions on how to get started. Then, go play!

  • Close a street for play. Photo via nycstreets (cc).
  • Turn your front yard or driveway into a neighborhood playspace. Photo via clappstar (cc).
  • Start a neighborhood summer camp. Photo via Aaron Selverston, Palo Alto Patch.
  • Take the KaBOOM! Summer Playground Challenge.
  • Create a pop-up adventure playground. Photo by Sarah Zarrow, via Pop-up Adventure Play.


There are lots of nice things about Hawaii. But for most of us, the promise of an exotic beachside vacation comes with a lengthy plane ride and a hefty price tag. And while you may not live in Hawaii, we bet there are lots of nice things about your hometown too, if you take the time to look. 

Being a nonprofit with a vision of a playground within walking distance of every child in America, we're especially partial to playgrounds. Why not take a week off work to explore the playgrounds your hometown has to offer? Here are five reasons to take a playground staycation:

  1. Explore new places right at home – Step out of your “playground comfort zone.” There are probably many hidden playground gems in your hometown that you’ve never taken the time to visit. Ask your kids to help you find new places to play -- don't forget spray parks, natural playspaces, and outdoor sports facilities!
  2. Be a kid again -- You don't need jet skis to recapture the thrill of outdoor play. Adults are allowed on the playground, too. Swing as high as you can, soak yourself at a spray park, and wallow in the mud!
  3. Catch up on life – Playing is great, but you can also take some time out on the sidelines. In fact, it's good for your kids to play on their own, so go ahead and browse that stack of magazines you've fallen behind on, search for new recipes to try, or get your daily news fix.
  4. Save money – The best part about playgrounds? They're free and close to home! Stretch your savings even further by packing a lunch for the day and, when possible, walking or biking to your daily destination.
  5. Avoid travel hassles – Kids + travel = stress! Don't worry about packing bags, making your flight, entertaining your child on an airplane or long car ride, or navigating unfamiliar territory. Just breathe easy and look forward to a hassle-free day of playing at the playground!

And here's a bonus reason -- you can win prizes! From July 3 to August 13, every photo you submit of the playgrounds you visit can earn you an entry in our weekly sweepstakes drawing. We're giving away gift cards for toys, shoes, ice cream, outdoor gear, and more!

To reap all these exciting rewards, "book" your staycation by joining our 2012 Summer Playground Challenge!  

The summer of 2010 was a summer I will always remember—but not because of an exotic vacation or cross-country road trip or adventure-filled summer camp. Instead, I stayed right at home and explored local playgrounds with my twins. We were one of six families to participate in the first-ever KaBOOM! Summer Playground Challenge.

When the Challenge ended, I observed a marked change in my children – they appeared healthier, happier, stronger, and more self-confident. While everyone knows that outdoor play is  beneficial for kids, what I didn’t expect was how transformative the Challenge proved for mom as well!

Here are five reasons why parents should join the 2012 Playground Challenge:

  1. Regular outdoor play is good for the soul. Activities like swinging, building sandcastles, rolling down grassy hills, and running through a fountain on hot summer days help you feel like a kid again. You will also have incentive to escape from computers, piles of laundry, and other distractions.
  2. It’s easier to get your kids to bed. Each day will provide your children with opportunities to be physically active as they increase their strength, coordination, and endurance. As a result, they won’t be as squirmy at home and will rarely have trouble falling asleep at night!
  3. Play opens doors to teachable moments. Rather than constantly playing the role of disciplinarian, you become a support to your child’s exploration, discovery, and learning. As you explore playgrounds and nature areas, your children will undoubtedly ask you endless questions, and each day will be filled with teachable moments.
  4. You meet new people in your neighborhood. As you explore, you will inevitably strike up conversations with other parents, contributing to a sense of community and connectedness. This can be particularly meaningful for stay-at-home parents – a job that is sometimes very isolating.
  5. Your family can experience new places right at home. Many participants, myself included, found that until they took on the Challenge, they were unaware of the surprising number of parks, playgrounds, and nature preserves in or near their community. They discovered hidden gems and explored nearby neighborhoods they had never had reason to visit before.

As a gift to yourself and your children this summer, allow for plenty of time to play, and consider being a part of the national 2012 Playground Challenge!

The 2012 Summer Playground Challenge asks parents to visit playgrounds and add them to our Map of Play using our soon-to-be released Tag! mobile app. If you need another reason to join our Challenge, participants will earn points and badges toward great prizes throughout the summer and toward one of three Grand Prizes--a trip for two to Washington, DC! Sign up for more information here.

Photo by Liza Sullivan, 2010.

For the past eight weeks, our Park-A-Day Summer Challengers have been busy visiting as many parks and playgrounds as they can. By now, they and their children have become local playground authorities, if you will, who can not only recommend the best playgrounds in town, but who can tell you what distinguishes a good playground from a great playground (it's not just about the equipment!) and why some playspaces fall short.

We asked our Challengers what they learned from their park visits that they didn't know before. Here are three notable takeaways:

I can help improve my public parks

Does your local playground need a trash can? A fresh coat of paint to cover up graffiti? Often a good local playground can be made much better with a few small improvements, but it’s up to you to let your city officials know. As seasoned park-goers, our Challengers not only began to notice areas for improvement that could be addressed quickly but took it upon themselves to act. As playparks says:

"Concerning a city park closer to my home, I emailed my city council member about the need to plant more vegetation on the hills surrounding the park to prevent erosion. I also alerted him to some of the illegal activity going on at the parks. I got an immediate response from the council member and our sheriff. There has been much more policing of the park since our email exchange. I think cities want to improve, but sometimes need guidance from their citizens."



Some of the nicest playgrounds aren’t open to the public

There’s nothing more frustrating than a beautiful, gleaming playground—behind a locked fence. Some of our Challengers found themselves unable to access the better playgrounds their hometown has to offer because they are privately owned. This disparity clearly demonstrates the need for more joint-use agreements, which open private playgrounds to the surrounding community during designated hours. It sounds like sashametro might become a strong joint-use advocate in Troy, N.Y.:

"When I started this project, I was looking to find out more about the playgrounds around us in Troy, in order to make a case that there were plenty of playgrounds elsewhere, but none downtown. This was to support our case for a downtown Troy playground. But that wasn't quite what I found. There actually are a fair number of toddler playspaces downtown—the problem is that the nice ones are not open to the public.

This contrast is starkly visibly on Old Sixth Avenue, where the city playground on the east side is arguably the worst playspace in all Troy—and that's saying a lot. Directly across the avenue on the west side, a public non-profit that operates a Head Start program has a gorgeous modern playspace for 2-5 year-olds, but it is behind a fence with no access for anyone but the handful of children enrolled in that program."

Playgrounds need more opportunities for challenge and risk

Our Challengers with children in the 9 to 12-year-old range had a particularly hard time keeping their kids entertained this summer, even on play equipment that claims to be age appropriate. As our culture becomes increasingly litigious (and increasingly paranoid), how can we ensure that our playgrounds continue to challenge and engage our children as they grow?

AngieSix points out: "My oldest is 9 and my biggest challenge was finding playgrounds that kept her interested and challenged. I'd love to see a playspace that was REALLY designed for 9-12 year olds—it would be so cool. I imagine it would cause some kind of ruckus, though, since it would need to involve some elements of risk and that scares many parents.

I learned that just because you have a lot of very nice playgrounds, that doesn't mean your kids will love them. If they don't have an element that makes them unique, it doesn't take long for them to get bored. What was surprising to me was that it doesn't necessarily take something new and expensive to make a unique park feature, though. A really great hill to run down, a small creek or pond, nooks and crannies to get a good game of hide and seek going, something challenging to climb or balance on—any of these features can add a new element of play and interest."

Says floridamom: "Although most playgrounds are 'recommended' for up to 12 years old, it hadn't occurred to me that my oldest is now 11! His feet touch the ground while holding most monkey bars, which he thought was funny. Luckily he hasn't completely lost interest yet, but as he continues to 'grow up' both physically and emotionally, I know that spending summers together at playgrounds will eventually come to an end. Maybe I can revise it to find basketball-court-a-day."

See more reflections from our Park-A-Day Challengers.

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!)

As they continue their quest to visit as many parks and playgrounds as they can this summer, our Park-A-Day Challengers are becoming quite the playground experts. This week we asked them to share their favorite playgrounds, along with some thoughts about what sets them apart from the rest.

For the little ones: emeraldperil in Calgary, Canada says, "Gordie's favorite playground so far has definitely been the Valleyview Playground and Spray Park. It's great because the spray park and playground are right next to each other and inside a fenced area so it's really easy to give the little kids some safe freedom to explore the playground and spray park without needing someone right there next to them."


Themed playgrounds: floridamom says, "The Albert Whitted Airport Park in St Petersburg, Fla. has an aviation-themed playground. Although my favorite amenities are usually shade and restrooms (which this doesn't have), it definitely has the most enjoyable surroundings. One side has a marina and view of the St Petersburg Pier, the other side is a small airport with planes taking off and landing, and directly across the street is the newly renovated and spectacular Dali Museum."


Playgrounds need other kids! sashametro in Troy, N.Y. made this insightful comment: "When I showed my daughter the entry for Beman Park, the playground near her day care, I mentioned that I had only given it three stars, and she was rather taken aback by that. She wanted to give it five stars. It's really a pretty middling kind of playground (which, sadly, makes it above average for Troy) but I think that the main reason she loves it so much is that she goes there with the other kids from her daycare pre-K class almost every day.

A playground can have the most amazing equipment in the world, but if the only other people there are Mom or Dad, it just won't be as exciting as a middling playground with a dozen or two other kids your age that you already know. It's one of the intangibles that is missing from the map of play -- and is really hard to measure (especially in an objective way) -- how many children are out on the playground actually using it? And how often do those kids visit: daily, weekly, or just occasionally?"


Tribute to sand play: bookdads in Corvallis, Ore. commented, "Tough call here. Probably between Cloverland Park (pictured above) and Willamette Park. Cloverland has the giant sand play area, or 'beach' as my daughter calls it, while Willamette has an awesome playscape perfect for little ones 2-5. They can maneuver around without needing parents to spot them on the equipment so they can challenge themselves and feel good about being able to show some independence."


Playgrounds within biking distance: PortlandDad from -- you guessed it -- Portland, Ore. says, "My boys love Kenton Park in North Portland because we can bike there, they have a water play area for those hot days, cool play structures, and plenty of swings. In our quest to hit up every park in biking distance of our house we have stumbled on some gems like this new play structure in Pier Park (pictured above) in the North Portland Neighborhood of St. Johns. We followed paths through old growth trees and just kept finding cool things like a frisbee golf course, basketball courts, and picnic tables. Then we found this play structure deep in the park. It felt like we had mined a great treasure."

Tell us what makes your favorite playground special. Is it the equipment? Other amenities? The location? The other kids? 


Do adults these days have less patience, or are kids more "bad" than they used to be? In light of the recent flurry of articles about the rise of the "no kids allowed" movement—which has included kids being banned from restaurants, airline flights, and even grocery stores—we can’t help but wonder to what extent the growing Play Deficit is responsible for the perceived rise of temper tantrums and other disruptive, insolent behavior amongst our nation's little ones.

It’s no secret that a lack of play is linked to bad behavior. Studies have shown that schools without recess, for example, struggle with more behavioral problems in the classroom, including violence and emotional outbursts, and that their students show a lack of ability to interact with peers and authority figures. 

We asked our Park-A-Day Challengers if their regular visits to parks and playgrounds this summer have spurred any changes in their children’s behavior. Our 2010 Park-A-Day alumnus Liza Sullivan previously advised this year's Challengers that kids who play more "won’t be as squirmy at home and will rarely have trouble falling asleep at night!" Here's what a few other Challengers had to say:

"I had an interesting experience this week because both kids were in camp. My nine year old was outside from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. My six year old played lots of games outside, but also experienced one day that was heavier on classroom time. On our drive home, she said, 'Mommy, can we stop at a playground?' I was like, 'What? You just spent seven hours at camp!' And she complained they'd been inside too much that day. I was amazed she knew herself well enough to know she needed to hang out outside. So we got home and she played outside in our homemade sandboxes for over an hour while I got dinner ready."

"Whether it's the park or getting out for a bike ride, by getting the boys active I see a change in behavior. That activity is usually tied to greater engagement from me and those two things contribute. Having one without the other wouldn't be enough."

"My boys have been involved in organized team sports since each was five years old and since I don't work they have plenty of 'play' time at home. What I've noticed is that there were many more serious behavior problem kids (all boys) in kindergarten this year than the older two ever had in any grade."

Have you noticed a link between your child's behavior and how much they play? Do you agree that kids aren't as well-behaved as they used to be?

In 2009, Safety Harbor mom Tracey Quinn gave herself and her three boys a challenge: To visit a new park or playground every day over the summer. When we at KaBOOM! got wind of what they were doing, we loved the idea so much that we created our own Park-A-Day Summer Challenge in 2010, recruiting Tracey and five other dedicated moms to explore and map the playgrounds in their respective hometowns.

Now we're back for year two, and having exhausted the playground options in her area, Tracey and her boys are revisiting some old favorites. Inspired by the blog, Dear Photograph (Warning: This blog is highly addictive!), we asked Tracey to "take a picture of a picture from the past in the present":


Dear Photograph,
83 days until school. It started with a playground.

Learn more about this year's Park-A-Day Summer Challenge.