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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fall Crafts for Kids

These autumn crafts will keep kids engaged and warm on blustery days. Because sometimes making crafts indoors and sipping cocoa is preferable to playing outside! Read on for our list of favorite fall crafts.

Acorn Handprint Art

This lovely craft from Crafty Morning is easy for teachers and parents to replicate, requires very few supplies, and garners adorable results that are most definitely fridge-worthy.

For this project, you’ll need:

  • Paint in a variety of browns, earth tones, and neutrals
  • A paintbrush
  • Heavy cardstock or construction paper

To create: Invite children to paint their hands in a color that matches their skin tone. Next, ask them to plant their hands on a piece of paper, so that you collect a well-outlined handprint. After that, flip it upside down and use either brown paint or a marker to draw the acorn tops. Easy and sweet!

Pumpkin Apple Stamps

What’s better than pumpkins? Pumpkins made from apples! This sweet craft from Frugal Mom Eh! is easy, eco-friendly, and, naturally, inexpensive.

What you’ll need:

  • Apples sliced in half
  • Orange and green craft paint
  • Brushes (optional)
  • Paper Plates
  • White Paper

To get started, parents can dry sliced apples inside and out. Using a paper plate or a strong piece of scrap construction paper, squeeze out some orange and green paint. Repurposing the inside of the apple as a stamp, dip your apple into the orange paint, making sure it’s completely covered. Stamp it on the white paper. Press down with medium pressure, lift up directly, and voila! A pumpkin! Finally, using a paintbrush and green paint -- or a green marker -- create a stem. Repeat the process all over the piece of paper for a fun pumpkin collage!

Leaf Brigade

Kids will delight at this charming craft: creating leaf people! The festive fall craft is from the people at My Mommy Style.

For this project, you’ll need:

  • Leaves of all shapes and colors
  • White paper or construction paper
  • Glue
  • Googly eyes and markers

This is a great project because collecting the required materials doubles as a fun outdoor activity. Go on a walk through the yard or neighborhood park to collect some pretty fall leaves. Next, bring them home and let them dry. After that, find some computer paper or construction paper and assemble your supplies, along with the leaves, on a table. Encourage kids to create their own leaf characters, complete with heads, torsos, arms, and legs. Once kids have crafted a leaf person they’re happy with, help them glue it to the paper and add googly eyes and marker details.

Cue Tip Skeletons

This one is a favorite! Help kids craft skeletons that go bump in the night with just a few materials.

You’ll need:

  • Cue tips
  • Black construction paper
  • White paper and a black marker
  • Glue

Kids can follow the pattern here to create their own skeleton. Then, have them draw a skeleton head. Encourage them to express their creativity. They can also use a picture of their face for the skeleton head. Finally, glue all of the pieces onto a piece of black construction paper. Spooky and crafty!

Paper Plate Jack-o-Lanterns

This Halloween-inspired craft from The Simple Parent is cheap, cheerful, and oh-so-easy to make.

To make this one, you’ll need:

  • Paper plates
  • Orange and black markers or paint
  • Green pipe cleaners
  • A hole punch

First, have your kids completely color their paper plate orange. Next, encourage them to draw a face on their pumpkin with a black or dark-colored marker. After that, punch a hole in the top of the plate for them, so that they can thread and twist the green pipe cleaner through the hole. Shape the pipe cleaner into curlicues to add some festive fun!

Stamp Trees

This craft is similar to the apple pumpkin stamps. Combine this project with the last to create a whole fall scene using upcycled materials. Using the same paints from the previous craft, create stamp “trees” from bent toilet paper rolls.

For this craft, you’ll need:

  • One or more toilet paper rolls
  • Paper plates
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • A tree template (optional)
  • Construction paper or white paper

First, invite kids to draw the outline of a tree, or find a blank tree template online. Next, squirt paint colors onto paper plates. Yellow, orange, and red are great fall hue choices. After that, encourage children to dip their bent toilet paper rolls into the paint and stamp them onto the branches to make leaves. They can either fill in the leaves using paint brushes or leave them as-is for a unique aesthetic.

Candy Corn Flower Art

Delicious and easy, this craft from the Resourceful Mama has us excited for Halloween.

For this fall craft, you’ll need:

  • Candy corn
  • Construction paper
  • More green pipe cleaners
  • Glue (A hot glue gun is best. Offer to help children glue on their petals)
  • Marker or buttons for the flower’s center
  • Scissors

First, encourage children to lay out their flower pattern. Once kids know where they want to place the flowers, help them hot glue a button or draw a circle to form the flower’s center. Next, glue on the candy corn “petals” so that the white tips are touching the center. Repeat these steps for the rest of the flowers. Now, using pipe cleaners, create stems and petals and glue them onto the paper! Simple and cheerful fall flowers.

What are some of your favorite fall crafts? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Growing Together: The Importance of Mixed Age Groups in Developmental Play

One of the best things about age-inclusive childhood play is that it provides an opportunity for younger children to learn from their older peers. And likewise, older kids, as they teach their friends the ropes, learn important lessons in teaching, patience, and empathy.

By interacting with kids of all ages, children learn teamwork, tolerance, social skills, and more importantly, a slew of exciting new games. Read on to discover the developmental benefits of mixed-age play and fabulous games your whole tribe can play.

Benefits for Older Children

Mixed-age play allows older children to take the reins and try on a leadership role. For instance, babysitting and interactive play provides them with important skills they can take into adulthood, as well as newfound maturity and a sense of responsibility. Another excellent example of this dynamic appears in tutoring and homework help. Did you know that studies show that by teaching younger peers, older kids reveal increases in measurements of responsibility, empathy, and altruism? They also solidify their knowledge of school subjects. As Phil Collins says in the iconic song from the movie Tarzan, “In learning, you will teach, and in teaching, you will learn.” Mixed-age play provides essential life and developmental skills for kids at every stage.

The Benefits for Younger Children

Young children will learn by example and attempt games and tasks that seemed intimidating without an older peer to guide them. For instance, shy or nervous kids might be more inclined to swing with no booster seat when their older brother or sister gives them a friendly push. Active play, like basketball, vertical climbers, and rock walls are less frightening with an older friend to catch them.

Mutually Beneficial Development

In a sense, mixed-age play can facilitate “good clean family fun.” Because older children are forced to be mindful of their young companions, they’re more likely to be gentle, fair, and compassionate during playtime. And younger kids will benefit immensely from the opportunity to learn and grow with a wise pal by their side. Games are likely to be less competitive, dangerous, and more focused on teamwork. That is, as long as parents lay out some safety guidelines ahead of time.

Communicating Clear Expectations

It’s important for parents to set out rules for children before they interact with other age groups. Here are some handy rules of thumb:

  • Respect each other’s boundaries.That means respecting their physical space and not pushing them to do anything that’s truly uncomfortable. Sure, it’s okay to encourage friends to overcome, say, a fear of heights and go down the spiral slide. But help children to be mindful of the fact that everyone develops at their own speed.
  • Emphasize the importance of teamwork and sharing.Encourage children not to dominate one another in sports, especially when a younger child is just learning the ropes or struggling with coordination. And urge children to share toys and accessories. When playing on playground structures, reiterate the importance of following proper safety guidelines. And parents, it’s a good idea to seek out play structures and parks that accommodate a wide range of age groups and interests. Look for playsets that feature social and creative toys, as well as physical “events” like bridges, tunnels, crawlers, and slides. For children who need ADA accessibility, ground-level activities are ideal.
  • Praise kids when they succeed. Children are going to make mistakes. Being gentle and respectful of other people’s needs and abilities takes time and practice. When your child does an excellent job of playing well with others, give them positive reinforcement. It’ll encourage them to keep up the excellent work.

Great group games for mixed-age play:

  • Crafts and creative play - Artistic activities are fantastic because they can be modified to accommodate different age groups. For instance, toddlers can fingerpaint while older children follow along to painting tutorials on Youtube, employing paintbrushes, sponges, and found materials to express themselves. The same principle applies to dough and clay modeling, toothpick construction, and blocks.
  • Hide and seek - This is an excellent game for younger kids because they can use their tiny statures to their advantage, while older kids search for them. It’s relatively safe, requires minimal effort, and can be played indoors or outdoors. Just make sure you establish boundary zones and articulate any off-limits areas ahead of time.
  • Playground bonding - What is sweeter than watching an older child patiently show a young friend the ropes? Not much. Older children gain a sense of responsibility and pride from pushing tots on the swingset or demonstrating slide-riding abilities for a nervous friend. They’ll learn empathy and compassion—some of the most essential skills.

We want to hear from you! Do your children enjoy playing with kids of all ages? How has it benefited your family? Sound off in the space below.
Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

4 Reasons You Should Let Kids Play in the Dirt

Still running around after your kid, telling them to mind their clothes? Think again. Research suggests that playing outside—and in the mud—is great for kids’ emotional and physical development. Read on to find out why.

1. Time in nature can help with emotional and cognitive development.

According to recent research, immersing ourselves in nature has a profound impact on our performance, emotional health, and general well being. Essentially, time in nature has the ability to refocus our attention and relieve stress. In his research, David Strayer calls this the three-day effect. As he says, “If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

And for children, carving out time in nature provides immeasurable cognitive and development benefits. By playing in the dirt, kids learn about nature and the life cycle and gain more respect for living creatures big and small. For toddlers and young children, the different textures of sand, grass, mud, and soil can be incredibly soothing and stimulating, helping them with sensory development. In order to carve out more time outdoors, follow these helpful tips:

  1. Limit screen time to one to two hours a day and then shoo kids outside to get some fresh air. Boredom and limitations breed creativity.
  2. Create kid-friendly spaces to facilitate dramatic and social play! Our play structures make a great addition to any backyard, school, or daycare center.
  3. Introduce your kids to fun outdoor games. Check out our favorite classic yard games for ideas!

2. Vitamin D is essential!

Vitamin D deficiency affects up to 50% of the population worldwide. And according to experts, the deficiency is mainly the result lifestyle choices, like reduced outdoor activity. For children, a lack of vitamin D can have serious consequences, like decreased absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus, which are both important for bone and skeletal health. A vitamin D deficiency can also result in muscle weakness, in which affected children have difficulty standing, walking, and playing normally.

And it’s important to be mindful of getting too much sun exposure. So, here are some strategies to get Vitamin D safely:

  1. Consider allowing kids to get 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to their arms, legs, back. After that, follow up with a safe and sensitive-skin friendly sunscreen.
  2. Prioritize using sunscreen on kids’ faces and the top of their ears to avoid sunburn and skin damage.
  3. Be mindful that it’s much harder to get Vitamin D during the winter, especially in places significantly north of the equator. It might be a good idea to add a kids’ multi-vitamin or D vitamin to your child’s routine during the colder months.

3. Playing in the mud could help boost their immune system.

Running around in the dirt is a fabulous way to strengthen your kid’s immune system. And if your child happens to pop a bit of dirt or grass in their mouth, that’s okay, too. Exposing children to new environments and bacteria will help bolster their immune systems and make for healthier kids overall. Playing in the mud can inadvertently help your child’s immune system battle invading organisms as they grow.

4. Get out and move.

It’s imperative that children learn to incorporate physical activity into their everyday routines, and encouraging time outdoors in nature is a great way to do that. Kids love playing in the sandbox and packing mud pies, chasing each other in a game of tag, and climbing trees. Foster their love of adventure and getting messy, and they’re more likely to grow up to be active, imaginative, and healthy kids—with fortified immune systems.

Do you let your child play in the dirt? Leave your comments in the space below.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Games to Play in the Car to Keep Children Occupied

Going on a long road trip? Need unique activities to keep the kids from squirming and fussing? These engaging car games will help preserve your sanity and facilitate family bonding.

Twenty One Questions

This one is a classic game that’s fun for the whole family! In a nutshell, somebody chooses a “person, place, or thing,” and everybody in the car must take turns guessing the answer.

Some ground rules:

  1. To make it harder, decide that questions must be formatted so that they require “yes” or “no” answers.
  2. Guessers cannot repeat a question that has already been asked.

Note: make sure question masters pick “subjects” that everyone is familiar with. Otherwise, it won’t be fun for the entire car, especially the young kids with limited adult references. We used to play this family game for hours, and it was a challenging and low-key way to demonstrate our knowledge of animated-film trivia and classic children’s books.

Movie Web

In this game, participants connect actors to one another through the movies they’ve starred in. The rules:

  1. Somebody picks an actor or actress.
  2. Moving clockwise, the next person names a movie that performer has appeared in.
  3. After that, the next person names another actor/actress from that same movie.
  4. The game continues on until somebody is either stumped or incorrect, and then that person has to sit out until the end of the round.
  5. An example of a movie web might be: “Meg Ryan,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Billy Crystal,” “The Princess Bride,” etc.

Note: if your kids aren’t well versed in movies or other pop culture references, you can take the same general principle and apply it to objects and colors. So, for example, somebody picks the color “red.” The next person names a red object, such as an apple. The next participant can pick an item in the same category, which would be, in this instance, fruit. And after that, the next participant might say, “banana,” with somebody shouting out “yellow.”

Cars of Many Colors

This game is great for road trips that include time driving across busy highways. The rules:

  1. Each person picks a car color.
  2. Participants get points every time the car passes or is passed by a vehicle in that shade.
  3. The person with the most points at the end of the ride wins.

Note: you can create a similar game using out-of-state license plates. Divvy up states and whoever gets the most points wins. Or, you can take turns spotting visiting license plates, with all states being up for grabs. Whoever catches the most out-of-state plates is declared the winner at the end of the trip.

Magnetic Board Games

Ideal for parents with more than one child, magnetic board games allow children to play their favorite games, even in a fast and bumpy car. Consider investing in magnetic versions of checkers, tic-tac-toe, Chinese checkers, and more.

“What’s your favorite…?”

This listing game is a great way to connect with your family members and learn more about their interests. The rules:

  1. Pick a topic. It could be movies, books, TV shows, food, or any other topic of interest.
  2. Family members take turn naming their “Top Five” in that category. After that person has finished, each family member creates their own list. Are there any similarities? Surprises? This is a great way to learn about your loved ones’ taste and sense of humor!

Example: My favorite children’s books are Anne of Green Gables, Green Eggs and Ham, Treasure Island, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. What are yours?

“I Spy”

“I spy with my little eye… something blue!” Kids will love this charming game of search and find that can be played anywhere. Use business signs, cars, road markers, and the landscape as your hunting ground. It’s also a great segue into discussing plants, trees, and other ephemera.

What are your favorite car games?

Leave your comments in the space below!

Written by: Parker Jones
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blast from the Past: Classic Yard Games to Play Today

Classic games remain so for a good reason; they’re a ton of fun, require few materials, and can be modified to accommodate different group sizes. For this series, simplicity and physical activity are the names of the game, literally! Explore our list of backyard/park favorites, complete with rules, and relive your childhood favorites with your own kids.

Kick the Can

This game requires at least five participants. But, the more, the merrier!
  1. Designate one person (or team if you have a substantial showing) to be “it.” Next, place an empty can—a medium coffee can works—in the center of an open field or yard.
  2. Closing their eyes, the person who’s “it” counts to fifty while the other players run and hide. (So, it's is an ideal game for parks and outdoor spaces with lots of clever hiding spots.) At this point, essentially, a game of tag ensures, in which the person who’s “it” attempts to locate and tag each player while simultaneously keeping an eye on the can in the middle of the playing field.
  3. Players who are successfully tagged are sent to timeout or “jail,” a designated location usually within eyeline of the can. The goal of the players or teams is to kick the can before being tagged. Doing so sets all the jailbirds free.
Kick the Can is a fabulous game because it engages children and adults in lots of cardio and physical play without them really realizing it. It’s team-oriented and facilitates the development of gross motor and strategy skills. If you have a large group and want to make the game even more challenging, add more cans and obstacles to the playing field. The more dynamic elements, the more fun you’ll have!

Capture the Flag

This game features similar elements to Kick the Can but can accommodate a huge group of people, making it perfect for large family cookouts, vacations, and neighborhood meetups. Ultimately, each team seeks to capture the opposing team’s flag, which rests on the other end of the playing field. However, the “field” doesn’t have to be an open space in the traditional sense. For example, it could be on one end of a park or even a neighborhood.
  1. Designate a line separating the two territories. And place markers across the border to remind participants of the boundary.
  2. Players attempt to tag team members who’ve ventured to the other end of the playing field, in enemy territory. Once a player is tagged, they’re sent to “jail” or “limbo” and can only be released if a team member crosses into enemy territory and labels them individually.
  3. The first team to capture the other team’s flag is declared the victor.
Like with many of these classic games, the more participants, the rowdier the game. Tip: if you have a large number of participants, use some physical marker to identify teams. For example, use shirt colors, hats, or even colorful wristbands to designate groups.

Sly Fox

This game is a great one for incorporating kids of varying ability levels.
  1. Pick one child to be the “fox.” The fox faces in the opposite direction from the other kids, who stand either beside a wall or behind a line, some distance away from the fox.
  2. When the fox has his or her back turned, the children run, walk, or move to get closer to the fox. But if the fox turns around, the kids must freeze on the spot, no matter how goofy their position!
  3. If the fox catches someone moving, that child must go back to the starting spot. And the first child who tags the fox without being caught wins that round and gets to be the fox in the next game.
This one is fun, easy, requires no materials, and makes for some very silly and photogenic moments as kids try to remain frozen in awkward positions. Tip: enlist an adult to be the "judge," to make sure everyone follows the rules and gets a fair shake.

Hide and Seek

This one is so ubiquitous that it’s hardly worth explaining. However, it’s a great game to play in parks and natural areas that feature lots of magnificent trees and hiding spots. Just make sure that you’re in a safe space with designated boundaries.

Reliving Your Childhood

Just writing this list made us nostalgic for family gatherings gone by, and that perfect, secret hiding spot that always came through in a bind.

Do you have a favorite childhood yard game? Leave your comments in the space below.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Create Container Gardens and Compost Bins with Your Family This Summer

Teach children about where their food comes with help from container gardens and compost bins! It’s good for kids’ emotional well being, your wallet, and your health!

Discover the positive impacts of cultivating a green thumb.

Studies show that spending time in nature provides countless health benefits. For example, connecting with nature lowers blood pressure, normalizes heart rate, and relieves stress. And for children, planting a garden facilitates an opportunity to learn about the world around them, as well as explore the food system they interact with on a daily basis. By helping your kids to create beautiful and easy-to-maintain container gardens, you’ll teach them about healthy eating and the importance of environmental stewardship.

Reduce your impact on the planet through composting.

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is through backyard composting. There are several different methods by which you can get rid of kitchen waste, food scraps, and garden debris.

The first method? Create a compost bin! You can craft one by repurposing old shipping pallets, often obtained for free via trading websites and services like Craigslist. You can also check your local lumber or shipping yards.

The other method is composting with the help of some squirmy little friends… worms! Seriously. Worms can be used to recycle excess food and organic material, turning it into “black gold,” another term for nutrient-rich soil that’s the envy of all seasoned gardeners. The whole process is called vermicomposting. Through vermicomposting, worms consume food scraps, paper, and other natural materials, turning them into compost after digestion.

Regardless of the method you choose, one of the keys to composting is your carbon-nitrogen balance. It’s important to strike a balance between carbon and nitrogen-rich materials.

Nitrogen-rich materials are referred to as greens, because of their green or vibrant hue. These include are fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, and anything that could be considered “fast rotting.” Carbon-rich materials are brown in color - and they include newspaper, cardboard, sticks, egg shells and other organic, hardy materials. A 2:1 ratio of green to brown is a good balance to strike for a healthy compost bin. Kids will have a blast recycling things like egg cartons, egg shells, banana peels, vegetable leftovers, and paper lunch bags.

Start a container garden.

Container gardening is a great way to grow your own vegetables, especially if you have limited yard space or live in an apartment. Big plants require a lot of space, with roots that need extra room to grow. So, it’s best to avoid small containers which might not be able to store enough water, especially on hot summer days.

To start your container garden, you can use plastic tubs obtained from dollar stores, upcycled barrels, buckets, and even hearty baskets. The bigger the container, the greater your potential yield. Just be sure that your container has drainage holes drilled in the bottom of your bucket.

Add about one inch of gravel to the bottom of containers to improve drainage. And remember to water plants closer to the root of the plant. It will help with water absorption. Add bits of compost to your soil for even better plant nutrition.

Have children plant starter seeds and watch them bloom!

One of the joys of gardening for children is watching a seed transform from a tiny nugget into a beautiful flower or robust vegetable. And luckily, you can use materials in your home to start your seeds. Reuse old coffee cans or egg cartons, and decorate popsicle sticks as plant markers. Or, wrap newspaper around an old soda can, creating a “pot” shape, tape the sides, and slide it off the soda to reveal a compostable seed-starter pot. Place them in a kitchen window or on a back porch and watch your seedlings sprout. Kids can even have a contest to see whose seedling grows the biggest or the fastest.

Some gardening tips for kids:

Let them pick out the seeds! They’ll be much more invested in produce and flower varieties that strike their fancy. For example, if your child loves the color yellow, plant sunflowers and watch your garden transform into a golden flower patch.

Enlist children in watering your new plants. They’ll learn important skills like responsibility, nurturing, and perseverance.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Creating a Pollinator Garden for Your Family

The news has been “a buzz” lately with articles about the negative biological effects diminishing forests have on our bee populations. Decreased wildlife preservation has been wreaking havoc on our bee populations and local wildlife—bad news for our local ecosystems. Thankfully, bee colony collapse is improving. But, our tiny winged friends are still struggling thanks to land development and pesticide use.

The good news? Your family can help by making your home and yard a healthy place for our fuzzy friends, plant-loving. Here are some ideas for creating a bee-friendly paradise:

Start a Pollinator Garden

In a few simple steps, you can create a backyard pollinator bed that acts as a safe and healthy habitat for bee colonies, increasing any vegetable garden yields, and boosting the health of your flower beds.

If you’re new to pollinator gardens, it’s a good idea to do some research before jumping in. One fantastic resource is your local community garden. You’ll find folks who can walk you through the process and direct you to the best pollinator plants for your specific region. And if you’re hoping to plant a produce garden along with your patch of wildflowers, seasoned gardeners will have knowledge of ideal planting and harvesting timelines, making planning your bounty a simple process.

It’s important to note: some pollinator plants can be invasive when planted in the wrong climate. Cheerios learned this the hard way after their well-meaning “Bring Back the Bees” campaign resulted in the distribution of seeds that are invasive to certain U.S. regions.

For guidance, consult this handy website with lists of recommended native plants, cataloged by state and geographical climate. After that, find a reputable seed company, or get in touch with a seasoned pollinator gardener, and ask them if they’d be willing to give you starter plants and offshoots.

Remember, different bee species demonstrate different pollinating habits. For example, some bees like to pollinate using a variety of wildflowers, while others have definite favorites and gravitate toward those plants again and again. So, the more variety of plants in your pollinator garden, the better your chances of success.

Create a Mason Bee Habitat

For this craft, adapted from Natural Beach Living, you’ll need:

  • One tin can
  • Parchment paper
  • Paint (yellow or bright colors work best)
  • Tape
  • A nail and a hammer
  • A piece of string

Adults, you’ll need to tap two holes in either side of the can. (This is where you’ll tie the string to hang it from the tree, mouth facing out.) Next, invite children to paint their mason bee cans with bright colors. Decoupage using construction paper or newspaper is also an excellent idea and a great way to recycle paper products, providing hours of crafting fun. Next, Tie a piece of string through the two holes, making a hanger for your “bee hotel.” Cut a piece of parchment paper in half and roll it, starting at one end, so that it makes a tight roll with two entries. Tape one of the sides shut, and place it in the mouth of your painted soup or coffee can, open-end forward. Then, repeat this step until the can is full. When you’re done, it should vaguely resemble a honeycomb. Hang it from a tree or in your pollinator garden to attract bee friends.

Create Cute Pollinator Markers

Pollinator plants come in so many shapes and sizes. Some are weedy and long, while others are short, full, and sport geometrical blooms. And for new gardeners—and kids—it can be difficult to distinguish between one and another.

Get crafty and use painted rocks, popsicle sticks, or metal stakes to imprint the names of plants using the pressure of a pencil or pen. This craft is both practical and fun! Kids will have a blast painting and drawing, while also learning about the different varieties of pollinators and the importance of wildlife preservation.

You can also help kids to create a large sign welcoming friends to their pollinator garden. You just may encourage neighbors to follow suit and plant their own gardens, creating a more vibrant neighborhood for everyone! Another upside to planting pollinators? It limits the amount of mowing you have to do, which is a win for the planet and your sanity!

Remember to Mind Your Step

Interestingly, most North America’s native bees—70%—nest in the ground. So, be careful about where you step! Instruct children to leave a patch of untouched dirt somewhere in your yard for bees to build their habitats. (You can even denote this area with a sign or a border of rocks and flowers. For even more protection, surround the area with low fencing.)

Help Children to “Bee” Mindful

Gardening facilitates crucial conversations about the symbiotic relationship between people and the planet. Do you garden with your kids? Leave some comments and tips in the space below.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

5 Reasons to Hike With Your Kids This Summer

"Nature always wears the color of the spirit." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

This summer, take a break from the air conditioning and get back into nature because it turns out, hiking provides countless benefits for children and adults, offering families a fabulous way to connect. Read on to find five reasons to hike with your kids this week.

1. Practice good environmental stewardship.

When kids hike through a national park or forest, they’re able to connect with nature and understand the importance of protecting the planet’s natural beauty, aka “leaving no trace.”

Snacktime presents a great “teachable moment” to talk about the amount of waste we accumulate. Therefore, illustrate the importance of collecting your own trash and wrappers to throw away later by saving and storing any granola bar wrappers.

Or, better yet, go zero-waste on your hike and bring package-free snacks like nuts and dried fruit in a mason jar. You’ll be demonstrating the concepts of “reduce and reuse.”

And if you’re feeling really green, bring along a small trash bag to pick up any bottles and fast food containers you may see. Trash collecting, though not the most glamorous pastime, acts as a fun scavenger hunt for kids of all ages and teaches them about good environmental stewardship.

2. Get some exercise.

It’s important that kids start healthy exercise habits early. Some studies even suggest that exercising outside may be better for your health – and that’s true for both adults and children. A hike outside provides excellent cardiovascular exercise. Plus, outside, kids can explore a new landscape, traverse trees’ root systems, duck spider webs and hanging limbs, and balance on exciting rockscapes. Kids will hone their balance skills, increase agility, and gain confidence in their ability to navigate new terrain.

3. Connect with nature and appreciate wildlife.

Hiking provides ample educational opportunities for kids to discover new flowers, animals, and insects – even in urban parks. And if your local hiking trail is close to a body of water, you’ll likely encounter fish, ducks, frogs, and other pond life. Connecting with plants and animals fills children with a sense of wonder for the rich bio-diversity that life has to offer.

4. Spend some unplugged quality time together.

It’s essential that your family periodically takes a break from social media/screen time to reconnect with nature and each other. So, turn the phones off (or put them on airplane mode) and stash them in your bag as you traverse a new landscape.

In our increasingly digital world, unplugging helps foster a sense of mindfulness and ground us in the present moment. In fact, in a study conducted by the University of Maryland, students unplugged from technology reported an improved quality of life and spent more time with friends and family, got more exercise, and even ate healthier foods. Regularly unplugging gets kids in the habit of finding alternative ways to spend their time, many of which are much healthier than wasting time on social media or binging Netflix all evening.

5. Save money and re-focus on the essential things.

Most natural hiking spots are either free or cost very little. And the only tools you’ll need are some proper hiking boots or tennis shoes, sunscreen, breathable clothing, and water. As the old adage goes, “the best things in life are free.” And nothing is more fundamental to our well being than getting back into nature and connecting to the beauty all around us.

Our Hiking Tips:

  • Make sure to bring plenty of water. A backpack makes a great catch-all for water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, band-aids, and extra socks.
  • Bring a phone in case of emergencies, but keep it zipped away in your backpack. That way, it’s available if you need it, but you won’t be tempted to check Instagram.
  • If your kids burn easily, consider wearing baseball caps or bonnets to keep the sun off of their faces.
  • Teach your kids about the buddy system. It’s crucial for them to stay with a partner at all times, especially around bodies of water.

Do you have any hiking tips or stories? Sound off in the comments.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Outdoor Park Adventures: Nature-Inspired Crafts for Kids

Need some ideas for fun outdoor projects this summer? Check out these nature-themed crafts, featuring organic elements, for kids of all ages and ability levels. Create them as accessories to aid in your kids’ adventures, or assemble them at the park for a crafty day in the great outdoors.

Create an exploration kit!

This excellent craft comes from the folks at PBS. Kids will delight in making an exploratory kit to take with them as they traverse through their favorite parks, green spaces, or playgrounds with their handy “toolkits” in tow.

To make this craft, clean out or towel dry an empty coffee can. (Make sure it doesn’t have any sharp edges. If you don’t have any at home, some recycling centers will let you grab some gently-used cans and upcycled supplies.)

Next, cut a piece of ribbon or yarn as the handle. Make sure it’s long enough for your child to wear it over their shoulder: 24” is usually a good length. After that, poke two small holes in the plastic lid of your coffee can. This is where you’ll thread your ribbon and tie the ends. Finally, invite your kids to decorate their box with paint and stickers, or help them hot glue found items onto their containers. You can give the cans a nature theme, and glue rocks, shells, and other organic materials in an unusual pattern.

Kids can use their kits to collect pine cones, leaves, and rocks. Or, they can use them to carry play accessories like action figures, balls, legos, or crayons and paper.

Assemble driftwood art and nature frames.

These beautiful nature-sourced art projects from look worthy of any Pinterest board, even though they’re inexpensive and a breeze to create.

Driftwood Art:

With the help of sticks or driftwood and colorful nylon cord, kids will weave their nature finds into memorable art. For this craft, you’ll need six to eight pieces of small to medium-sized sticks or slices of driftwood gathered from either your yard or the park, parachute cord or sturdy yarn, and duct tape.

To make this craft, have kids assemble their design on a towel, rearranging the sticks so that the curves fit together, with as little gaps as possible. After that, double knot one end of your piece of cord around the end piece of driftwood. (As a rule of thumb, the cable needs to be roughly three times as long as the width of the wood.) Fasten the knot on the back and weave your piece of string under and over the sticks until you’ve reached the end of your row. Then, reverse it, and knit back the opposite way. After that, knot off the trim and add some additional vibrant colors, starting on the opposite side so that the knots are even. Finally, trim any excess and secure the ends of your craft in the back with the duct tape.

Nature frame:

Use the same stick materials, as well as leaves, dried flowers, shells, and rocks, to create a nature picture frame. To create this craft, you’ll need a photo, cardstock or cardboard, hot glue, and found treasures for decoration.

First, print out a photo on a heavy piece of cardstock. Or, you can glue a photograph to a piece of cardboard. It’s really up to you. Make sure that your photo and board/cardstock has room around the edges for your nature border. Next, hot glue found items, buttons, dried flowers, and leaves to the sides. And voilĂ ! An organic picture frame!

Make a pinecone bird feeder.

This super easy and animal-friendly craft from the Outdoor Parent is a favorite! You’ll need pine cones, string, peanut butter or vegetable shortening, oatmeal or cornmeal, bird seed mix from the store, and a plate or pie tin.

First, tie a string around the pinecone. Next, mix on a half cup of peanut butter or shortening with one half cup oats/cornmeal. After that, take a spoon or fingers to spread the mixture all over your pinecone. Make sure it gets into the open “petals” of the pinecone. (Pro tip: a slightly warm pinecone mixture is easier to spread.) Place the birdseed in a pie tin. Now, roll and press the seeds onto your peanut-butter pinecone until it’s well covered. You shouldn’t be able to see too much “blank space” on your pinecone. Finally, hang your cone from a tree to act as a bird feeder. Place it by a tree outside a favorite window, or take it to the park and find it a home. (Tip: a place away from the trunk is best because it’s harder for squirrels to access.)

Do you have any favorite outdoor crafts? Leave your comments in the space below!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Five Reasons Your Child Should Join a Team Sport

As the motivational saying goes, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” Team sports and other group activities—like band or choir—provide a host of benefits and growth opportunities that will aid in your child’s development. Here are five reasons to encourage your child to join a team this school year.

1. Teamwork creates community.

Joining a team offers kids an opportunity to be part of a group that shares a common mission, requiring children to learn important skills like cooperation, self-discipline, communication, and humility.

Team sports also provide a great outlet for children to make friends with other kids who share common interests. This is especially vital for homeschooled children because it gives them a structured environment in which to practice social interaction, interpersonal negotiation, sportsmanship, and tolerance.

Additionally, team sports create a space for children to develop intergenerational relationships with coaches, teachers, and mentors who’ll act as role models and guides. As society progresses, we see the emergence, or revitalization, of diverse housing and living patterns, many of which include multi-generational support and habitation. Positive adult role models can teach children “The Four R’s”—respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and resilience—essential to co-existing with their peers, young and old.

2. Team sports aid in emotional intelligence and development.

Team sports give children a place to develop emotional fortitude, giving them a set of skills that transfer to other areas of their lives. And these benefits are both mental and physical.

Most obviously, exercise provides a safe space in which children can explore feelings of competitiveness, aggression, and anger, channeling their emotions into a productive outlet. Plus, the relaxation of sports alleviates anxiety and depression, and can improve overall mood. Additionally, studies show that regular exercise improves memory and cognitive abilities. For example, in one study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular, vigorous aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to verbal memory and learning. The development of the hippocampus can lead to a slew of positive outcomes, like better recall, vocabulary, and communication.

So, if you can, encourage your child to participate in a sport involving intense bouts of cardio, like soccer, gymnastics, or even softball, It could increase your kid’s concentration, creative thinking, and mood — benefits that extend into their academic performance.

3. Teamwork teaches responsibility and commitment.

It’s important for children to learn to honor their responsibilities and show up for the people in their lives. Teamwork teaches children how to take responsibility for their actions, while team sports provide the perfect avenue to practice “soft” social skills, which influence a child’s academics, future work, and relationship maintenance. Knowing the team is counting on you can be a huge motivator for kids to show up and follow through with their commitments.

4. Kids learn good sportsmanship and how to be a team player.

Nobody is a winner every single time. And one of the most important lessons kids can learn is how to lose — and fail — gracefully. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” It’s not about how many times a child fails, but their attitude in making mistakes and learning from them.

Being part of a team allows children to cope with the highs and lows that come with failure and success, teaching them to navigate life’s ebbs and flows in a healthy way.

5. Athletic involvement can increase academic performance.

As mentioned above, there are myriad tangible benefits to athletics. And practice on the field can transfer to performance in the classroom. According to a University of Kansas study that analyzed the scores of high school students, tests suggest that over 97% of student athletes graduated high school — 10% higher than those students who had never participated in sports. Additionally, athletes were shown to have better G.P.A. outcomes than non-athletes. Some of this might have to do with the time and stress management skills learned through sports participation, or even the emotional benefits of exercise, but regardless, time spent in athletics can help a child succeed in unexpected ways.

Remember to listen to your child.

Despite all the benefits that come with team sports, not all kids will show an interest. And that’s okay. Above all, encourage your child to join group activities they find engaging. Support their budding interest and watch them blossom!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Benefits of Imaginative Play

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” ― Albert Einstein

Imaginative play provides countless social and personal benefits for children. It helps them gain a deeper sense of empathy, gives them confidence, and creates, or strengthens, friendships. Playing pretend (or dramatic play) also leads to success in school and extracurricular activities. And some research even suggests that imaginary play results in demonstrated cognitive benefits, such as increased language usage ― like subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives ― and better social literacy, which fosters cultural sensitivity and awareness.

Playing pretend increases “creative empathy.”

Through imaginative play, children gain cognitive flexibility, and in doing so, grow lifelong social and artistic skills. For example, when a child engages in imaginative play, either by themselves or with a group of kids, they’re trying on different roles and working through a variety of scenarios and challenges. This roleplaying process is crucial for kids to explore and develop their identities and preferences.

Imaginative storytelling enables children to tap into the commonalities that connect us all, which is a good thing for the next generation and society as a whole. As author Robin Moore says, “Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.” Similarly, Joan Didion famously espoused, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” In their quest to discover themselves and try on different hats, children tell themselves stories in order to understand their world with all of its newness, wonder, and complexity.

Imaginative play enables children to “walk a day in the shoes” of people and characters different from themselves. If a child understands a variety of stories, they’re more likely to treat their peers and the people they encounter with compassion and kindness. Pretend play, at its core, invites kids to consider a variety of perspectives.

Imaginative play teaches kids to visualize goals and dreams.

Adults use visualization every day, in both their personal and professional lives. Imagination, aka visualization, is at work when adults develop a project at work, plan out their week, read a book, or solve a problem creatively.

As an active form of visualization, imaginative plants seeds for these grown-up skills, giving children an opportunity to set goals and dreams and envision their future. Many of our brightest stars in innovation, science, humanitarian work, business, and the arts describe imagining some version of their future success at a young age. Just ask Oprah Winfrey or Jennifer Lopez. Through imaginative play, kids are transported to new worlds and challenged to learn by mimicking what they see. Introduce your children to aspirational role models, and they’ll be much more likely to follow in their footsteps.

Make believe aids in physical development, too.

Along with the fabulous cognitive benefits of dramatic play, imaginative discovery also offers a great way for kids to develop gross motor skills, make new friends, and blow off some steam in a healthy and positive way.

Dramatic play creates scenarios in which to increase essential skills. For example, kids can practice balance and agility while pretending to be gymnasts or spies walking a tightrope, or they’ll develop fine motor skills through pretend tea parties, playing with paper dolls, or coloring backdrops and other “props” for their dramatic play.

Here are some ways to facilitate dramatic play:

1. Fill a box or trunk with an assortment of dress up clothes and accessories. They don’t have to be expensive. You can score costumes from consignment shops and second-hand stores, or collect gently-used items from your own closet. If the clothes are way too big for a toddler, a few snips of the scissors, along with some well-placed stitches, can go a long way.

2. Seek out playground equipment that facilitates imaginative play. Many parks include play structures that incorporate some dramatic theme, helping to create an atmosphere of pretend fun! Or, consider purchasing a playset for your own backyard!

3. Join your kids in their make believe! Use toys, dress up clothes, books, and everyday items as inspiration for your dramatic play. Some favorite themes include learning about different countries and taking a “pretend trip,” imitating favorite superheroes, making an imaginary trip to the grocery store, and much more. Often, your child will have ideas about themes that interest them, and you can help them embellish or dive deeper into beloved topics by introducing them to corresponding outings, books, and films.

What kind of imaginary play does your kid enjoy? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Splash Into Summer: Six Fun and Inexpensive Ideas for Water Play - The Safe Way

May was National Water Safety Month. So, naturally, we’ve compiled six fun water-play ideas to help kids beat the summer heat, on the cheap.

1. Dial up the sprinkler - even if it's DIY.

There’s nothing more fun than jumping through a sprinkler. It’s a childhood staple for a reason! But if you don’t have an official sprinkler, fear not! You can create the same effect with a garden hose, and hook it up for water games!

For example, make an arcing rainbow of water, and invite kids to run underneath for a game of water limbo. Or, consider running a steady stream of water from your garden hose, snaking it back and forth underfoot as children jump across. Whoever stays driest is declared the winner, and an official Water Unicorn!

(Note: there’s always a chance of slipping on wet grass, so make sure you’re playing somewhere with soft ground and not too many rocks.)

2. Invest in a kiddie pool and fill it with accessories!

Inflatable pools are inexpensive and easy to store away thanks to their deflate and stow design. So blow up a baby pool, throw in some favorite bath toys, and watch kids delightedly splash for hours. And if your kids are partial to bubbles, feel free to add some foam with the help of a hose and some bubble bath and even bubble wands! Bonus: it’ll make for an adorable photo op!

However, it’s important to remember when dealing with pool safety, that drowning is the number one cause of death among young children. And bathtubs and pools can present serious hazards. So, be sure to keep an eye on your kids at all times. If you have to peel your eyes away - to use the restroom or take a phone call - initiate a “water timeout” and carry your tots inside with you. It’s just not worth the risk!

3. Take to the lake.

Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are wonderful ways to stay cool, get some exercise, and take in the great outdoors. Wade with kids by the bank of your local lake or body of water and spend some quality time soaking up the rays, getting some much-needed Vitamin D. Just don’t forget life jackets and sunscreen!

4. Bring a picnic to your local pool.

If you don’t have access to a personal pool, research renting a day pass at one of your local swimming spots. More often than not, you can buy a day pass for the whole family at a relatively inexpensive price. And if you want to avoid spending money on food and drinks, consider packing a cooler full of healthy snacks and sandwiches; you’ll cut down on overpriced concession stand treats while feeding your kids nutritional options.

5. Freeze your fun!

Combat the heat with sensational ice creations in the form of “Ice Paint” or “Ice Blocks.”

To make ice paint, simply follow the package mix instructions for three flavors of fruit juice. Or, if you have a blender, you can make your own variations in various shades. Freeze the fruit juice. Then, once the cubes are hard, place the like-cubes in separate bowls. Dress kids in paint-friendly t-shirts or play clothes, and set them in front of large pieces of white paper. Kids will delight in “water coloring” with their ice chips, and cool down as they color.

Similarly, you can use clear or colored ice cubes as building blocks to create ice cube castles and miniature ice forts for action figures. Kids will have fun racing to see whose architectural designs will withstand the heat the longest.

6. Initiate an environmentally-friendly water balloon fight.

Let’s face it. Nothing quite beats a water balloon fight on a sweltering summer afternoon. But, using tons of latex balloons is not necessarily environmentally friendly. We’re all about reusing materials, which is reflected in the amount of recycled plastic we use in our products.

So, consider investing in one of these eco-conscious updates to the classic water balloon. You’ll get all of the water-play fun without the cleanup or unnecessary waste.

We want to hear about your family’s favorite water games and activities. Sound off in the comments!

Written by: Parker Jones
Friday, June 15, 2018

Kids' Nutrition: Eating Healthy for Mental and Physical Development

Getting kids to eat healthfully can be a handful, especially during the summer months when it seems like ice cream trucks are parked at every corner. But hot-weather treats aside, parents know that childhood food issues vary wildly. While some parents end up pleading with picky eaters to finish what’s on their plates, others find themselves carefully monitoring their kids’ sugar and junk food intake, hoping to help children establish reasonable eating habits.

And then, there’s our instant gratification culture. Schools feature candy-filled vending machines, and fast food ads play on a loop on TV; truly, youth are bombarded with chances to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient options at every turn.

Studies show that nutrition has a profound impact on learning, cognitive ability, and physical health, making healthy eating a cornerstone of child development. So, it’s vital that kids get proper nutrition and create healthy habits.

How can you make eating nutritious food fun, easy, and sustainable? Read on for ideas!

1. Make Your Kids’ Favorite Produce a Priority

As Michael Pollan distilled in his wildly popular book on nutrition, Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Pollan says in this video:

“The key issue is whether you’re eating real food, or, as I like to call it, ‘edible food-like substances,’ which is processed food.”

Kids don’t usually need to watch their (healthy) calories. They’re still growing, after all! But Pollan is right about one thing: kids benefit from eating a diet of mostly unprocessed, perishable foods, with lots of fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that populations that consume an abundance of produce, and limit their intake of animal products, tend to have better long-term health outcomes and longevity.

So, how do you get kids to eat their produce? Variety. By introducing children to lots of different fruits and veggies, they’ll be more likely to find varieties they enjoy. So, if your kid absolutely hates broccoli, nix it and try grilled asparagus, green peppers, or celery with peanut butter instead. Can’t get your child to finish their apple? Bust out banana slices, mangoes, or blueberries. And remember: tastes change. Just because she doesn’t like mushrooms now, doesn’t mean she’ll always hate them.

2. Eating for Sustained Energy

According to, “Hunger and food insecurity might increase the risk for lower dietary quality and undernutrition. In turn, undernutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and school performance.”

And, although it’s counter-intuitive, kids can be both overweight and malnourished, depending on the type of food they’re eating. According to, a healthy diet for kids should include: a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or natural dairy products, a variety of protein--either animal or plant-based--healthy oils, and limited saturated fat and sodium intake. The highest nutrient-dense foods are fruits and vegetables. If you can’t afford to shop organic, be sure to watch your produce thoroughly and look for produce that’s in season and locally-grown.

And if you’re concerned about your kids’ calorie intake needs, this handy article from Mayo Clinic is a good resource. It outlines different calorie needs depending on age and activity level.

3. Have Healthy Snacks Handy

Heading to the playground? Pack a bag of healthy snacks to curb those mid-play cravings, keep kids energized, and avoid the fast food drive-thru on the way home. It’s a good idea to bring a snack that provides a healthy mix of carbs, healthy fats, and protein. For example, mix a bag of whole-wheat pretzels, cheese cubes, and grapes. Or, pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat, and add some baby carrots to the mix. The combination creates a complete protein and a nutritionally-balanced meal.

Honestly, eating healthy doesn’t have to require lots of time and planning. With a little bit of mindfulness, some light meal prep, and a trip to the grocery, eating healthy can be affordable and simple. And if you’re super strapped for time, some grocery stores offer curbside pick up.

4. Model Mindful Eating

Kids are sponges, watching and imitating our behavior. So, if you eat healthy foods and make it a normal part of everyday life, they’ll be more likely to fill up on whole foods and crave delicious, healthy produce like bananas, tomatoes, colorful salads, and complex carbs such as rice and whole-wheat pasta.

What are your tips for getting kids to eat healthy? Leave your comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones