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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Origins and Myths of Thanksgiving

Ahhh, Thanksgiving: togetherness, parades, and tons of turkey (or tofu stuffing). Our team looks forward to celebrating with friends and family each year. But did you know that many of the holiday stories and anecdotes surrounding Thanksgiving are myths? Read on to learn the real origins and traditions of American and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday.

It’s true that the Mayflower brought Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth in 1620. And in 1621, they celebrated a bountiful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by the Wampanoag tribe.

But the origin story for the holiday was established retroactively, in the 1830s. At that time, a 19th-century magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, helped to invent the Thanksgiving we still celebrate. After reading about the 1621 feast, Hale began using it as a model for modern Thanksgiving, publishing recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie in the popular Godey's Lady's Book. She also lobbied Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving an official holiday— and succeeded! According to accounts, Lincoln declared it official in 1863 as a kind of “thank you” to U.S. citizens for their perseverance and bloody Civil War victories, like the battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln recognized that the people needed something positive to celebrate to bring the country together and give the people hope.

It might not be the turkey that’s making you sleepy.

Do you have an uncle who takes a nap after the big meal every year? Well, his drowsiness might have more to do with booze, the overall size of the feast, or even a general feeling of holiday relaxation. Because the level of the organic amino acid, tryptophan, in most Thanksgiving birds isn't responsible for drowsiness. In fact, Many other rich foods—like beef or soybeans—report higher concentrations of the amino acid.

But that isn’t to say you should steer clear. Tryptophan produces other helpful substances, like melatonin, serotonin, and kynurenines. Serotonin affects mood and gives you a boost; melatonin aids in sleep regulation and kynurenines are thought to be immune system regulators. So, eat up. And treat yourself to a nap, regardless of the reason.

Squanto’s whole history was rather bleak.

Tisquantum, known as Squanto, was indeed a significant figure in the establishment of the colonies. He and his people, the Patuxet—a part of the Wampanoag tribe—previously lived on the Pilgrims’ settlement. He generously acted as a translator and diplomatic aid to the New Englanders as they began trading with the indigenous people. And he also taught the Pilgrims the proper way to plant crops and showed them where to fish.

However, that story doesn’t have such happy beginnings. The English captured Squanto 1614 and later sold him into slavery in Spain. At one point, he traveled back to England and learned to speak English. And finally, in 1619, he returned to his homeland, only to find the entire Patuxet tribe had been wiped out by smallpox. He then met the Pilgrims a few years later. So, at the time of the “First Thanksgiving,” his tribe was gone. But he used his skills to help the new settlers.

American and Canadian Thanksgiving fall during different Autumn months.

Canadian Thanksgiving already happened this year; it fell on Monday, October 8th, which was Columbus Day in the United States. American Thanksgiving will be on Thursday, November 22nd. So what’s the reason for the staggered dates? One possibility: because Canada is farther north, harvest comes earlier, which calls for an October celebration instead.

In Canada, Thanksgiving represents a spiritual holiday giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. In the U.S., we claim to celebrate the pilgrims’ feast with indigenous people, even if that’s not the whole story, while Canadians view Thanksgiving as a more culturally-neutral event. But plenty of Canadian historical dates coincide with the holidays. For example, when Canada was colonized, celebrations tended to mark Martin Frobisher’s successful crossing in 1578 or even war victories.

Did you know these surprising Thanksgiving facts?

I’ll have to admit, we were pretty shocked by some of the true origins of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the version we were taught in school doesn’t represent the whole truth? Maybe the positive takeaway is that we don’t need to feel obligated or bound by traditions that don’t suit us. Transform your holiday and fill it with rituals that makes sense to your family. What kinds of traditions do you celebrate? Sound off in the comments section below.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Navigating Black Friday and Holiday Sales to Get the Most for Your Family

According to statistics, Americans plan to spend $59.57 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this year. And while much has been written about the need for Americans to curtail excess consumerism, for many people, especially working and middle-class families, Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent the only time of the year when they can afford to make big purchases. And not all of these purchases are frivolous. Some of the big-ticket items include mattresses, computers, Christmas presents, and entertainment for the kids. In a rough economy, many families have no choice but to brave the malls despite the stress, noise, and crowds.

We’re here to help make the process a little easier! How can you get the most bang for your buck without losing your sanity? Read on to find out our tips for getting the most out of the holiday sales.

Determine your budget.

Even with the impressive sales, shopping on Black Friday doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up spending within your means. Before opening your wallet, decide how much you can actually afford to spend, and stick to that number. Yes, that fancy new leather purse would go perfectly with your wardrobe, but pause before you buy. Don’t splurge at the detriment of quality of life and put it on a credit card. Determine which friends and family you plan to shop for, and then follow these tips:

Make a list. Check it twice.

Before you jump into the fray, make sure you’ve made a list of everything you want to buy. If it’s helpful, divide your list into two columns: needs and wants. A replacement dishwasher might go into the “needs” category along with school shoes for the kids and a family computer. While in the “wants” column, you might jot down items like a flat-screen TV, a new curling iron, or a high-tech cooler for camping trips. The key is to figure out who has the best deals ahead of time and plan your attack. From tech to clothes, many websites list the best sales to expect. So start plotting!

Some of the best deals happen on Cyber Monday.

You may not need to spend hours trying to find parking after all! Many retailers are putting their best deals up on Cyber Monday, meaning you can surf from the privacy of your couch (or your office during lunch). Check out this list of Cyber Monday sales, from big box retailers and online outlets. According to some websites, deals are already happening.

Pause. Breathe. Reflect.

Do you get a rush from online shopping? You’re not alone. And you may attribute that euphoric feeling to the purchase of a new item. However, studies show that dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, meaning you can actually get that rush just by window shopping.

So, put your wishlist items in your shopping cart, enjoy the dopamine boost, and then decide whether or not you can afford to buy it. If it’s the right choice, it will still be there ten minutes later, after you’ve made yourself a cup of tea or walked around the block.

Check out Canada’s “Black Friday” on the day after Christmas.

Canadians and Americans can take advantage of each other’s big sales days by purchasing from each other’s companies online. In Canada, you probably won’t find department stores flooded with people the day after Thanksgiving the way they are in the United States.

In fact, Canadians’ big shopping day, also known as Boxing Day, falls on the 26th of December and is recognized as a holiday. It may have taken its name from a U.K. tradition in which heads of the household boxed gifts for their servants. It’s also a day when stores hope to liquidate gifts that didn’t get sold as holiday presents. And many big-box stores participate.

Couldn’t afford to buy that fancy toy set for your kids at market price? Try searching the web for holiday sales in Canada. If you need to take advantage of a day-after-Christmas sale, consider printing out a picture of the gift for kids or family members to unbox on Christmas morning.

What’s your game plan for Black Friday shopping this year?

Do you have any tried and true strategies? Please share your tips with us! Let’s shop smarter together.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Channel the Sugar Rush into Physical Fitness with These Post-Halloween Activities

Halloween is one of the most festive times of the year--a time to dress up as our favorite characters, indulge your sweet tooth, and celebrate with family and friends. But even amidst the frivolity, it’s also important to maintain healthy habits, especially when consuming an above-average amount of sweets.

Studies show a correlation between an excess of sugar and health risks in children and teenagers. In fact, in a fairly recent recommendation from the American Heart Association, experts recommended that children consume less than six teaspoons of added sugars per day. Now, obviously, moderation is key. And of course, it’s okay for children to satisfy their cookie and candy cravings every now and then. But when it comes to healthy eating, too much of a good (read: delicious) thing can quickly become bad news for your health.

So how does one strike a balance? One way to mitigate the sugar rush is to channel that spike into positive physical exercise and burn off some excess energy. Read on for our favorite autumnal activities.

Play a fun game of “Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Ghost.”

A riff off of the classic game “Duck, Duck, Goose,” children will delight in playing this Halloween-themed update, taking turns and chasing one another around the circle, attempting to tag their peers. This is a great game because it can be modified to accommodate large and small groups.

If a large group of children is participating, consider designating two children to be “it.” This modification heightens the excitement, elevating the game to “challenge mode.” Kids burn more energy, and older kids can participate without getting bored.

Go on a nature hike and enjoy the fall leaves - and use them in your crafts.

This time of year can be absolutely breathtaking. The trees are ablaze with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. And the crisp fall weather invites you and your kids to dust off the sweaters and windbreakers and go hiking. And while you’re on the trail, fun hiking leaf collecting and craft opportunities abound. Some of our favorites?

Encourage children to collect their favorite leaves and use them for craft projects later. With some creativity and a few craft supplies, kids can make neat gifts and room decor items like these leaf coasters or autumn leaf mason jar candle holders. Fall leaves can also be used as stamps for their artwork or help kids get fancy with it by attempting these clay leaf bowls. Seriously, Pinterest is full of neat crafts for you to attempt with your kids.

Visit your favorite park and burn off some energy!

Shocker! We’re suggesting a day at the park. But there are several reasons why fall at the park is a wonderful idea, one of which is the moderate temperatures. Kids can run around for hours, exploring climbers and slides and other challenging activities, without the fear of them getting overheated. This means they can play for longer stretches and burn off that sugar buzz! Now is the time to visit new parks that feature balance beams, obstacle courses, and dramatic play activities that encourage physical exertion.

Go on a Jack-o-Lantern Walk

When it comes to fun holiday decorations, Halloween is almost as festive as Christmas with the colorful lights, pumpkins, and spooky yard displays dotting neighborhoods all over. So, why not take advantage of the sights and go on a family hike to see the local haunts, literally?

After-dusk walks can be risky if kids are flying solo, but they make a wonderful activity when parents can act as chaperones. Consider taking the family on a ramble through the most decked out neighborhoods. Take in the sights, play “name-that-jack-o-lantern,” and get inspiration for your own pumpkin carving and Halloween decorating. Bonus: Halloween neighborhood walks provide frighteningly good photo ops for the whole family.

What are some of your favorite Halloween outdoor activities? Leave them in the comments below.

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tips for Having a Safe and Happy Halloween

For kids, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year. Who doesn’t love eating candy, playing dress up, and hanging out with friends and family on a brisk, Autumn afternoon?

But as always at, safety comes first -- on the playground and during the holidays. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our best tips for keeping your Halloween safe, relaxed, and drama free. Because the only scary thing about trick-or-treating should be the costumes!

Plan Your Route in Advance

Leave little to chance by tracking your course ahead of time. When planning your walk, consult online resources that profile an area’s crime rates and browse “offender” lists. Consider visiting neighborhoods where you have family and friends, and focus on walking routes that are well lit with good visibility. (i.e., avoid houses that are tucked away off the road, or places with poorly-lit porches.)

If your kids are older and venturing out on their own, rehearse their route with them beforehand. Ask them to repeat it back to you if necessary. And arm them with as many resources as possible, including maps, phones, and flashlights.

If children are planning to stay close to home, and you’re friendly with your neighbors, work together to organize a fun route of friendly houses. Fun activities include leaving a “clue” at each house for kids to collect. In the end, children will assemble the clues to decode a hidden message or win a special prize.

Have an Allergy? Look for Teal Pumpkins

These cheerful, gem-toned pumpkins mean the house is allergy friendly. If any of your kiddos with allergies need extra incentive to hold off on candy until the very end after a parent has inspected the stash, promise a small prize in exchange for their good behavior and patience.

Be Mindful of Packaging

Only allow children to eat pre-packaged snacks. And make sure to check kids’ bag of loot before they dig in. That way, you can inspect the candy for tears and throw out things that might be compromised.

Sure, that apple or orange might seem like a healthy alternative, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Have fruit and other grocery-bought fresh snacks handy; throw them in a decorative bowl on the kitchen table. And feel free to compost the fruit from strangers.

Be Prepared and Pack the Essentials

Before kids go out, designate a parent to bring the safety gear. An accompanying adult should pack a kit of essentials in a backpack, purse, or jack-o-lantern sack. (Pro tip: your safety pack can be decorated to coordinate with your costume.) Remember to bring flashlights, plenty of water, and a first-aid kit. If anyone in your group has a severe allergy or asthma, include inhalers and EpiPens, too. And finally, since you’ll want to inspect most of the candy before kids eat it, feel free to bring some sweet treats of your own to tide them over.

Adjust Costumes for Safety

Add reflective tape to costumes, trick-or-treat bags, and wagons. And watch out for unruly accessories. For example, if a wand, sword, cane, or staff is part of your kid’s costume, make sure that it’s not too long or pointed on the end. A child could get hurt if they trip or fall, or accidentally hurt somebody else. And as always, be wary of anything with a drawstring. It is all too easy for it to catch on something and pose a hazard.

Use the Buddy System

Cross the street as a group. And make sure everyone in the group is accounted for before leaving for another neighborhood. If there is an even number of children in your group, assign each person a trick-or-treating partner. If there’s an uneven number, create a group of three. Do a head count every so often to make sure nobody gets left behind.

Go Out Before Sunset

Pick a window of time when it’s still light out. It’s a lot easier to keep track of your tiny ghouls and goblins when you can do a quick visual headcount. Block out an hour or two to trick-or-treat, and then head back home to enjoy your spoils!

What are your best Halloween safety tips?

We want to hear from you. What works for your family? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Easy and Affordable DIY Halloween Costumes for Any Budget

Sometimes, half of the fun in assembling a Halloween costume comes from creating a unique ensemble composed of upcycled and reimagined materials. And as an added bonus, making a costume allows you to bond with your child and engage your imaginations together, providing lots of quality together time.

There are a lot of benefits to the DIY approach; making your own costume can be more environmentally sustainable because you’re reusing clothes already in the waste stream. And the process gives you a chance to reevaluate your closet or dress-up drawer. I mean, who doesn’t love a walk down memory lane? (When was the last time I wore that leather jacket?!)

In the spirit of the fast-approaching spooky holiday, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite DIY costumes from around the web with tips for dressing your little trick-or-treater in a dynamite outfit, no matter what your budget.

Never underestimate the power of cardboard boxes.

Free, abundant, and versatile, we love cardboard boxes as a costume staple. (If you don’t have any at home, take a trip to your nearest recycling center to pick up some free cardboard.)

This article from Buzzfeed is chalk full of great costume ideas centered around cardboard boxes. Kids can dress up as a box of popcorn, a lego person, Steve from the game Minecraft, or a hot air balloon! Follow the instructions to copy one of these ideas, or use them as inspiration to create your own look. After all, rectangles are all around us! So think outside the box. (Pun very much intended!)

“Zombify” an outfit that’s already in your child’s closet.

Take an everyday outfit and make it “spooky” with the help of some face paint, glue, and monster makeup. Think zombie school kid, undead little league pitcher, or skeleton ballerina. Remember, before using a specialty face makeup, test a patch on the back of your child’s hand to make sure they aren’t allergic or sensitive. And have plenty of baby wipes and gentle face wash handy to correct any mistakes.

Organize a costume swap, plan ahead, or get creative with costume sources.

Consider swapping with friends to re-use pre-made costumes from yesteryear. Or raid your local Goodwill and Salvation Army. Have a bunch of kids in your family or friend group? Devise a group costume based on things the kids already have!

Another great resource to tap into? Parents’ private groups on Facebook. Also, check with family members (maybe Grandma has Dad’s old letterman’s jacket in a closet somewhere), scour garage sales during the summers, peruse eBay, or visit party supplies stores at the end of Halloween season, when they sell costumes at a steep discount.

Accessorize for a quick and reusable costume.

Little details can take an everyday outfit from drab to fab with little money and effort. Everybody knows a pair of cat ears and some eyeliner-drawn whiskers transform black tights and a t-shirt into an adorable kitty cat.

Apply this same principle to less traditional animals and characters. For example, a baggy sweatshirt, homemade ears, and drawn on features can instantly turn your kid into a bunny rabbit, fox, puppy, or pig! Use cheap eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick from the dollar store in lieu of expensive face paint and other novelty, pricey makeup.

Or, a string of pearls and a pair of oversized sunglasses can take a sweet dress from a formal look to that of a glamorous movie star. An old-timey cap worn with a pair of overalls and a handkerchief scream toddler train conductor. With the help of a few key accessories, kids can tap into their creative potential, while keeping your budget intact.

When DIY isn’t the right option for you.

Remember, DIY isn’t always cheaper, especially if you’re investing in hair dye and face paint. But be mindful that those items can be reused, which might save you money down the road if your kids play dress up a lot. However, sometimes buying a costume from a big box store IS the most affordable and time-saving solution; so, consider what’s right for your family, and do what works for you!

And if all else fails…

A broom and a pointed hat create a classic look and are available pretty much everywhere. When in doubt, go with what you know.

What Halloween costumes have you made with your kids? Do you have a favorite? Leave your Halloween inspiration in the comments below.

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Five Tips for a Healthier Halloween

Ah, the smell of fall leaves and hot apple cider. What could be more perfect than a cozy October afternoon? Fall is traditionally a time for chai and cookies and decadent Halloween treats.

But with a little bit of planning, you can retain the sweetness of the autumnal season while cutting back on the sugar-rich goodies and investing in your family’s health. Read on to find out tips for planning a healthier, more vibrant fall.

One: Invest in Healthier Pre-packaged Halloween Snacks

By now, we’ve all internalized the importance of giving out prepackaged foods to trick-or-treaters. It is, by far, the safer option, and it gives children and parents the peace of mind they need to actually enjoy their loot.

So why not opt for healthier bags of your favorite snacks? Pick prepackaged goodies that favor organic ingredients and have fewer allergens. (If someone in your family suffers from an allergen, look for houses sporting teal pumpkins in the yard. It’s a sign that the home is allergy-friendly.) Also, when choosing treats, hunt for yummy items that are low in sugar, dyes, and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Search for treats like Halloween Pretzels prewrapped in small bags, individually-wrapped dried fruit or fruit snack pouches, and whole-grain treats.

If buying healthy items in bulk doesn’t work for your budget, encourage your kids to fill up on healthy treats before they go out trick-or-treating. For example, check out these clementines decorated to look like pumpkins or spooky spiders, which can be made to be nut free. If you make healthy eating fun and engaging, kids will never miss the processed stuff.

Two: Give Out Non-Edible Treats

Not thrilled about buying yet another jumbo-sized bag of candy this year? Consider giving out different types of goodies instead. Parents can hand out crafts and non-edibles like Halloween- themed erasers, packs of crayons, or free printable coloring book pages.

Or, raid your change drawer and give out money. Kids will be thrilled to have pennies, dimes, and nickles to save for things they want. By finding alternatives, you’ll help kids expand their creativity and give them a fun activity to do while snacking on their spoils.

Three: Get Moving with a Halloween Hike or Scavenger Hunt

Get your steps in and engage kids with physical activity by organizing a Halloween hike! The more “characters,” the more fun it will be, so consider working with fellow parents to create a game or scavenger hunt for kids.

Plant spooky clues and dress up as your favorite villains, ushering groups of kids to their next checkpoint on the trail. Organize the hike with Halloween-themed maps or as a “Gold Rush” type game.

Remember, make sure kids use the buddy system. And consider working with your local park or trail to create an interactive experience. Or, if using a public space isn’t an option, do the same thing in somebody’s backyard. Kids will get exercise, think creatively, and meet new friends. Plus, interactive games help them develop problem-solving skills and give children a chance to practice teamwork.

Four: Save Some Candy for Later

Sure, let kids enjoy some of their hard-earned candy! But as a compromise, give them a set number of pieces to eat, requiring them to save the rest for later. This way, you’ll avoid stomach aches, quell an extreme sugar rush, and extend the fun over the course of days or weeks. Who doesn’t love an extended Halloween celebration?

Kids can take a piece of candy to school with them in their lunch each day, or eat one when they come home from school as an afternoon treat. Doling out candy slowly will help teach kids essential skills like moderation, balance, and delayed gratification.

Five: Start a New Healthy Tradition

There are lots of fun activities that don’t involve candy at all. Consider taking your kids pumpkin carving, apple picking, or on a haunted hayride. They’ll make memories to last a lifetime, and look forward to the special tradition every year. By centering the fun around experiences rather than treats, you’ll be making Halloween memorable and healthy at the same time.

How are you planning to make Halloween healthier in your home? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fall Activities

Fall is upon us and with it a plethora of delightful fall-specific activities. This is the time of year when the weather is cool enough to wear a jacket, but warm enough still to sometimes get by with just a t-shirt instead. The perfect time for families to be together outdoors. We’ve gathered a list of some popular activities for you to look for in your area to celebrate the changing of the season.

Pumpkin and Apple Picking

One of the quintessential activities for fall is pumpkin or apple picking. Going to the pumpkin patch gives children a chance to pick their own pumpkin to be decorated or carved for Halloween. Before picking the perfect pumpkin, make sure to check out these tips from The Kitchn to make your Jack-o-Lantern last longer.

Orchards are almost as American a pastime as the apple pies that come from the apples there. Remember, an orchard is often more than apple picking: it’s cider, hayrides, and lots of unrealized physical activity for children.

Football/Soccer Games

Whether it's a high school or game, no one can argue otherwise. Fall is for football. Another game that has steadily grown in popularity in America is soccer. There’s a game almost every weekend and most large cities have at least one local team to watch. So, have a tailgate party, a barbeque or just hang out around the tube and enjoy a game or two.

Local Festivals

Since autumn is when the weather is crisp and cool, it’s the perfect time of year for festivals. Check out your local area for fun festivals to take your children to. There is normally a large variety of different festivals as well. From music to food, there is something for everyone. They’re normally only a few bucks per child, and offer lots of fun in unexpected ways.

Historical Villages

There’s always room for a little history in the fall. Historical villages are normally rife with activities that are specific to the Nation’s history. This is also a way to take children out and nature away from electronics for a few hours.

For those of you in the Indianapolis area, this is the time of year to take your child to Conner Prairie. They will get to experience what early days in colonial America were like and might even like it.

Camping and Hiking

Most people think of summer as the time to camp, but really, early fall is the time to go. The days are warm, they’re less busy and the trails are quiet. Even if you don’t go stay for the evening, it can be a good day trip to a local, state, or national park. Just make sure to check the park ahead of time to make sure you know when they close for the winter.

These are some of our fall favorites, but what are yours?

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Saving on Team Sports

Last week, we discussed some fun outdoor games that can be played as alternatives to increasingly expensive team sports. This week, we’ll discuss some ways that you can lower the cost of team sports to better fit your price range.

Hand Me Downs

This tip works especially well with families that have multiple children that share similar interests. To get the most out of this tip you need to do the following:

  • Plan.
  • If you know that all of your children want to play the same sport, you can start by buying good quality items for the first child and then handing them down. This is only with sharable items like balls, bats, gloves, shorts, jerseys and the like. For more personal pieces of equipment, like mouth guards, shin guards, and cups, you should plan to buy a new one for each child.
  • Teach them basic equipment care. Equipment lasts a lot longer if it is properly cared for. Some equipment needs to be aired out after each use, some needs to be hand washed instead of machine washed, and some even needs special oils. Learn how to take care of your children’s equipment so that you can teach them. And then the hand me downs will last even longer!
  • Reward keeping items in good condition. Anyone that has come from a large family knows that there is always a Pig Pen or destroyer in every bunch. If one child, even if it is the oldest, consistently destroys their equipment, make them the receiver of the hand-me-downs and the other child(ren) get the better quality gear that year. Even if it’s just one small item, it will make the other children feel valued and the destroyer will learn that there are benefits to taking care of their equipment.Anyone that has come from a large family knows that there is always a Pig Pen or destroyer in every bunch. If one child, even if it is the oldest, consistently destroys their equipment, make them the receiver of the hand-me-downs and the other child(ren) get the better quality gear that year. Even if it’s just one small item, it will make the other children feel valued and the destroyer will learn that there are benefits to taking care of their equipment.

Equipment Exchanges

A close relative to the Hand Me Down strategy, you can exchange equipment. Maybe Suzy didn’t like basketball and wants to try soccer and Sam didn’t like soccer and wants to try basketball. You can save some money by having Sam and Suzy trade equipment if they want to try the other sports. If you have enough of a group, children can try different sports over time.

Buy Second-Hand

There are lots of places to get second hand equipment: yard sales, pawn shops, and some sports stores just to name a few. Second-hand immediately lowers the cost and at times, it is almost as good as new.

Ask for Alternative Payment Methods

Spring and summer are always interesting times of year because its when you see the most team car washes. Car washes and bake sales are not the only ways to make money for your child to play a sport. Sometimes, there are ways to volunteer for events to pay fees and purchase equipment for your child. Another popular way to pay is an exchange of services. Some people pay for sports and musical lesson by exchanging babysitting services or lawn maintenance services. Your child may even be able to pay for their own equipment and fees in this way teaching them more about responsibility. Never hesitate to ask, because they just might have a way for you to pay other than cash.

Sign Up Early

Planning ahead is almost always essential to save money. Generally, there will be an early admission cost that is lower than signing up later.

Have Your Child Try it Before You Sign Them Up

This is probably the best way to help your children learn to be savvy spenders. As an adult, you often learn the true value of a dollar, which can be deduced to time spent at work. You’re much less willing to go out and buy the best equipment for a sport if there’s a risk that you might go to one practice and hate it. There’s several ways to get children to try out sports:

  • PE and Gym Classes. That’s right, have them try it out at school! The PE curriculum is designed to build many different muscles groups and skills as well as introducing children to many different sports. If they come home from school after the unit on bowling and want to play, you can always try the next tip before you spend on a sport.
  • Try it as a Family. You can always go outside with a kick the ball around together to find out if they like soccer, set up a night to go bowling if that’s what they’re in to, or just borrow a baseball and bat to play together.
  • Look for Local Events. There are often community groups that host little events or are willing to let you try a game for free.

Team Sports are Possible!

There are definite advantages to playing team sports that are difficult to replicate in an individual setting. As with almost any financial investment, it is worthwhile to take the time to calculate the costs, both in time and money, before taking the plunge in signing up for team sports.

How did you start playing in team sports? Does your family have any ways that they cut costs? Did your family growing up have any tricks to making it more affordable? We’d love to hear them!

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When Team Sports Hike Their Cost -- Take a Hike!

Fall is coming, and with it the pressure as a parent to enroll your child in team sports. Where this used to be a small fee to have your child involved, it has become a huge strain and burden on most families. The cost of sports involvement has skyrocketed over the years to costing in the thousands of dollars per year. One blogger, Stats Dad, posted his personal costs for his family on his blog. The results paint a clear picture as to why it costs so much. An article published by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play shows that the kids being most hurt are those from low income families. What makes this even worse is that the children that need access to the benefits of team sports the most are the ones with the least opportunity to engage in them.

What happened to free play and exercise? Often times the suggestions include individual sports like golf (expensive), martial arts (very expensive), and horseback riding (MEGA expensive), which are inaccessible to many students, especially for those in city areas. There are local clubs and groups available to play team sports as well, but those aren’t always an option for everyone.

So what can we do as a community? We’ve put together a few ideas together to help you get started with some affordable outdoor activities in your local area.

Group Play

Games like tag, Mother May I?, and even just kicking a ball around to a game of their own making can present children with lots of benefits. They are still cooperating with others and learning basic social skills, and the best part is that a lot of these things are free! If you coordinate with other parents in the area you can each take a turn making sure children are safe, helping everyone involved. Here’s a few ideas to try with a few neighborhood kids:

  • Tag/Freeze Tag
  • Mother May I?
  • Jump Rope/Double Dutch - Click here for a list of jump rope rhymes!
  • Spud! - The rules are simple and the game goes fast.
  • Kickball - While this is normally needs a larger area, it can be adapted for a smaller area.
  • Badminton - This is particularly good because the “birdie” doesn’t fly very far and doesn’t move very fast. Also, you can get equipment fairly cheaply.
  • Hiking - click here
  • to read about some of the benefits that come from hiking!
  • Check out our Blast from the Past: Classic Yard Games to Play Today for even more ideas!

Individual Sports

There are many low cost sports that are individual. Even using a jump rope on their own presents a child with many physical benefits. Try out a few of these ideas:

  • Rollerblading/skating
  • Jump rope
  • Bicycling
  • Skateboarding
  • Scootering
  • Basketball *If you have a hoop at home*

School Sports

While school sports may have some fees, they tend to be significantly less than joining an outside team or group. Most times the school provides the uniforms (one less cost) and some of the equipment (yet another cost). This actually makes playing a team sport doable for children.

Sometimes, in addition to more traditional sports teams, there are athletic clubs. I remember doing a fitness class with my 7th grade science teacher along with several other students. I still smile when I think back on it, and it didn’t cost my parents anything.

Spend Wisely on Team Sports

I try to offer you many alternatives to team sports, but some sports are only team sports. If you look at this list and know your child definitely MUST play basketball or baseball or soccer, there are ways to make it more affordable. Next week, we’ll delve more deeply into ways to save if your child wants to do a team sport.

What are some alternatives to team sports that you have tried? Sound off in the comments below!!!

Written by: Parker Jones
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