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Playground Equipment Blog
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 Parents.com 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 cdc.gov, “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 Health.gov, 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