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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

5 Reasons to Hike With Your Kids This Summer

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

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

1. Practice good environmental stewardship.

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

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

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

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

2. Get some exercise.

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

3. Connect with nature and appreciate wildlife.

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

4. Spend some unplugged quality time together.

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

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

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

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

Our Hiking Tips:

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

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

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Outdoor Park Adventures: Nature-Inspired Crafts for Kids

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

Create an exploration kit!

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

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

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

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

Assemble driftwood art and nature frames.

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

Driftwood Art:

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

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

Nature frame:

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

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

Make a pinecone bird feeder.

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

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

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

Written by: Parker Jones
Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Five Reasons Your Child Should Join a Team Sport

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

1. Teamwork creates community.

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

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

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

2. Team sports aid in emotional intelligence and development.

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

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

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

3. Teamwork teaches responsibility and commitment.

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

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

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

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

5. Athletic involvement can increase academic performance.

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

Remember to listen to your child.

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

Written by: Parker Jones