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Playground Equipment Blog
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