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Playground Equipment Blog
Friday, January 25, 2019

Making Play Spaces Safe for Winter

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you know by now that winter can be one of the best seasons to get outside and enjoy getting exercise. Winter can offer so many fun opportunities with just a little bit of preparation.

At the same time, there’s no denying there are added risks to be considered. In the northern half of the country, winter means freezing temperatures, snow and ice. In the South and the West, winter brings with it chilly downpours and wind. In either case, spending time outdoors means dealing with what is usually the most inclement season of the year.

However, winter doesn’t mean you have to close your park or play areas until the spring thaw arrives. There’s plenty of ways to make sure your play equipment is safe for use and your parks are full of activities throughout the season. Use this list to make sure visitors of all ages are able to enjoy winter safely.

Make Sure Your Surfacing Is Holding Up

Surfacing is perhaps the blandest aspect of a playground (particularly for the kids), but it is central to the safety of everyone playing in that space.

Let’s begin with the kids of surfacing you ought to already have installed for play. There are a lot of options to provide an attractive, protective covering for your play area, and each option has its own positives and negatives. Finding the right playground surface to keep kids safe is integral in any season.

However, even with the best surfaces, there’s always the risk the weather reduces their effectiveness. If your surface is not level, water, snow, and ice can pool, creating a slick space children may slip on. Engineered wood fiber can also pool water under the surface and create slick areas you can’t immediately see.

Extreme cold weather can cause some surfaces to crack or become unlevel, increasing the chance a running child trips and falls.

To reduce these risk, start by clearing any pooling water or snow anywhere on the play space (as well on walkways that lead to your playground). You should also carefully walk the whole surface to give it a thorough inspection whenever possible. Additionally, if you have mats or tarps to cover the surfacing before storms, use them whenever possible.

See How Your Structures Handle the Plunging Temperatures

The first thing you can do to check your structure is to look out for any icy buildup. You don’t want children playing anywhere covered in ice because it seriously increases the risk of slips and falls. Since much playground equipment involves climbing, there’s a greater chance of significant falls.

Even if ice isn’t present, there may still be other risks. Playground equipment is designed to be durable, but that doesn’t mean it won’t begin to wear down in rough weather over time and without regular maintenance. Take particular care to inspect wooden structures, since wood is more susceptible to weather-related deterioration than either plastic or metal.

That doesn’t mean you can just assume plastics and metals are holding up, though. Given enough time, use, and troublesome weather, any object will wear down and become less sturdy. This can be particularly dangerous with children playing on these structures. Bolts may loosen in changing temperatures, leaving slides or bridges less secure than they should be. If metal, wood, or plastic splits it can leave sharp edges exposed.

Bring in a Professional

There’s only so much you can do as someone who is untrained in playground safety. The best course of action—particularly for those who have play spaces in areas with rough winter weather—is to bring in professionals to check over everything and make sure it’s safe for children.

A Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) will be able to inspect every aspect of your park or playground and note all the serious risks you have to look out for. Knowing what can go wrong helps you prepare so it never goes wrong, so having a CPSI come even before winter sets in can be a real benefit.

If you don’t have a CPSI in your area, courses are available, so you may be able to train yourself, adding that extra bit of protection every time you walk out to look at your structures.

Add Winter-Friendly Activities as Alternatives

Winter could definitely use a PR boost. While people often feel it’s the season that restricts outdoor activities the most, there’s actually plenty you can do indoors and outdoors.

So, take heart. Even if your playground for some reason needed to be closed for the winter, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer plenty of activities to keep people happy and active.

If you have open fields, consider creating a cross country skiing track. If your area is more hilly, open those hills up to sledding. With the purchase of a few sets of snowshoes, you can introduce people to their first snowshoe walks through park paths.

Some areas get a lot of snow, and you can take advantage of all that powder. Build snow mazes or snow forts where kids can play and explore.

Some activities actually improve in the winter as well. Find out if your area has any birds that stay through the winter weather. If so, you can organize bird watching tours.

With all those outdoor activities, you’ll want to have a place for everyone to just get warm. So, set up outdoor heated areas. Build bonfires and set up some outdoor heaters. You can have a little bar in the same area where you can serve hot cocoa and hot tea.

Winter does not have to be a season that keeps people indoor. You can provide your community with a safe, fun, and adventurous outdoor experience. Whether you’re facing chilly rains or foot upon foot of snow, there are ways to keep your equipment safe for use and provide winter-only activities that will leave your community looking forward to winter instead of fearing it.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Making a Hobby of Your Health

Next week is National Healthy Weight Week, which conveniently falls within January, which is
National Hobby Month. Those two things may seem completely unrelated to some, but any health expert will tell you that they actually have to go together.

This is an important point because, too often, we associate getting healthy with getting skinny, and getting skinny with short-term, reckless diets.

If you really want to trim inches from your waist or just get up the stairs without having to catch your breath, the best way to do that is by making a hobby out of healthy living practices. This isn’t a single, short-term life change but a whole revolution in how you approach your diet, your fitness, and your life. By making a hobby of your health, you transform a seemingly impossible and much dreaded task into a fun challenge you look forward to every day.

Your Diet Hobby

Many of us have a bias when we think about eating healthy. We conjure in our minds all the disgusting veggies our parents made us eat as children. Or else, we think about those abortive efforts earlier when we fixed salads for dinner and went to bed hungry every night.

But eating healthy doesn’t have to be unpleasant or a chore. In fact, it can be an adventure. Have you ever pondered taking a cooking course? Eating healthy can be as much fun as any Italian cooking class you might take.

Challenge yourself to find recipes that are tasty and filling without requiring unhealthy ingredients and cooking practices. There are plenty of great guides that show the parameters for a healthy meal and healthy diet. Take it as a creative challenge and find ways to make your favorite meals in a way that meets those limits.

If you need some help, there are tons of cook books focused on healthier diets out there and also more healthy recipe sites than you can imagine. Browse a few and introduce a “healthy dinner night” to your household. You can start once a month and expand from there once you’ve found a few recipes you like enough to cook over and over again.

Your Exercise Hobby

If there’s anything that keeps us from pursuing healthier lives, it’s exercise. The concept itself feels like such a burden. We’re already tired (more on that in a bit); we’re already busy. Who wants to take time away from our rare and limited free time to run five miles in the cold at 5 a.m.?

Here’s the thing, though: exercise doesn’t have to be a bore, a chore, or a burden. It can be fun. Remember when you were a kid and all you wanted to do was get outside and run around? That running around, that play, was exercise. The problem you may have is not a hatred of exercise but a lack of play in your life.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in some video games and TV binging sometimes, but you may find you feel better and have even more fun turning off the screen and getting outside to play.

But isn’t that ridiculous? Adults playing kickball and tag on the playground, you just don’t see that, right? It’s not actually as ridiculous as it sounds. In fact, play is a highly recommended way to get into shape. To begin with, there are plenty of adult sports leagues for people of every level of experience, skill, and fitness. Did you love shooting hoops as a kid? Find an adult team in your community and get back to it. Miss the days when you could play soccer every weekend? Go find a team. You’ll be surprised how many indoor and outdoor adult sport activities are available. You can even find kickball leagues without much looking at all.

The same goes for playgrounds. While you shouldn’t be pushing kids off their swings and getting stuck on their slides, a lot of parks are now offering adult fitness equipment that you’ll be surprised to find out is basically kids’ equipment built for our bigger, adult selves. You can swing across the monkey bars, climb ladders, and spin a ship’s wheel like a real sea captain, all while getting healthier and stronger.

This is why you want to make exercise a hobby instead of a routine. Hobbies are fun, and exercise can be fun. Once getting in shape feels like fun, you won’t have to force yourself to do it. You’ll look forward to it.

Your Sleep Hobby

Any overworked, exhausted person out there is going to love this one. Make a note to remind yourself: you deserve and you need more sleep.

Common sense and experience tell you that more sleep means more productivity at work and in your personal life, but health experts have also long known that overall body and mind health has to incorporate sufficient sleep. Not getting enough sleep can mean more appetite, which leads to more weight gain.

Unfortunately, more than a third of us are sleep deprived. That’s not just making us hungrier, it’s also sapping us of the energy we need to get to that exercise that we require and to find the creativity for some of that healthy cooking.

Of course, when you’re tired you can feel like it’s hopeless to get back to getting enough sleep. Thankfully, there are some great sleep improvement tips out there.

Try, for instance, setting a stricter sleep schedule so you don’t stay up later than you should. You can also cut back on foods and drinks (and smoking) which keep you awake. Introducing a relaxing bedtime routine can also work wonders.

Your Stress-Free Hobby

If you can say anything about modern adults, it’s that we’re stressed. We work a lot. We don’t get paid enough. We have a lot of bills. And our brains never turn off thanks to 24/7 technology at our fingertips.

You know you’re stressed.—you don’t need us to tell you that—but you may not know that stress has a lot to do with how overweight and unhealthy you are.

So, if you want to lose some weight and feel better, you need to address your stress issues. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend you just up and quit your job and become a yoga guru (unless that’s really already up your alley), but there are plenty of ways to reduce stress in healthy and fun ways.

Here’s a bonus at the outset: just picking up the other hobbies on this list will already work wonders to reduce your stress. Eating healthy, working out, and sleeping more can put a serious dent in your stress levels.

That doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to deal with stress. Some parts of life are just stressful. Being a parent of young kids is stressful. Work can be stressful. Difficult family relationships can be stressful. Bills, debts, and other financial obligations are stressful.

In short, you’re going to feel stressed sometimes, even if you work out, sleep, and eat right. However, there are still a lot of ways to reduce even that unavoidable stress. Consider taking up meditation or getting into yoga (guru or not). You could also start journaling (getting out stressful thoughts is really helpful) or leaning into some quiet relaxation time. Put on quiet music (or enjoy the silence), light a candle, and just relax in a comfy chair or bath.

You can also cut out some high-stressor elements in your life like caffeine and smoking.

If you combine all these fun and healthy hobbies, you’ll find, perhaps much to your surprise, that your healthy weight becomes a far more achievable goal.

The key to all of these is that being healthy doesn’t have to feel like you’re taking on a new job. Being healthy can be fun. It can be a hobby. If you look at it the right way and follow the right strategies, you’ll be looking better, feeling healthier, and enjoying slimming down before you know it.
Written by: Ben Thompson

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Letting Kids Be Kids

Every parent knows the term and dreads being called it: the helicopter parent. And yet, for as much as we all intend to take a hands-off approach to parenting and encourage independence as soon as the little ones can walk, we still catch ourselves hovering above, watching every step, worrying over every little daring play choice the kiddies make.

That isn’t just bad for our stress level as parents, it’s bad for the kids, too. There’s tons of research that proves kids need free play.

That means play that isn’t guided by nervous wreck Mom and paranoid Dad. Kids have to play and play independently in order to learn and grow up. It’s a crucial part of development. Letting kids explore the world helps them get to know it on their own terms, in their own way. In other words: we’ve got to back off and let kids be kids, for their own good.

While it’s no excuse to be neglectful, most modern parents could stand to teach themselves a few lessons for once, namely, how to chill out.

And that’s what we’re here to do. If you want to cool your helicoptering jets, try to follow the advice below to calm your worries and prepare your kids for the work they need to do in their free play.

Build Up Their Survival Skills

We’re not talking about teaching them to survive in the woods alone for a week (although, it doesn’t hurt to know how…maybe when they’re a little older), we’re talking about the basics of how we adults get through our day-to-day lives.

If we’ve got one basic job as parents (beyond just keeping the kiddos safe), it’s teaching them how to live without us. So, make it a focal point in your parenting.

Kids need to know how to talk to other people, how to speak respectfully, how to react to bullies, and how to deal with dangerous situations. They also need to know how to behave responsibly, how to respond with words instead of violence, and how to play in a safe manner.

The better you teach kids lessons like these, the more you can feel comfortable that they can handle the tough situations that come up when they run off to take on the world on their own.
Keep in mind that this is a continuous process. Just as you aren’t going to stop watching your kids like an obsessive hawk overnight, they aren’t going to absorb these skills right away, especially at a young age. This is a process you work through together over the long-term, but as you start seeing improvements, you may also see a general relaxation of your sense of vigilance.

Draw the Bigger Picture for Them

Here’s something we tend to forget about kids these days: they understand far more about the world than we give them credit for. We don’t have to dumb everything down.

Of course, that isn't an open invitation to spill all the dark secrets of adulthood into their ear all at once. There are moments they will need the harsh realities of life softened, but you can be confident if you patiently show them the general contours of the world, they will understand, and they will respond. In fact, they’ll respond better because you spoke to them honestly and on a more mature level.

So, while you’re teaching them how to survive in the big bad world without you (for at least five minutes), you can also teach them why they need to know all that. Explain to them how accidents can happen, why you worry about accidents, why it’s important they follow all the lessons you’re teaching them.

In general, just learn how to talk to your kids in an effective manner that relates how you feel, why you worry, and why they should behave in a certain way.

Again, they won’t get it all at once. They will make mistakes in their learning, as we all do, but they will respond to this approach over time.

Find the Parks You Can Trust and Trust Them

Many of us have nightmares about letting our eyes off the kids for an instant when we get to the park. Our protective (and over-protective) minds race to find all the potential dangers within reach of our little darlings. There are streams that aren’t blocked off where kids could tumble in. The playground equipment hasn’t been maintained and there are areas where you worry a kid could fall. There’s no border between the park and a busy street.

How on earth can a loving parent take their eyes off their kids when there are so many threats?

Well, if nothing else, that kind of environment certainly makes it harder. So, make your life easier and find a playground and park that you feel more comfortable and safe in. If your area has multiple parks within a reasonable distance, give each of them an audition.

Look for high quality and safe playground equipment and areas that meet all your safety concerns. You can use a playground safety checklist to see if one of the local parks makes the grade. If they do, you should be able to relax a little more.

Take a Seat on a Park Bench

Here’s the best part of landing your parenting helicopter for a bit: you get to take a break. If you’ve taught your kids to play safely, behave well and safely, and checked the play area for safety, then give yourself a hand (and a nice cup of coffee) and take a seat on the park bench for a bit.

In other words, just let the kids play. Importantly, that doesn’t mean to just leave them to their own devices and abandon them for hours in the park. You should still be near and keeping general tabs on them. Learning how to actively watch while still backing off is an important part of your parental education at this point. You want to be close and aware, in case there is something that goes wrong, but you can also take that crucial step back that gives kids the chance to experience some of that free play on their own and with their friends.

It may not seem like much, but getting that extra bit of space between you and your children can be incredibly helpful and therapeutic. That little extra time to yourself, that little extra time for their play, can make it easier to manage your stress while helping them develop. And, as a bonus, the kids may even start behaving better and respecting their boundaries more. Once you put a little trust in them and in your park, they’ll feel the extra responsibility and respond to it.

It may not be easy breaking a long and deeply ingrained habit of helicopter parenting, but committing to letting your kids be kids is possible, with just a little extra focus on helping them grow up.
Written by: Ben Thompson
Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Getting Excited to Get Outside In Winter

Winter may be the most beautiful season of the year, and yet, it’s also the season we feel the most distant from nature. Instead of getting out to see the snowy hills or the rain-drenched fields, we huddle inside, living on artificial light, and trying to scratch our nature itch by looking at photos someone else took of the great wonders of the outside world.

It’s a new year, folks, and it’s the time of resolutions. If last week’s resolutions weren’t enough for you, it’s time to resolve to get out into the world again, getting some exercise, getting healthy, and getting rid of that seasonal depression. It’s not as intimidating a prospect as you may think. We’re here to show you how to get started and how to stick with it.

Get the Right Gear

It’s time to go shopping! If there’s one excuse that keeps people inside during the winter, it’s that they don’t have the right clothes. People will take one look at the thermometer, give a little fake shiver, and say they just don’t have the coat or the boots or the thermal underwear for a trek out into the woods.

So, your first step is to just remove that excuse from your life.

Not sure what you need? There’s a whole winter hiking checklist already set up for you. Go out and enjoy a good shopping spree so you get the clothes and equipment that fit your style and needs. Organize everything so it’s there and ready to go so it takes as little prep as possible before your next trip out.

Not only does this help you avoid delays in the future, it will inspire you to go out because of the investment you’ve made. You’ve bought the stuff, it’s organized and ready to go, begging to be used. Why not go for a quick hike so it stops laying about, accusing you of winter laziness?

Bring Good Food Along

Here’s a great tip most people don’t think about when they want some extra motivation for winter strolls: bring food and drink you really like. It can feel a little unappetizing, walking the trails, munching cold granola bars and sipping cold water. It makes you cold just thinking about it.

So, motivate yourself by preparing warm and healthy food and drink that you will be looking forward to munching on after you get going. Bring some warm corn tortillas and healthy taco options and then deny yourself the right to eat them unless you get outside. Don’t just hydrate on water, bring some delicious green tea or coffee, all prepared however you like it.

If you’re short of ideas, here are some suggestions for trail food that can be healthy, delicious, and motivating while you tackle the wintry wonderland outside your doors.

Once you’ve got a nice hiking menu in place, your stomach will motivate you as well as anything else.

Set Times that Work and Stick to Them

The famously hearty postal service lives by this motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

It’s time you took a page (or letter) from that robust spirit and start making plans to tackle nature, no matter what it has to throw at you.

Set a scheduled time each week that you are always free, and then make sure you get out there into the elements, whatever those elements happen to be. Make sure the time you choose is one in which you’ll be as well-rested and free of commitments as possible. For most people, that’s a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but choose the time that is best for you.

Barring blizzards and dangerously low temperatures, you should just learn to ignore the weather completely. Prepare to meet anything and then just get out there. You should have all the gear you need for standard weather issues, so you know you can stay warm, safe, and relatively dry. So, just go. Don't let the weather offer you an excuse.

Take Photos and Share and Print Them

These days, we’re used to taking a hundred photos a day, thanks to our smartphones. That has somewhat degraded the motivational power of taking your own photos when you see something beautiful out in the wild.

For all that, having a photo that you took of something beautiful that only you (or you and your group) saw still offers a one-of-a-kind thrill. Further build on that motivation by not just taking photos but sharing them on social media and even printing them out. Nothing is going to get you out in the winter weather quite like a photo on your wall that shows just what nature has to offer in its coldest months.

Pick Someone to Explore With

Hiking, like anything else, is usually better when it’s shared with others. While there’s nothing wrong with private, personal, introspective hikes (those can be incredibly wonderful and therapeutic), when you’re trying to build some motivation up to make your hikes a habit, having others there to motivate you is incredibly helpful.

A word of advice, though: partner up with people who are at least as motivated as you. You don’t want friends dragging you back to bed by lending you their excuses for staying in. If it’s possible, partner up with people who are already in the habit of getting outside in winter. If you can attach yourself to people who will be out anyway—and who will make a point of getting you out—then you’ll find yourself getting out far more often.

Even if you just have another novice nature lover to go with, though, setting your schedules to meet up, hang out, have fun, laugh, and spend time in nature, will make you more eager to shuffle into the warm clothes and get out the door.

For Parents: Choose a Park with Kid-Friendly Options

If there’s any legitimate excuse to skip the winter activities and stay in, it’s kids. Kids are harder to organize and to inspire to get out and walk on a trail for a few hours. They’re cold, they’re favorite shows are on, they’re tired, they want to eat. Kids are experts at complaining and making life tougher for you.

Getting the little ones outside takes a lot more effort and can zap the little bit of motivation you have for yourself.

To overcome this, try to look for outdoor opportunities that will combine what the kids love with what you love. If there’s a nice playground in the area, and the weather allows for it, make a deal to get them to walk for a bit, have a nice lunch, and play on the equipment. If they know there’s a carrot at the end of the stick, they’ll be more willing to go. And, if they have a particularly good time, they’ll start demanding to go back!

Some playgrounds are even especially inviting in winter—consider those that have wintry components like the Pine Tree Topper, if they’re available in the area—with designs that will draw on your kids’ imaginations and build up their enthusiasm for turning off the TV and turning out into the local park.

Winter doesn’t have to be an indoor season. Some of the most refreshing, inspiring, and healthy outdoor experiences of the year are available only in the winter. You may discover a secret cross-country skiing enthusiast inside you or a latent winter-time camper. Getting into the habit of getting outside in the winter also allows you to build up steam to stay healthier and more engaged with nature throughout the rest of the year.

If you just approach it right, spending your winter outdoors doesn’t have to be a hassle, a chore, or a failed resolution. Just plan for it properly, tend carefully to your motivation, and prepare to get out into the great wintry outdoors.

Written by: Ben Thompson