About Rob Unger

Robert Unger is sales manager at Play N' Learn's Playground Superstores 26 year old chain of 5 Maryland & Virginia stores. Since 2002, Rob has sold thousands of playsets, trampolines, & basketball goals to area families.

Create a Play Set that Grows with Your Kids

March 25th, 2014 by

 

Child plays with mailbox accessoryA play set is a significant investment—if you’re in the market, you’re probably considering what you really need to get the most bang for your buck. When it comes to building out a play set for your kids, you’ll want something durable and safe but also fun enough to keep their interest for years to come. We’ve put together a quick list of things to consider while planning out your first custom play set.

 

1. Do some market research

By research, we don’t mean heading to your local library—we mean hitting up your local playgrounds or your neighbors’ backyard play sets for some hands-on product testing! What better way to find out what features your kids like best than to go straight to the source and try them out? Who knows, this may require going to new playgrounds in different parks—all the better. Spiral slides, straight slides, rope swings, monkey bars—your kids will have a chance to decide what features they like best and would love playing on in their own backyard.

2. Figure out what your kids like to do while playing

If your kids spend all day at the playground swinging, or they like running around chasing each other through obstacles, or they are more the imaginative types and like to survey their kingdoms, then you’ll want to plan your play set accordingly. High-octane chasers and climbers, for instance, might get lasting use from a rock wall, rope ladder, slides, and monkey bars, while kids who enjoy crafts might want a picnic table or fort that can serve as a quiet get-away.

3. Think about what your kids will like in the future

While it’s great to see what your kids are into right now, also keep in mind that they will get bigger—fast! Adjustable swings, for instance, allow your play set to grow as your kids grow. Know, too, that you can add and subtract many playground accessories as your children get older and develop new interests. That baby swing they couldn’t get enough of as toddlers might be replaced by a trapeze bar or tire swing, and a periscope or retractable telescope might be just the right addition for the year your kids develop a fascination with pirates.

If you have multiple kids spread across ages, you’ll want to consider what will be appropriate for all of them. Hammock swings, for instance, are ideal for older kids who like to relax with a good book in the afternoon sun, while an add-on wooden mailbox might be perfect for your younger one’s pretend play.

4. Check out the coolest playgrounds in the world

Need some inspiration for what to put in your back yard? Check out our list of the world’s coolest playgrounds to see how designers have gone outside the box in making engaging and resourceful play areas. It may get you and your kids thinking about how to turn classic playground pieces into something even better.

How did you choose the features on your playground? Let us know in the comments!

Incredibly Cool Playgrounds from Around the World

February 26th, 2014 by

It may sound unbelievable, considering the amount of snow falling from the sky this winter, but it’s almost spring—and that means it’s almost playground season. To get you in the spirit of outdoor play, we’ve compiled a list of the world’s coolest playgrounds. We’re not talking classic slides, swings, and forts here—the following playgrounds are feats of architecture in and of themselves.

1. Monstrum (Denmark)

Monstrum is a Danish group that has designed countless playgrounds all over the world. Their designs are bright, colorful, and spectacular to look at—and probably even more fun to play in. Monstrum uses kid-enticing subjects like animals and surrealism to make their playgrounds extra fun, while incorporating the playground features we know and love, like slides and climbing walls.

2. Nishi-Rokugo (Japan)

Nishi-Rokugo, which translates to “Tire Park,” is a playground made from about 3,000 old tires. Kids stay busy exploring every nook and cranny of the creatively built park’s giant tire dinosaur, tire tunnels, tire mountains, and tire swings. There are even free floating tires for your child’s inner architect to stack up and arrange to his liking, or create his own Nishi-Rokugo.

3. Ghost Train (Peru)

After an abandoned train project left behind wasted materials in 1986, the Spanish group Basumura came in to repurpose the old train materials into a huge playground. The result is Ghost Train, Peru, a one-of-a-kind venue for kids and adults alike that features, climbing walls, tires, and zip lines, On top of that, it’s environmentally friendly. What better way to use a space full of what seemed like trash than to repurpose the project into something inventive and fun for the community?

4. City Museum, Missouri

City Museum of Missouri boasts MonstoCity, built mostly from repurposed old architectural elements for kids to climb on and explore to their hearts’ content. It just goes to show that one person’s trash is another’s treasure—practically anything can be made into an exciting place to play if you think about it the right way.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the amazing and inventive playgrounds around the world, but hopefully these few have inspired you to get excited about the upcoming play season. These designers certainly thought outside the box about what it means to make a playground, and now you and your kids can, too! Ask your kids to imagine their dream playground—and then sketch it or create a model with blocks. Maybe at the next local playground renovation, they can pitch their ideas!

 

5 Offbeat Activities to Do in the Snow

January 29th, 2014 by

Around this time of year, winter has worn out its welcome. The novelty of snow and hot chocolate and fires in the fireplace can wear off pretty quickly, and your kids may be getting bored of the same old winter games, too. That’s why we’ve put together this list of offbeat activities your kids can do to mix things up and keep active during the next few inches of snowfall.

1. Snowsuit hula hooping

Who says you can’t have a luau in the middle of winter? Zip up your snowsuits, lace up your boots, and grab some hula hoops from the garage. There’s no fancy trick to this one—just hula hoop as usual and see how different it is when you and your kids are all suited up and standing in a few inches of snow!

2. Make colorful snow art

Your kids can bring some color to the white winter landscape—all it takes is a little food coloring from your kitchen. Dilute the food coloring with a little water, and then dribble it across the snow to create fun designs fun designs like flowers, trees, zigzags, or words. You could even make a colored hopscotch board—and double the fun.

3. Create snow animal sculptures

You’ve probably built enough snowmen this season. Why not make some snow animals? Your kids can use snow to sculpt dogs, cats, snakes, and more. Challenge older kids to figure out how to design the animals so they don’t collapse. Then do a scavenger hunt to find sticks, pine needles, and rocks to decorate the animals. What names will you give your new pets?

4. Make snow castles

Who says all of that beach gear has to stay packed away this winter? Your kids can spend a solid afternoon creating the ultimate snow fortress with the buckets and pails you use to make sandcastles in the summer. Moats, lookout towers, and bridges are all fair game, whether made of sand or snow.

5. Enjoy some snowy ice cream

Eating ice cream may not be high on your list of things to do this winter, but it might be more appealing if you can make it out of the snow in your back yard. Check out these easy recipes for snow ice cream that require only a few ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

Even though some days it seems like winter will never be over, there are endless possibilities for fun in the snow. We hope you have fun trying our ideas when the snow starts piling up on the ground. Know some creative play ideas for the snow? Let us know in the comments!

5 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Kids

December 23rd, 2013 by

New Year’s resolutions can be daunting. We all know how this is the year we’re going to start eating right and exercising every day. And how about those resolutions where we finally commit to those sweeping life changes we’ve always been meaning to make?

Needless to say, some New Year’s resolutions can be hard to complete for adults, let alone for kids. So when it comes time for your family to set goals for the New Year, how can your kids participate? Read on for our suggestions on attainable, healthy New Year’s resolutions for your kids.

1. Choose a sport or athletic activity to commit to three times a week.

Whether it’s soccer, basketball, dance, or horseback riding, if your kids aren’t already involved in an athletic activity, encourage them to start. Joining a team is an easy way to provide structure and motivation, while also helping your children make new friends.

As an alternative to sports, kids can choose an activity that requires lessons or practice a few times a week. Starting off with an activity that meets several times a week is a good way for your child to become more active without setting unrealistic expectations.

2. Drink more water and less soda and juice.

The New Year is a great time to make the switch from soda and juice and back to water. If your family is big into soda and juice, start by setting goals like “only one glass a day,” and then cut back to once every other day, and so forth, until it’s only a special treat. By cutting the calories and sugar from soda and juice, your kids will be healthier and fitter. More importantly, they’ll learn how to make healthy choices early on in life.

3. Try to eat two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables every day.

Eating two servings of fruit is as easy as having an apple with lunch and an orange as an after-school snack. And your kids can knock out their veggie needs for the day by having some carrots with lunch and eating the vegetables that you make as part of dinner.

You can help your kids by making sure there are a few options for fruit and vegetables in the fridge that they can grab as a quick and easy snack. Need some inspiration? Take a look at our healthy snack ideas.

4. Wear a helmet.

Here’s an easy one: Your kids can resolve to always wear a helmet when doing activities that call for one. That means biking, scooter-ing, skateboarding, roller-blading—anything where the risk of falling and hitting their heads is greater than usual. To make sure your kids’ helmets are fitted correctly, check out this guide to how to fit a helmet.

5. Pick up toys when the play session is over.

In addition to being a healthy New Year, your kids can resolve to also make it a tidier one by picking up their toys and putting them away right after they’re done playing with them. It may help to remind your kids that it doesn’t take much time at all to just put something away right then instead of having to do it later.

Do your children have other New Year’s resolutions that you think would be good for other kids? Let us know in the comments!

 

Indoor Play Ideas to Keep Kids Active and Out of the Cold

November 27th, 2013 by

It may not officially be winter yet, but temperatures are dropping and it’s dark at 5 o’clock, so we won’t tell anyone if you let the “W” word slip when you’re talking about the season. These chilly and short days make it hard to get all the play in that your kids are used to from the summer, and many of us find it easier (and certainly warmer) to stay indoors.

While not as invigorating as the outdoors, indoor spaces provide plenty of play opportunities. With a little imagination, kids can get the creative outlet and physical activity they need — all within the comfort of a warm home. Read on for four indoor play ideas to keep on hand for those especially nippy days.

1. Build pillow forts

Turn your living room into an architectural masterpiece when you break out the blankets and pillows to make a pillow fort. Your kids can use chairs and side tables for support as they create a new world under their blanket fortress. When they’re done building, you can mix up the hot chocolate or cider and do an activity like playing cards, telling stories, or drawing.

2. Play Hide and Seek in the dark

No night vision goggles allowed—turn off the lights and play a nighttime game of Hide and Seek in your house. As you let your eyes adjust, your kids will have to use all of their senses to navigate around all those walls and tables they took for granted when the lights were on. It’ll be much tougher to find each other in the dark, making this a game that could keep you busy for quite a while!

3. Twist and shout with athletic games

Even with limited indoor space, you and your kids can still stay active during the winter. Spread out the Twister mat for a couple rounds of tangled fun. You can also use a regular board game and add rules like “Once everyone has taken a turn, we all have to walk up and down the stairs two times” to get some exercise while you play.

4. Head to Play N’ Learn’s indoor playgrounds

If your kids are missing their playsets during the winter, you can always come by Play N’ Learn’s indoor showroom. We have as many playsets as your kids could ever want to play on, with all types of special features and add ons. We offer open play sessions during store hours and free play on selected days and hours. It’s a fun way to get out of the house, play hard, and meet new friends — all while staying warm.

So don’t let the cold weather cramp your play style — there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you and your kids busy during those chilly fall and winter days. Do you have an indoor play idea your kids love? Let us know below in comments.

 

5 Ways to Use Play as a Coping Mechanism

October 28th, 2013 by

We often write about the benefits of everyday play for both physical and mental growth. But not every day is ordinary, and sometimes our kids have to cope with negative or confusing experiences. From larger tragedies to illness in the family or loss of a loved one, children have to get through difficult times, too, but often don’t know how to express their emotions. That’s where play comes in as a powerful coping mechanism. Read on for five ways to use play to help your child cope with difficult situations.

1. Keep play open-ended

By letting your kids create imaginary scenarios in which anything is possible, you allow them to express emotions without feeling forced. In these situations, your children can lead the play session and mold it as they see fit, allowing you to watch and listen to what your kids are really saying, as opposed to trying to coax your child into sharing.

2. Help older children by creating outlets

Older children can benefit from getting out pent up energy that they might be storing inside when they bottle up their emotions. Doing physical activities like walking or playing basketball can be a good way to help them release energy and become comfortable enough to start a conversation.

3. Let young children soothe themselves with play

Young children without full language abilities won’t be able to verbally express their emotions, but they can help themselves feel better by playing and moving around, which triggers a calming response in the brain. Make a blanket and pillow fort, and crawl around with your children to help them feel better.

4. Be neutral and on their level

One of the most powerful things you can do to help your children cope is to just be there and play with them on their level. By getting on the floor and reacting neutrally and supportively, you help your kids know they are loved. Keeping your responses as supportive and neutral as possible helps your children express feelings without a fear of being judged, scolded, or told their feelings should be different.

5. Let them talk through events

Pretend play allows children to process events and simplify them in ways they understand. They can create characters or plots to match their state of mind, reenact situations that are on their minds, or ascribe their feelings to another character in ways that might help you understand how your child really feels.

Using play to cope can be a very effective strategy for children who have experienced a traumatic, scary, or confusing event. Sometimes, the best way to help your child is to just be there and listen, and let play do the rest.

5 Quick Exercise Tips for Children With Busy Schedules

September 24th, 2013 by

Two young girls walking to schoolSchool is back in session and the demands of class, homework, musical instruments, after school clubs, and more are taking up more time than ever. While it’s great for your kids to be involved in so many activities, sometimes their schedules become so complicated it can be hard to find time to sit down for dinner, let alone exercise. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of exercise each day—so how do you fit exercise into your child’s busy schedule? Read on for some quick exercise tips to keep your kids active.

1. Take a family walk after dinner
Instead of turning on the TV after dinner, gather everyone up and head out for a walk. Bring the dog along and take a lap around the neighborhood. Not only will your kids get some exercise, but you will too!

2. Stop by the playground or park in between activities
Since you’re likely spending a good amount of time going from one activity to the next, try fitting exercise into your route. Take a pit stop at a playground or park on the way to your next lesson or club and let your kids play for 15 minutes, or more if you have the time.

3. Pause in between homework subjects
It can be hard for kids to focus on homework for long stretches of time, so use those much needed breaks to get in some quick exercise. Try sit ups, push ups, or jumping jacks—or just have your kids go wild in the yard for five or ten minutes. The exercise will boost their energy levels enough to get through that next math worksheet, while also keeping them healthy and strong.

4. Walk to the bus stop instead of driving
If your child takes the bus, instead of driving to the bus stop, let them walk. If it takes five minutes to walk there, in one day that’s ten minutes of exercise taken care of without even having to try. And it’s better for the environment!

5.  Do a lap before beginning your next activity
When you get to your child’s next activity, before going in the building, take a walk around the building with your child. It will only take a few minutes, but those minutes will add up if you keep using them to your advantage.

Fitting exercise into the day can be tough if your children are not already involved in sports, but it’s not impossible. Plus, your kids are much more likely to seek out opportunities to be active in their down time if you set a good example for them and encourage them. And if you find yourself struggling to get your own exercise in during the day, you can always do these tips with your kids!

Activities to Get Your Kids Outside

August 13th, 2013 by

Activities to Get Your Kids OutsideAfter the novelty of summer wears off, your kids may be bored of playing outside. But that’s only because they haven’t tried to use their playset in more imaginative ways than just swinging and sliding. In fact, although high-octane activities are always a good thrill, some of the best ways to use your playset just involve slowing down a bit and taking in the scenery.

Read on for four activities to get your kids back outside and on the playset again!

1. Make your playset an obstacle course

Switch up your playset routine by making it into an obstacle course. You can use household objects like chairs, buckets, and more to make the course. Take the slide, tag the chair, swing five times, run serpentines around the buckets—your kids can make up a million different courses and challenge each other by adding new twists and turns.

2. Camp in your backyard

You can experience the great outdoors without leaving your back yard when you camp using your playset. Your kids can roll out their sleeping bags and stay in the fort. Or, they can use a tarps or large sheets to make a tent out of the swing set. Break out the flashlights and sleeping bags, tell some ghost stories, and enjoy the stars within steps of your back door. Not only will it be fun for your kids, but it will get them ready for when they go on a real camping trip!

3. Have a picnic in your playset

Spread out a blanket in the fort or underneath and have a fun afternoon picnic. You can do it right around lunch time so it’s no extra work for you, but the novelty of having an outdoor playset picnic will be sure to keep your kids occupied for much longer than the average meal. Have your kids invite their friends from the neighborhood over—they can even help prepare some healthy snacks!

4. Bird watch from the fort

What better vantage point to watch the critters around your house than your playset fort? You can make this activity as high or low intensity as you want. Spot things by the naked eye and keep a tally of how many birds and squirrels you see, or grab a pair of binoculars and a field guide and see if your kids can identify some species that live in your back yard.

By using your playset in creative ways, you can help your kids start to think outside the box about the potential for fun in every situation. So why not change things up and give your kids a new activity they can do with their friends? A new outlook on how to use their outdoor space might just give them the kick-start they need to head back outside and make the most of their summers.

Turning Your Playset into a Water Park

July 9th, 2013 by

Turning Your Playset into a Water ParkBetween the hot sun, the humidity, and the occasional dreaded heat wave, summer weather can have you playing a constant game of trying to stay cool. Instead of sitting in the air conditioning all day or driving out to the community pool, you can stay at home while still enjoying the outdoors. Your playset can turn into a natural cooling station and water park just by adding water!

Read on to find out how to turn your playset into a very cool attraction. Before trying any of these wet modifications, make sure you are loaded up with the right amount of mulch around your playset so that any impact areas are fully padded.

Water Slide

Grab the hose and make your slide into a water slide. You can hang the hose next to the slide so the water runs down, and either leave it running or just spray the slide down every once and a while. If you have a padded surface or a small blow up baby pool, you can put it at the bottom of the slide for an extra splash and shock absorption.

Sprinkler Swings

Just by relocating your sprinkler, you can turn your swings into a fun water game. Set up the sprinkler in front of, behind, or even right below your swings so that when your kids swing, they go through the water stream. Your kids will have to time their swings so that the arcs of the swings match the arc of the water.

Fort Lagoon

The space under your playset’s fort is a perfect spot for a shaded lagoon. Place a baby pool underneath the fort for the ultimate relaxing cool down spot. Add floating toys or rubber ducks to complete the lake effect.

Super Soaker Watch Tower

For some high octane play, turn the top area of your playset’s fort into a watch tower stocked with Super Soakers. Your kids can have a full on water fight in the yard with the added complexity of the second level. They can use the water slide as a quick escape route, or the parents can stake out the top level to gain the upper hand.

Playing with water can cause your playset to become slippery, so be sure to stress to your kids that they should be extra careful. Keep a stack of towels nearby in case anything needs to be dried off. And don’t forget to put the popsicles in the freezer for when you’re ready for a break from the water park fun!

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Play Trend: Pop-Up Playgrounds

June 17th, 2013 by

Play Trend: Pop-Up PlaygroundsHere at Play N’ Learn’s Playground Superstores, we talk a lot about ways to keep your kids active. But what do you do if you don’t have a backyard or safe space where your kids can play?

In New York City, civic coalitions are doing an experiment to answer just that question. The idea is simple: close down a street for a few hours during a designated day and turn that street into a safe space for children to play. It’s called making a “pop-up playground,” and according to a New York Times article about the program, the results have been promising.

The sites of these pop-up playgrounds have been in low-income areas with high rates of obesity. Many of these areas have high crime rates and heavy traffic, so the streets are not usually the best place to play. Because of this, kids stay inside and watch TV and play video games instead of playing outside.

So far, the pop-up playgrounds have brought families to play outside for an average of one to two and a half hours. According to surveys conducted by event organizers, parents reported that they would have normally spent that time indoors.

At the pop-up playgrounds, there are activities for all ages of children, including yoga, running, tennis, and jump-rope. By focusing on athletics instead of toys, kids are encouraged to develop healthy habits that they can continue after the day is over. In fact, many of these play sites are located near existing playgrounds or farmers’ markets in order to promote the continuation of healthy choices.

By providing safe play space for kids, pop-up playgrounds help promote kids to choose to go outside and be active instead of stay inside and do sedentary activities instead. The hope is that this program will help to address the widespread problem of obesity in these areas, although the issue of obesity and inactivity is certainly not limited to New York City streets.

With events like pop-up playgrounds being met with such success, health administrators hope that lawmakers take notice and invest more effort into making local playgrounds safe and clean.

We hope that this program continues with great results. Between pop-up playgrounds, playborhood parties, and encouraging physical activity every day, we can help our kids develop habits to keep them healthy, strong, and happy!

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