This School Year, Resist the Urge to Overschedule Your Kids

September 12th, 2014 by

cardboard boxWith school and fall activities getting into full swing again, your kids’ schedules are likely filling up with homework, sports, music lessons, and more. While scheduling activities is a way to ensure that your child has opportunities to try many different things and develop skills and hobbies, your family commitments can easily spiral out of control, leaving kids and parents alike with too little unstructured time to unwind.

What’s driving this trend? Adults may have their own obsessions with being busy, but why do we let this trickle down to our kids? The stress of wanting our kids to get good grades, excel at their other activities, and become competitive candidates for future jobs and higher education can make getting a head start sound like a good idea. Some kids also want to be involved in tons of extra-curricular activities because, in many ways, these activities are fun.

However, when children lose their unstructured time, they lose more than just time to play. We’ve written before on this blog about letting go of control — and not over-supervising play time. When our kids are allowed to make their own decisions during play, they develop critical skills like self-direction and problem solving, and they learn about their preferences on their own, without anyone telling them what they should or shouldn’t do with their spare time. Do they like to read? Can they while away hours in the backyard engaged in pretend play, or would they rather invite friends over to orchestrate a performance or challenge each other to board games? All of these activities provide valuable life experience and give us, as parents, insight into our kids’ true personalities.

How can we resist the urge to register our kids for every activity going and coming? Start by gauging whether your kids are genuinely interested, and let their responses guide you. If you think it would be great for your daughter to do Girl Scouts, but she really wants to play soccer, leave it at that for now. Children’s interests change over time, and it’s likely your child will end up experimenting with many of the activities you think are important, in one way or another — just not all at once. If your kids are the ones driving the overscheduling, consider setting a limit on the number of after-school activities they can take part in. Then let them choose — and figure out how to make room if they want to try something new.

While school, friends, family, and staying active are all important things to focus on, there are ways to do it that don’t leave our kids — or ourselves— too stressed and tired.

We hope your school year is off to a stress-free start, and we wish you the best of luck finding the right balance for your family. Head over to a Play N’ Learn showroom for an open play session on our play sets, basketball hoops, and trampolines if you need a break and want to burn off some steam!

Get Organized to Start the School Year Strong

August 28th, 2014 by

organizationThe new school year is beginning, and with it comes the struggle of changing your family’s routine from summer camps and unstructured playtime to bus schedules and homework assignments. The first few weeks are tough for everyone, but getting organized can help your family feel prepared to get back to school. We’ve put together some tips to help ease the transition and stay on track.

Get on your new sleep schedule
Your whole family may have grown accustomed to sleeping in late over the summer, but now is the time to readjust your sleep schedules so your alarm clock doesn’t go ignored. Start shifting bedtimes up incrementally by five to ten minutes each night, and help your kids get used to going to sleep and waking up earlier.

Split up chores among the family
With everyone pulled in different directions, your family can lighten the load by splitting up chores. Create a chart on the fridge to keep track of who’s responsible for what, and track when everything gets done. One person can take out the trash, another can set out lunch boxes, and still another can help fold laundry — you get the gist! To take the guesswork out of preparing lunches, have your kids come up with a menu for the week and help you grocery shop.

Make time for work and play
As homework ramps up, your kids will need to figure out a good routine for getting it all done. However, making time for play in between assignments is also crucial for your kids to fit in their daily 60 minutes of exercise and relieve stress after school and homework. Try an after-school routine in which your kids grab a snack, play for an hour, and then do homework for a set amount of time based on how much they can handle. While it’s still light out, try to incorporate outside play breaks between assignments.

Create a master family calendar
Trying to coordinate after-school activities, doctors’ appointments, sports events, and special field trips can feel overwhelming — fast. By creating a master calendar in a central location like the kitchen, you can have a quick visual reference for who’s where (and when). Each member of the family can choose a column and a color to write his or her own activities. For younger kids, make it fun by picking out themed stickers to match certain events like sports games or tests. If your family is more tech-oriented, sync your calendars so you can easily pull up each other’s schedules and get reminders sent to your phone.

We hope your family had a fantastic summer break, and we wish you a wonderful start to the school year!

If you’re looking for ways to keep your kids active and engaged in the after-school hours, Play N’ Learn offers a wide selection of play sets, basketball hoops, and trampolines. Contact us to discuss options for your family.

6 Activities to Help you Enjoy the Last Days of Summer

August 11th, 2014 by

Kids on Picnic There are still a few more glorious weeks of summer vacation left, and it’s time to make the most of them! Whether your kids have been living it up all summer or they’ve fallen into an “’I’m bored” rut, now’s the time to really soak up the sun and have fun outdoors before the start of school. Read on for suggestions to help you enjoy this last stretch of summer.

1. Find a new bike path
What better way to spend a day than to venture off your beaten path to explore a new bike trail? Spend the day cruising around a new park and stopping to check out playgrounds, streams, or good climbing trees on the way. Check your state or city parks and recreation department website to browse options.

2. Take a hike on a nature trail
A park nearby likely has a nature trail, where your kids can learn about the plants and animals living in your area while hiking. If you’re lucky, you might even see one of your local animal residents while on the trail. To make more of a day of it, stop by the library in the morning to get guidebooks so your kids can identify more plants, bugs, and animals while they’re on the trail.

3. Go on a picnic
A picnic at the park (or in your back yard) is a great way to spend a few hours having some fun at lunch or dinner. Pack a blanket, a cooler of drinks, and prepare some sandwiches or an easy meal to eat. After you’re done, take a post-meal walk — or just stretch out with a good book on your blanket.

4. Have a full-scale neighborhood water fight
Get the whole neighborhood together for a full-on water fight. With sprinklers, water guns, water balloons, and slip-and-slides distributed throughout all of the yards in your neighborhood, it’s guaranteed to be a good time for all ages. You can mix in more structured events like water balloon tosses and team games during the day.

5. Catch fireflies at night
After dinner, once your neighborhood games have died down, head out to your back yard or a nearby field to catch fireflies. Use your hands or jars you have handy in the kitchen — just make sure to let them go once everyone is done playing!

6. Go backyard camping
For a fun outdoor activity that won’t require you to leave the comfort of your own yard, try backyard camping! Your friends can invite their friends over to make a night of it.

We hope you and your family enjoy the rest of your summer and can fill your days with your favorite activities! If you’d like to add some fun and games to your yard, browse our range of swing sets, basketball hoops, and trampolines — and contact us today.

5 Reasons Families Love Basketball Hoops

July 30th, 2014 by

family playing basketball2We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: We love basketball hoops. They’re fun, they’re versatile, and they don’t take up much space in your driveway or yard. With endless games to play, you can use your basketball hoop for years with your family without getting bored. Read on for our top five reasons why we love basketball hoops.

1. Everyone can play
Whether your family could hit the pro courts tomorrow or you have kids who are just learning to shoot the ball high enough to make a basket, a basketball hoop can be adjusted to meet everyone’s needs. Whatever age, fitness ability, or competition level you need to work with, you can make it happen playing around the basketball hoop. That means it’s something the whole family can do together!

2. Any size group can play
Another great feature of basketball hoops is that they accommodate anything from a solo player to a large group. From free throws and HORSE to full on pick up games, there are plenty of fun games that can incorporate everyone who wants a chance to play.

3. Basketball helps build collaboration skills
Playing basketball, whether in a full game or in smaller groups, helps kids learn to be part of a team and collaborate. In smaller games like HORSE or Lightning, taking turns, being patient, and listening to other players is crucial, and all of these skills make better team players!

4. Basketball helps build motor skills and coordination
Dribbling, lining up the shot, releasing the ball at the right time—it’s a lot to keep track of and requires a good amount of hand-eye coordination and motor skills to sink the shot. For your children, playing around the basketball hoop is a fun way for them to continue developing these skills without even realizing it.

5. Hoops help make new friends
Having a basketball hoop in the driveway is a surefire way to turn your yard into a neighborhood hotspot. Once the neighbors see your kids playing basketball outside, it won’t be long before they start trickling over to join in on the fun. Having a low-stress activity to bond over can help your kids make new friends and create a solid social network based around a healthy activity.

If you don’t have a basketball hoop already, what are you waiting for? It’s a great investment that will last until your kids are out of the house. And if you already have a hoop, why not head out today and get a game going?

View our wide range of hoop options, and get in touch to start the conversation about how we can help your family make the right pick.

Go Camping in Your Own Backyard

July 15th, 2014 by

Kids CampingSummer is the perfect time to go camping. What happens, though, when a full-fledged family camping trip just isn’t in the cards? Other commitments and a lack of modern conveniences can make it hard to get out in nature for a real camping trip, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still break out the tent. If your favorite campground or trail isn’t possible, look no further than your backyard for a fun and convenient adventure. Read on to learn how.

Pitch a tent
While it’s still light out, pick a flat spot in your backyard and break out your trusty camping tent. With some guidance, your kids can figure out how to set it up—or even do the job themselves. If you don’t own a tent, have your kids brainstorm what to use instead, such as a tarp, bed sheets, blankets. Consider tying a clothesline between trees and draping a sheet over top, or just sleep out in the open air, where you can count stars as you drift off to sleep.

Fire up the grill
If you have a fire pit, now’s a great chance to use it! If not, then use your grill to make camping foods like hot dogs, corn on the cob, and baked beans. The benefit of being in your backyard is that you don’t have to resort to building a fire from scratch to cook your dinner. Your kids can collect sticks for roasting, or you can use skewers and potholders.

Play a game
After dinner, get the family together to play an outdoor game. Create a backyard scavenger hunt, or play a few rounds of Hide-and-Seek, Duck Duck Goose, or even Ghost in the Graveyard. If you have fireflies in your backyard, you can play a game of catch-and-release. All of these games are great ways to give your family the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Of course, spending the night outdoors provides the perfect chance for extra time on your play set. Your kids can swing before they go to bed—and wake up to take a turn down the slide!

Make s’mores
A good camping trip wouldn’t be complete without s’mores! You can make these on the grill or use the fire pit again. Encourage your kids to experiment so they can find the optimal marshmallow cooking time. Then place your order so your kids can roast marshmallows just to your liking.

Tell ghost stories
If your group can handle it (and not feel too spooked), take turns passing around the flashlight and telling ghost stories before bed. Either make up your stories on the spot or tell some you already know. Better yet, try creating a story collaboratively. Have one person make up the first line, and then take turns building on it. Don’t worry if your story starts to sound far-fetched—group ghost stories often do!

Gaze at the stars
If you’re looking for a less heart-pounding activity before bed, just stretch out on the ground and look up at the stars. Can you find Orion, the Big Dipper, or Scorpius? How about the North Star or the Milky Way? Before you head outdoors, take a look at this children’s site from NASA for tips.

Once you start backyard camping, your kids will never want to stop! And for kids who are new to sleeping outdoors, going backyard camping is the perfect trial run for the real thing.

Looking for other ways to turn your backyard into an awesome adventure? Browse our range of play sets, trampolines, and basketball goals—and keep your family active all summer long.

5 Ways to Beat the Rainy Day Blues

July 1st, 2014 by

Boy in Rain While it may be nice most of the summer, inevitably, there will be rainy days that put a damper on everyone’s mood. When that happens, don’t let the rain slow you down—try these fun, energy-boosting activities that turn rainy days into real adventures.

1. Burn some energy at an indoor activity center
While your playground may be out of commission on a rainy day, that doesn’t mean there isn’t playing to be done. Visit an indoor activity center, like a roller skating rink, laser tag facility, a rock climbing wall, a trampoline park, or one of Play N Learn’s own indoor showrooms where your kids can play on our showroom playsets, trampolines, and basketball hoops. All of these options will help you meet (or exceed!) the recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day.

2. Attend a local rec center class
Rainy days are a great reason to see what programs your local gym or community center have to offer. Frequently, there are family or kid-friendly classes available, such as a family yoga class or sports skills clinics for the kids. Visit your recreation center in person, and discover all kinds of great activities to attend all summer long!

3. Have a dance-off in your living room
Who needs to go outside when you have the best dance floor in town in your living room? A dance-off is a sure way to get the whole family having fun and let off some steam at the same time. If you have a dance-reluctant child, he or she can act as the DJ. See how many dance moves you and your kids can make up during one song, or try to choreograph and learn a family dance together.

4. Do a walk-a-thon at your shopping mall
While the endless corridors of your local shopping mall may seem like a curse during the holidays, they make for a great exercise option when the weather isn’t cooperating. Load the family up and try a walk-a-thon at the mall. You can measure your distance in laps or minutes, or split the family up into teams and do a relay or a scavenger hunt. Walking in the mall can help you look at it in a whole new way.

5. Go get wet!
As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” Grab your raincoats and rain boots and turn those rainy day lemons into rainy day lemonade, with a no-holding-back puddle jumping party. The whole neighborhood will be splashing around by the time you’re done!

It’s not so bad having a rainy day here and there if you know what to do with it: play! So the next time the skies open, rally the troops and make the most of the opportunity to do something outside the box, despite being inside.

Do you live in the Maryland or Virginia area? Visit one of our indoor play centers for a day of active fun.

Five Trampoline Games to Play With Friends

June 17th, 2014 by

Girls on Tramp Back yard trampolines offer endless supplies of fitness and fun. There’s something about trampolines that attracts people like magnets — and has kids lining up and willing to wait for a turn. This summer, add some fun and adventure to your bouncing with these high-energy games on the trampoline. They’re some of our favorites!

1. Crack the Egg
Crack the Egg is a great game for a group. Pick one player to be the jumper, and the rest sit on the trampoline and hold their knees — they’re the eggs! The jumper bounces on the trampoline and tries to get the other players to “crack” open by letting go of their knees. The last person left un-cracked wins!

As kids play, have them take turns so everyone has a chance to be the jumper. And to add some critical thinking to the mix, ask your kids before you begin who they think will break open the fastest and why.

2. Do as I Do
Do as I Do is somewhat like Simon Says, but while bouncing. Choose a leader and then have everyone start bouncing. As you bounce, the leader will do movements that the group has to follow. Seems simple enough, until you have to coordinate bouncing with rubbing your stomach and patting your head! Whoever gets out of sync is out.

As you play, scale the difficulty up or down depending on the players’ age and skill level. This game is a great way to improve coordination.

3. One, Two, Three, Sit
This one’s easy — everyone stands on the trampoline. Jump three times at the same time, then on “sit,” land on your bottom. If the timing’s right, a few people will get bounced in the air. Keep on trying until you get the bounces down to a science.

4. Seat Drop War
Pick two players to face each other. Then start bouncing together and do a seat-drop, which is when you bounce down in a sitting position (and then up to a standing position) on the trampoline. Continue doing this until one person gets out of the rhythm, and try playing it tournament style — or have the winner continue on until he or she is ousted. As you play, you’ll increase muscle strength and control!

5. How Long Can You Jump?
This one is great for building endurance and getting out your wiggles. Set a timer and challenge yourselves to jumping matches. Can you jump for 3 minutes straight? What about 5 minutes — or 10 minutes? For the ultimate challenge, try 20 minutes. Just be sure to fuel up and hydrate, especially if you’re jumping in direct sunlight.

After you finish each time trial, take a 30-second heart rate. How many beats can you count? Make a chart to keep track of your answers. What do you notice happening?

Play N’ Learn’s AlleyOOP and SpringFree trampolines with nets and anchors are a safe way for you and your kids to have fun with your friends this summer. Once your kids start bouncing, they’ll invent their own trampoline games that become instant classics. Contact us today to discuss the right trampoline for your family.

Four Outdoor Games the Whole Neighborhood Can Play

June 6th, 2014 by

Bike Riding in the StreetWith school coming to a close, you may be wondering how your kids will transition from having most of their day scheduled to having more free time. While that thought can be intimidating, it’s also a great opportunity for your kids to start taking responsibility for making their own schedule of activities.

A great way to keep your kids active is to encourage them to start a summer “play league” that involves ongoing games and activities with friends and neighbors. Summer play leagues have a host of benefits, not the least of which is that it combines learning and physical fitness with our favorite thing: playing! Here, we’ve collected some of our favorite summer games that your kids can implement in their own neighborhood.

1. Capture the Flag
A summertime classic, Capture the Flag is a great game for medium to large size groups. There’s no special equipment required — all you need are two socks to use as flags and a consenting house with a front and back yard to split into sides.

Capture the Flag is a great after-dinner game for cooler evening weather. Your kids can set a time, like 7 p.m., with the other neighborhood kids for everyone to meet up at a designated house. This game is also great for organizing groups and learning to resolve conflict, as disputes about the rules are not at all uncommon!

2. Kickball or Baseball
All you need for a great kickball or baseball game is a cul-de-sac or grassy field. Using mailboxes or sidewalk chalk drawings as bases (or sticks or rocks if you’re on a field), your kids can form neighborhood teams and play together all summer long. Often, these games form on their own — or evolve out of a few kids getting together to play catch. Whatever the case, it doesn’t take long for the rest of the neighbors to get in on the action, and a proper game is in full swing.

3. Dodgeball
A friendly game of dodgeball is a sure way to get kids outside and ready to play. Plus, neighborhood parents can play, too! Put your kids in charge of making sure the teams are equally matched, and have them collect and bring a soft assortment of balls to use. Then meet up in a spacious back yard, and let the games begin! To encourage fair play and help your kids learn to resolve conflicts, have them take turns being referees and making sure everyone is playing fair.

4. Riding Bikes
Your kids can set a time during the day to go on a group bike ride around the neighborhood. Older kids can map out a route and figure out the distance, and everyone can make maps together. And you can make it a bigger event by meeting the kids at the end of the route with a drink and a snack.

In addition to getting in a good workout and outdoor air, your kids will learn how to plan ahead and follow a route — while also communicating their route in a way they can understand.

Looking for ways to add fun and fitness to your yard this summer? Play N’ Learn can help. Contact us today to learn how.

4 Outdoor Ways to Celebrate the End of School

May 20th, 2014 by

Has your family started the Days-Left-Until-School’s-Over countdown yet? While end-of-the-year projects and exams may not be over yet, now is a great time to start thinking about how you and your kids can celebrate the end of the school year and kickoff the start of summer. We’ve put together a list of fun, outdoor activities to bring in the last days of school in your neighborhood. Whether your kids are shouting “no more teachers, no more books” or are sad to see the school year come to a close, these activities will make the final days of school a memorable, fun occasion—and get them pumped for the endless days of summer to come.

1. Decorate bikes with stickers and streamers

Break out the party supplies and let your kids go wild decorating their bikes. Using stickers, streamers, and ribbon, your kids can dress up their bikes and cruise around the neighborhood. By wrapping streamers or paper around the frame and putting ribbons on the handlebars, they’ll have a great time showing off their bikes as they ride around in the afternoon sun. Your kids could even attach balloons to their seats and watch them blow in the wind as they ride down a hill.

2. Have an after school basketball or trampoline party

Keep those decorations handy, and bedazzle your basketball hoop or trampoline and invite everyone over to play after school. Have your kids come up with the design, and transform your hoop or trampoline into a party zone. Not sure what games to play? Try these fun basketball ideas, and then get jumping with these zany trampoline ventures.

3. Have a chalk drawing fest

Another simple way to have fun after school is to lie out some sidewalk chalk and invite the neighbors over for a big drawing party. The kids can work in groups or on their own to create masterpieces on the sidewalks connecting all of the houses, or they can do designs on participating households’ driveways. You could even make it a friendly competition with neighbors by coming up with categories, deciding  winners, and giving prizes.

4. Celebrate in the park

If you’re willing to take the party on the road, plan a park party for the end of school. After school, bring your kids and their friends to the local park and playground so they can let loose. With a few healthy snacks, a soccer ball or basketball, and a Frisbee or jump rope, you’ll have a great time and set the tone for your active summer to come!

So whether your kids are happy or sad for the school year to be over, make these last few days a celebration of the outdoors and the fun summer to come. Need help setting up an ideal outdoor play area in your yard? Contact us today.

 

Bring the Park to Your Own Back Yard

May 6th, 2014 by

Now that spring plants are in full bloom and the animals are back from their winter vacations, it’s a great time for your family to become park rangers in your own back yard. Teaching your kids about the natural world surrounding them will help them sharpen their observation skills—and notice details they may have missed but only have to step outside to see. To get started on becoming at-home park rangers, try these tips.


1. Head to the local library to get guidebooks

During a trip to your library, check out books on flora and fauna local to your area. There will be lots of options to choose from, so encourage your kids to spend some time browsing—and to pick those they can understand and enjoy. Then head out to the back yard, and see if your kids can match what they find with the pictures in the books. How many can they find?

2. Have an outdoor exploration session

With the guidebooks in hand, have a park ranger exploration session. Everyone can grab a notebook and pencil and walk around the yard or neighborhood. Reconvene in an hour, and compare what flowers and vegetation you saw. If you have cameras, you can also practice taking photos with your kids to capture each new find. Did you all see the same types of plants? Were there some that stuck out as unusual or not native to the region? What might those be?

3. Put up a bird feeder or suet

To attract more wildlife to your back yard for observation, put up a birdfeeder or hang suet from your feeder so your yard becomes a hot spot for birds and squirrels. A hummingbird feeder is also fun. If you hang one, spend some time identifying throat colors and watching the tiny birds buzzing around the feeder.

Use your guidebooks to see what kind of food the birds in your area like to eat, and then fill your feeders accordingly—and watch as they flock to get their fill. How long will it take them to eat the entire amount?

4. Add a new plant to your garden

Your kids can read about different kinds of plants or flowers indigenous to your area, and choose one to investigate and grow in your yard. Once they make a selection, head to your local nursery to buy the plant, and then dig a hole and plant the new addition in your yard. Where will the plant get enough sun or shade? What kind of soil will it thrive in? Does it need water right away?

Help your kids do research to answer these questions and learn how to water and take care of the plant. Then sit back and enjoy watching the plant grow up alongside your kids!

Once your kids have the hang of the back yard, you can take your park ranger routine to a trail with different plants and more wildlife to see. Getting your kids outside and observing what makes up their surroundings is a great way for them to exercise their minds and their bodies at the same time. What nature activities do your family enjoy? Let us know in the comments!