Play Trend: Natural Playgrounds

March 19th, 2015 by

Play Trend: Natural PlaygroundsWe’ve all seen classic playgrounds made from metal and plastic. These play spaces are loads of fun, but adding to the mix of options is a new trend: natural playgrounds. Incorporating elements from nature like tree trunks, boulders, mud, and sand, these earth-friendly playgrounds are becoming more common and popular. Often, these natural touches are cropping up alongside more conventional play equipment.

Natural play areas look different from their mainstream counterparts, and the novelty can be enough to encourage kids to get out and play, or check out a new area of the park that they haven’t been to before. In fact, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, park developers got a two-for-one deal by creating a natural playground using trees knocked down during Hurricane Sandy. They chose to build the playground in a less-traveled part of the park to encourage more visitors. The overall effect is a play space that fits nicely into its woodsy surroundings and encourages kids to get creative with how they play.

Prospect Park isn’t the only place that’s capitalizing on natural resources. Big Adventure Park, in Houston, recently opened with a design that relies heavily on natural elements. Trees that had to be cleared for safety and space were used to create seating and play structures. Then, developers added some conventional play equipment like swings, spinners, and a zip line to mix with the natural elements like rope bridges and climbing pyramids. Developers hope that the park will be exciting and varied enough to attract families and keep kids coming back for new experiences.

Are natural playgrounds superior to the traditional playgrounds we all know and love? The concept is exciting, and we love any new reason for children to get outside and play! We think they’re a great addition to more conventional play equipment. Natural play spaces encourage kids to imagine, explore, and create their own uses for structures. Areas of sand, mud, and sticks can provide an outlet for artistic expression and creative growth.

However, incorporating the safety elements of conventional playgrounds, like rubber mulch to protect from falls, is important to keep kids safe while they play. Plus, natural playgrounds still require regular maintenance, just like their conventional counterparts. If you’re looking for ways to make your backyard into a play paradise for kids, come visit us at Play N’ Learn and check out our wide range of playsets, accessories, and rubber mulch.

March Madness Fun and Learning for the Whole Family

March 5th, 2015 by

March Madness Fun for the Whole FamilyIt’s March, and you know what that means? Spring is around the corner, the snow is melting, the flowers will soon start to bloom — and it’s March Madness time! The annual NCAA basketball tournament kicks off March 17, just in time to rescue your family from serious cabin fever after this winter’s cold temperatures and storms. We have some ideas of how to get your family through these last few cold weeks and involve everyone in the fun.

What is March Madness?
First things first: what is March Madness? Your kids can search online or head to the local library to learn about the history of the tournament. When did it start, and why? How many teams first played, and how many do now? How do teams advance? This web site is a good place to start. Once your kids have a grasp of the concept, it’s time to dive in to making brackets!

Where are all these teams from, anyway?
In order to prepare your brackets, your kids will have to find a list of what teams are playing. (Hint: try the NCAA web site.) And for an added activity, work in a simple geography lesson. Print a map of the U.S. off the internet and have your kids mark where each team plays. This is a good time to practice identifying the different states, and your kids will also start learning some of the cities within them.

Make family brackets
Now that you know how the bracket works, what teams are playing, and where they all are, it’s time to make a bracket. You can either use a printed bracket (such as these), or your kids can use a ruler and paper to draw their own brackets. You can each do one bracket, or you can do multiple brackets to see how long you can stay in it. Get friends and neighbors involved if you want to do a neighborhood bracket pool!

Turn March Madness into math madness
Once you’ve made your brackets, you can practice some math skills to determine odds. Have your kids figure out the odds that they’ve guessed the correct winning team or a perfect bracket. There are plenty of ideas for how to turn your bracket into a fun and practical math exercise —your kids won’t be able to say, “I’m never going to use this in real life” to these math problems!

Practice your shots
Now that the paper and pencil work is done, it’s time to practice your skills on the court. Use your basketball hoop or head to the local basketball court to work on your passes, layups, and free throws. It’s not a bad time to start learning some of the official rules of basketball, but if you just want to play games like HORSE to get in the spirit, that works, too!

Have an at-home tournament
Last but not least, as the tournament begins, you can host your own at-home tournament in your driveway or at a nearby park. You can check out our ideas for how to bring basketball season to your neighborhood and host a fun event for all ages.

In the mood for even more basketball? Head to a Play N’ Learn showroom to check out our range of basketball hoops. Add one to your driveway and keep the spirit of March Madness going year round!

Fun Ideas for an Indoor Birthday Party

February 19th, 2015 by

Fun Ideas for an Indoor Birthday PartyWinter birthday parties can be tough. It’s too cold to have a party outside, but hosting an indoor party full of energetic kids, cake, and chaos can be too much for even the iron-willed to handle. Once you consider the pre-party prep, the post-party cleanup, the decorations, and entertainment, it starts to sound a lot simpler, more cost-effective, and more fun to host your child’s birthday party somewhere else. But where? We’ve put together a list of our favorite ideas for indoor birthday parties that everyone will enjoy.

Museums
Your local art, science, or children’s museum is likely all set up to host your child’s birthday party. All you have to do is bring the cake! Staff will lead age-appropriate adventures through the museum for your kids and their friends. Some museums have themes available to choose from like dinosaurs, space, the Ice Age, and more. Others have crafts, scavenger hunts, or interactive workshops. Your kids will learn and explore, all while celebrating and having fun!

Paint Your Own Pottery
If your child likes to flex her creative muscles, how about a party at a paint-your-own-pottery studio? The kids can create their own masterpieces and you don’t have to worry about the mess! Then, once they’re done firing the pottery in a few days, you or the guests can come pick it up and give kids a keepsake from the birthday party to take home. It’s even better — and more creative — than a goody bag!

GameTruck
Got a kid who likes gaming? Companies like GameTruck bring a truckload of excitement to your driveway. You can choose between video games and laser tag, and you don’t even have to drive anywhere! The truck comes to you, the kids climb aboard, and staff members oversee the party. For video game enthusiasts, this is a party-dream come true!

Bowling
Hit up your local lanes to add an element of friendly competition to your child’s birthday party. You can rent lanes with bumpers or without. Break into teams and then take a snack break in between games. Some bowling alleys will decorate your lanes and provide refreshments and music, while others are happy to have you put your own touches on your party area.

Iceskating or Rollerskating
For an event that will keep your kids moving, book a party at an ice rink or roller rink. The birthday boy or girl and their friends can lace up their skates and groove to the music, and when they’re tired, you can blow out the candles in a private party room. After all that activity, your kids will be more than ready to eat cake.

Parties at the Play N’ Learn Showroom
Want to bring the outdoors inside? Our Play N’ Learn showrooms are the perfect place to host a party filled with your kid’s favorite outdoor play equipment without having to worry about the weather. With tons of models available with all the hottest features you may not have on your swingset at home, your party is bound to be exciting. Plus, we’ve got basketball hoops, trampolines, and more to keep everyone in your group happy.

So don’t let party planning hold you back, just call one of your trusted indoor birthday professionals and let them do the heavy lifting. Your kids will love the change of scenery — and best of all, you won’t have to clean up!

6 Ideas for Outdoor Play in a Small Yard

February 5th, 2015 by

Outdoor Play in a Small YardDon’t have an acre or two of yard space? Think a playset is out of the question in a small yard? Not so fast. With a little creativity and the right equipment, you can transform even the smallest space into a fun play area. Here are our top picks for outdoor fun for small yards.

1. Chalkboard walls
Have a fence or a garage wall? Then you’ve got all you need for a chalkboard wall. Using simple chalkboard paint, you can create a space for your kids to draw and color with chalk, making your backyard a changing tapestry of their best artistic displays! If you don’t want to paint directly on your fence or garage, paint a piece of plywood and mount that on the wall instead.

2. Outdoor Twister
If you’ve got a small patch of grass or a driveway, you have plenty of room for your very own DIY Twister game. Using different-colored spray paints and a big piece of cardboard or paper, you can create your own board that adds a colorful burst to your backyard. You could do the same for hopscotch, too!

3. Climbing walls and rope ladders
If you can’t go out, go up! Climbing walls and rope ladders take up very little room and can be added onto existing walls. You can construct a climbing wall or rope ladder to attach to the side of your garage, the house, or a well-anchored fence. The best part is that with a trip to the lumber store and some creativity, you can install these items yourself.

4. Swingbeams and tire swings
A freestanding swingbeam doesn’t take up much space, and can be a perfect piece for those who want to get a lot of bang for their buck as far as play time goes. Swinging is great exercise and low-maintenance fun that will last for a long time! A horizontal tire swing doesn’t require much yard space, either, and can fit multiple swingers at once.

5. Ziplines, see-saws, and monkey bars
Working with a long, narrow yard? No problem. Ziplines, see-saws, and freestanding monkey bars use vertical space while taking up very little real estate on the ground, so you won’t feel like your whole yard has been overtaken by play equipment.

6. Spacesaver Swingset
Have space, just not enough for a sprawling playset? We have you covered with our Spacesaver Swingsets, which pack our most popular play elements into more compact designs. You’ll get the swings, slides, and climbing pieces that your kids want without sacrificing the whole yard.

No yard? No worries. Head to your local playground, or come visit us at our Play N’ Learn showrooms for open play, where your kids can play on our swingsets, trampolines, and basketball hoops. We hope these ideas have given you some inspiration on how to maximize your backyard fun, no matter how much — or little — space you have to work with!

Stay Safe on the Playground this Winter

January 22nd, 2015 by

Stay Safe on the Playground this WinterDo colder temperatures, ice, and snow mean your backyard playset or local playground is off-limits till spring? Not at all. Even though you may balk at the idea of going outside in the cold, most kids are still raring to go. Instead of going stir-crazy inside all winter, why not embrace the outdoors as you do at other times of year? But first, check out our tips on how to stay safe on your playset or playground this winter. Then, get out there and play!

1. Inspect your playset equipment.
Your local playground should have maintenance personnel assigned to its upkeep, but your backyard playset will need to be checked each season to make sure all of the parts are still in good working order. Ideally, you should check your playset at the beginning and end of the peak play season for wear and tear, parts that need to be replaced, and other damage. But especially if you haven’t done a fall inspection, take a look at your playset now that the cold weather has come to see if any new vulnerabilities have been exposed—for example, loose boards, a cracked slide, or protruding nails or screws.

2. Check for ice.
Before you start your play session, check your playground equipment thoroughly for ice or snow build-up. Ice can be especially dangerous on hand- and foot-holds (like those on ladders and monkey bars), where it’s easy to slip and fall. If you can chip away any ice build-up, then you’re all clear. But avoid any parts of the playground that aren’t free of ice or snow. The same goes for your rubber mulch or footing—if it’s frozen, don’t play! Your kids rely on the absorbency of the material to protect them from falls.

3. Watch the weather.
If it’s below freezing or there’s freezing rain, stick to an indoor play session. Particularly when there’s precipitation in colder temperatures, ice can form rapidly and create unsafe conditions even if things were safe when you started playing. When it’s cold, limit your outdoor play to short sessions to avoid frostbite.

4. Suit up in the right snow gear.
Since your kids will be bundled up more than in the summer, it’s important to make sure their clothing is as safe as possible. That means avoiding scarves and drawstrings, which can get caught on play equipment, and not wearing nylon pants, which can make your child go too fast on a slide. It also means making sure your kids are warm and dry, so break out those hats, boots, gloves, and layers!

The last step is to make sure you have hot chocolate in the pantry to enjoy when you’re done playing! Need more ideas on what to do outside this winter? Check out our suggestions for how to turn your playset into a winter wonderland to get the most out of your playset this season.

5 Ideas for Active Indoor Fun

January 8th, 2015 by

Ideas for Active Indoor FunDuring the colder months when the whole family is cooped up inside, it can be tough to find ways to stay active and have fun. Instead of going into hibernation for the winter, use these cold days as reasons to explore new places in your town. There are so many options for indoor activities, and some are even free! Here’s a look at our top picks for fun and active places to play this winter.

1. Get a mental and physical workout playing laser tag.
Call up some neighbors and get a group together to head to your local laser tag spot for an afternoon of fun. Your kids will be running, rolling, hiding, aiming, making quick decisions, and forming strategies—a perfect mix of high-octane physical and mental exercise that will leave your kids happy and tired.

2. Swim during any season.
Who said swimming is just for summer? No, we’re not suggesting you and your family do a polar bear plunge to stay active—instead, head to your local YMCA or fitness center and hop in the indoor pool. Your kids can work on their swimming skills and treading water. Even with a lot of play mixed in, an hour of swimming is a great workout and will seem like a novelty since you’ll have to wear your winter coats over your bathing suits until you get inside!

3. Lace up at a skating rink.
Looking to have a lot of fun, but also get some exercise that will help develop balance and coordination? Your local roller skating or ice skating rinks can provide all of that and more. Your kids won’t even realize they are building important stability muscles while they zoom around the rinks and figure out how to do tricks, twirls, and high-speed chases.

4. Use your mall for walking, not shopping.
While you may feel like you never want to see the inside of a mall again after the holiday season, your local shopping center is actually a great resource for indoor fitness. Using the mall as a place to exercise might just be the only thing you can do there for free! You and your family can walk laps past the long stretches of shops, incorporating stairs as well to keep your hearts pumping. For the competitors in your family, you can break into relay teams and station yourself in different parts of the mall. Whichever team gets to one end of the mall and back first wins!

5. Come by our Play N’ Learn showroom.
Last but not least, Play N’ Learn can help you get through a cold winter day with open play at our indoor showroom. Loaded with playsets, basketball hoops, and trampolines, our showroom is like combining a whole neighborhood’s backyards into one. Get your kids and their friends into the car and come enjoy our tire swings, monkey bars, and slides, all for the cost of a ticket that won’t break the bank.

We hope these ideas have given you and your kids some inspiration for what to do this weekend. No excuses—it’s time to get off the couch and play!

Last-Minute Gift Giving Ideas for Kids

December 18th, 2014 by

Winter Break ActivitiesThe holidays seem to sneak up on all of us, and when your kids find themselves without presents for family and friends, they’ll need last-minute options that won’t break the piggy bank. From meaningful crafts to useful coupons for services or cost effective, creative gifts, your kids will have a back up plan to make sure they’re ready for the holidays! Here are our top picks for last-minute gift giving ideas for kids.

Handmade picture frames with special photos
Using an inexpensive frame from a craft store, or even popsicle sticks, your kids can make a personalized frame to hold a photo with special meaning. They can unleash their inner artists and decorate the frame with buttons, feathers, glitter, or letters to make the frame more personal. You can help them pick a family photo or a meaningful picture and get it printed. A thoughtful gift with a personal touch goes a long way!

Coupons for helping out mom and dad around the house
Who doesn’t love some free help? Coupons are a great gift for kids who don’t have a big budget to draw from. Your kids can create a coupon book that they can draw and decorate, or your older kids can make coupons on the computer if they are feeling extra professional. Have your kids think about coupons for items that would be truly helpful, like doing the dishes, helping with laundry, or walking the dog. Giving Mom or Dad back some of their valuable time by taking some chores off their lists can be even better than a physical gift!

Decorated mugs or cups
Using just ceramic mugs or cups and sharpies, your kids can create personalized and creative items for the whole family. For kids who like art, this gift is a great opportunity to show off their design and drawing skills. Simple white mugs or cups are inexpensive and provide a great blank canvas for creating a memorable and functional gift.

A future “Day of Fun”
For a gift that works for anyone in the family, your kids can give a full day of fun that they’ll spend with the gift recipient. Your kid and the recipient can plan the day together or your kid can plan it alone so that the day is a thoughtful surprise. Spending a day enjoying each other’s company is a nice way for your kids to show a family member they care.

Make a playlist
For tech savvy kids, making a mixtape of songs, podcasts, or books on tape for a family member is an easy way to make a gift at home that still shows that they put time and effort into putting something together. Your kids can research popular podcasts or artists and create a playlist that the recipient can download—a perfect last minute gift that your kids can do from home!

We hope these ideas have sparked your kids’ imaginations to make cost-effective, creative, and meaningful gifts this holiday season. Happy Holidays from all of us here at Play N Learn!

Winter Break Activities to Occupy the Kids — and Relatives

December 10th, 2014 by

Winter Break ActivitiesWith the holiday break quickly approaching, you may be wondering how to keep your kids entertained while they’re out of school and you’re busy handling meals, relatives, and general holiday madness. This time of year, with packed calendars and cold weather limiting outside play, it can take some inspiration to figure out how to keep your kids active while you get everything done on your holiday to-do list. We’ve put together a few ideas for activities your kids, and your relatives, can do over the holiday break to avoid cabin fever.

Head to the local park
Your relatives from out of town probably don’t know your local parks and playgrounds as well as you do. If the weather cooperates, have your kids give your relatives a tour of your family’s favorite spots while you hold down the home front. After solid play sessions at all of your kids’ selected spots, your relatives will have an insider’s look at some of the best features of your neighborhood, and your kids will be worn out and happy!

Seek out indoor offerings in your community
If the weather outside is too frightful, your local library or recreation center can come in handy. Most libraries offer kids’ story times and events during the day, or kids can spend some time picking out books and videos to help occupy them over winter break. Similarly, you can sign up for classes at your local YMCA or rec center to get out of the house for either an active class or a fun crafts activity.

Help with holiday cookies
Enlisting your kids to help make cookies is one of the first ways you can start teaching them the basics of cooking, plus it will give them something to do while you’re busy in the kitchen — namely, help you! Even young kids can measure ingredients, dump them in the bowl, and taste-test along the way until the eggs go in. For gingerbread or sugar cookies, have your kids press cookie cutters into the dough and arrange them on cookie sheets. And best of all, little ones make great decorating assistants! If you have relatives visiting, encourage one of them to lead a baking session and add their favorite recipe to the holiday sweets mix.

Come visit us at the Play N’ Learn showroom
If you can designate one of your family members to be a field trip leader, a great way to keep your kids active and having fun is to make a trip to a Play N’ Learn showroom. In fact, why not spread some holiday goodwill by bringing a few of your kids’ friends along, too? Our showrooms are a great place for your kids to stay warm while they get their recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. With trampolines, basketball hoops, and all the coolest features on our playsets, your kids will be sure to stay busy and entertained till it’s time to go home.

For more ideas on keeping your kids engaged over the winter break, read my recent blog post, “Creative Ways for Your Kids to Give Back.

Bring Basketball Season to Your Neighborhood

December 1st, 2014 by

basketball tournamentThe cold and dark days of late fall may be driving you to take cover indoors, but that doesn’t mean sports mania has lessened any around the country. College basketball season is in full swing, and many undergraduate students will be lining up for hours and even camping out to get tickets to games. Why not bring some of that excitement to your neighborhood by organizing a community basketball tournament? Here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Decide what the events will be.
Will you play regular games? Will they be 3-on-3, or will the teams be larger? Will there be modified, family-friendly games like HORSE for younger players? You can also decide whether all of the games will take place at one house with all of the participants cheering each other on, or whether your tournament will be spread out across multiple basketball hoops in the neighborhood. Or, you can reserve a basketball court at a nearby park and really get things going with a full-court game!

2. Get the neighborhood pumped up with publicity.
Have your kids hop on the computer or hand-draw signs promoting the basketball tournament and announcing the location, date, and time. You could even post a sign-up sheet near your mailbox for everyone to reserve spots and form teams (or if your neighborhood is tech-savvy, you can organize it on a Facebook group or an app like Sign-Up Genius). You can have kids’ teams and adult teams, or you can mix everyone together so the teams are balanced. For people who don’t want to play but still want to participate, have them sign up to bring snacks, take photos, or be the announcer. You could even have neighbors show off their other talents during a half-time performance!

3. Plan the day.
Your kids can help you put together a schedule of the order of the games and who will play when. Then they can post the schedules around the neighborhood and spread the word to their friends. On the day of the tournament, set up a snack station and sign-in table, and have people bring folding chairs to sit in while they wait for their turn to play. You can set up other games to keep players occupied during downtime, like obstacle courses for younger kids. And how about recruiting someone to man a hot chocolate station to keep spectators warm and happy?

4. Have fun!
Enjoy a great day of basketball and fun with your whole neighborhood. When the day is over, you can send pictures to everyone who participated and post the winning teams and scores. Spending a day outside playing together is a great way to relieve stress from holiday planning, school, and work—all while fostering a sense of community. Who knows? You may be starting a new neighborhood tradition!

If you’re looking to add some friendly competition to your driveway or neighborhood, Play N’ Learn carries and installs a range of basketball hoops. Get in touch today to find out more.

Lure the Kids Outdoors with an Obstacle Course

November 21st, 2014 by

Adult PlaygroundsWith the cooler weather and earlier sunset, it may be hard to motivate your kids to go outside to play. It’s cold—and there’s so much homework! Fitting in 60 minutes of daily exercise may seem like the last thing your kids want to do.

When motivation is hard to come by, it’s time to invent some new ways to use what you have on hand to get your kids excited about playing. Enter: backyard obstacle courses.

The backyard might seem like old news to your kids after many months of playing outdoors. By using what you already have in your yard and garage, however, you can set up an obstacle course that changes the way your kids think about their play equipment. To get started, pick and choose some of the obstacle course ideas below. Arrange the activities in any order, and encourage your kids to come up with new configurations and help determine the rules. Then let them loose for an afternoon of climbing, jumping, running, aiming, sliding — and a whole lot of outdoor fun.

1. Hop through hula hoops on the ground
2. Take to the basketball hoop for a game of HORSE or Lightning, or shoot until you make 5 free throws or layups
3. Dribble the basketball for 2 minutes straight
4. Swing 20 times on a swing
5. Make a chalk drawing on the driveway
6. Do 5 creative bounces on the trampoline
7. Climb up the rope ladder and go down the slide
8. Climb up the slide backwards
9. Walk heel to toe on top of a jump rope
10. Collect balls from around the yard and throw them in a bucket
11. Make a fitness box out of pool noodles and do 10 jumping jacks or pushups
12. Make a balance beam out of a long 2×4 or log

Try a course that takes your kids around your whole yard. You can start with combinations of a few obstacles and work up to a long course that everyone has to remember. Your kids can judge the winner on both time and accuracy so that memory, coordination, balance, and skill are all part of the game.

Between practicing and learning the courses and actually completing them, your kids will burn through an hour of playtime with no problem. For older kids, add a challenge by having them plan out the courses and design obstacles, and try to work in different features of your playset to provide more variety. Your kids will start to see the backyard in a whole new way!

If you’d like to add something new to your outdoor play area or indoor rec room, Play N’ Learn has a wide range of swing sets, slides, mulch, basketball hoops, trampolines, pool tables, and other play-inspiring fun. Reach out to discuss options for your family.