Gobble, Gobble! Thanksgiving Crafts Perfect for Kids

November 23rd, 2015 by

Gobble, Gobble! Thanksgiving Crafts Perfect for KidsThanksgiving usually means traveling or a house packed with relatives. Kids can get stir crazy while the adults are busy socializing and cooking. With a few simple craft ideas to break out, it’s a lot easier to keep your kids occupied without too much legwork while you’re trying to entertain and prepare a meal. Here are a few quick and easy crafts for your kids to try at Thanksgiving that will keep them entertained and give them a chance to unleash their inner artist.

Leaf collages and wreaths
Leaf collages and wreaths not only let your kids get creative, but they also get your kids moving — a difficult feat in the colder weather, but still just as important. They’ll have to bundle up and go outside to scavenge for the best leaves in the yard — or have a relative take them for an outing to the park while you enjoy some quiet time at the house. Once they have all their leaves, your kids can use scissors, glue, and construction paper to make their own leaf collage. Or, they can use their creativity and whatever craft supplies you have on hand to make decorative garlands or leaf mobiles — perfect for celebrating the season.

Turkey hand drawings
This old classic never fails — the turkey hand drawing is easy and fun for all ages. All you need is construction paper and markers or crayons and you’re ready to go. Your kids can try to trace their own hands or take turns tracing others’ hands to make a turkey family. Color the turkeys in with markers as traditional turkeys or as funky ones with fun designs and patterns, or use your craft supplies to make glitter turkeys, give them googly eyes, or glue on pipe cleaner outlines.

Pinecone turkeys
Here’s another craft that will keep your kids active while they create: pinecone turkeys. The essentials are a pinecone and some feathers cut out of construction paper. You can use clay to make the turkey steady on the table, and then your kids can glue their feathers to the back of the pinecone, use an acorn for the face, and googly eyes. Once they’re done, these outdoorsy turkeys make for fun table decorations when dinner’s ready.

Art tablecloths
Instead of putting down a nice fabric tablecloth on your dining room table, cover it with parchment paper or a paper tablecloth a few hours before dinner and have your kids go wild decorating it with crayons and markers. They’ll be busy making sure the whole surface is covered and they can use their creativity to tell stories on the tablecloth. And your dinner guests will enjoy the details beneath their plates as well.

Take what some consider a stressful, hectic time and keep it the celebration of friends and family it’s meant to be by helping your kids stay occupied and engaged. After an active and creative day, everyone will be happy to sit down to a delicious meal together. And if you’re searching for even more ways to keep the kids entertained during Thanksgiving and beyond, head over to one of our Play N’ Learn showrooms to talk to one of our associates about swing sets, trampolines, basketball hoops, and more.

Get Techy Kids Outside with Geocaching

November 5th, 2015 by

Get Techy Kids Outside with GeocachingNow that the weather is getting colder, it’s even harder than usual to get your kids outside — especially those who are always glued to some sort of glowing screen. But what if your kids discovered that there are secret stashes all around your community that they could only find by going outdoors and using a smartphone? That’s exactly the concept behind geocaching: using GPS coordinates posted on a website to find hidden treasures left by others. With geocaching, you can join technology with the outdoors as your kids track hidden “caches” in the parks and natural areas in your community. They won’t even realize they’ve been outside for an hour once they’re done looking.

As of 2013, there were two million geocaches worldwide, and the number keeps growing, which means the odds are good that there are some in your town. And you’d never know they were there if you weren’t looking for them. All you need to do is make a free geocaching account (https://www.geocaching.com/play), and then using your phone or GPS, pick a geocache near you and navigate to it. It’s a high-tech version of a treasure map.

Geocaches come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and difficulties. You may spot one right away when you get close, or you may have to look under rocks or in a hole in a tree. Part of the fun is narrowing down where the geocache is supposed to be and then searching to find where it’s hidden. Once you find it, you can sign the log book. Many geocaches have little trinkets inside, including where else the geocache has been in the world — sometimes individual geocaches have made treks of hundreds or even thousands of miles! Your son or daughter can add his or her name, or bring a knick-knack to leave behind or trade.

A lot of geocaches can be found at local parks or hiking trails, making it a fun way to mix in getting your daily exercise. Your kids can hold the phone to hunt for the geocache and explore a trail at the same time. Between all the searching and tracking, your kids will want to get outside and find as many as they can. With the CDC’s recommendation that kids exercise for 60 minutes a day and the evidence of the benefits of playing outdoors, that excitement is something you’ll want to take advantage of.

So whether your kids are balking at going outside in the colder weather or you have a hard time pulling them away from their devices, geocaching is a great middle ground. Looking for geocaches is also a great way to discover new trails and parks. And, kids can make their geocaching adventures part of a school report or science project. The thrill of the chase is just as rewarding as finding the geocache, helping to teach patience and persistence.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and see what treasures you can find. And if you need more ideas for how to get your kids playing all year round, inside your home and out in your yard, stop by one of our Play N’ Learn showrooms to see the fun we can bring to your family.

How Parents Can Help Make Playground Time Safer

October 23rd, 2015 by

How Parents Can Help Make Playground Time SaferWe all love to see our kids play and have fun, and we know that playing has benefits past putting a smile on little faces. Playing is good for coordination as well as muscle and emotional development, and can reduce stress. So here at Play N’ Learn, we take every opportunity there is to get out and play. But sometimes accidents do happen — it’s inevitable with the running, jumping, crawling, and more that comes with having a blast. Still, as parents, there are things you can do to make sure that your children enjoy playtime as safely as possible. Here are four easy ways to start.

1. Check playground equipment to make sure it’s received routine maintenance
Before setting your kids loose to have a good time, it’s a good idea to walk around your local playground to make sure everything looks and feels well maintained. There shouldn’t be loose or wobbly elements, and whatever protective flooring is in place shouldn’t be worn out. If any playground equipment seems to need a tune-up, especially as the seasons change, keep your kids (and their friends) off of it until repairs have been made.

2. Make sure your kids are playing on age-appropriate equipment
Another easy thing you can do to keep your kids safe at the playground is to make sure they are playing on age-appropriate equipment. For your children’s and others’ safety, they should stick to what has been deemed safe for their age group, no matter how alluring the equipment being used by older children may be. Many playgrounds have a variety of types of equipment available in the same location, including elements like low platforms and shorter slides for children under five, and swings and monkey bars for older children.

3. Leave your phone in your bag
We all get distracted by our devices, and when the kids are occupied, it may seem like a good time to get caught up on your emails, the news, or just get in a quick round of Candy Crush. But studies show that children are three times more likely to engage in risky behavior on the playground when their parents are distracted by electronic devices. Being able to stop those risky behaviors, like jumping off swings or using equipment outside of its intended use, before they turn into accidents requires your attention — and few distractions.

4. Keep your conversations in a place where you can still supervise
Electronics aren’t the only things that can pull your attention away from your kids when they’re in action at the playground. When all the parents are in one spot, it can be easy to get wrapped up in a conversation and not realize the kids have invented an innovative new game that might end in an accident. While the playground should be fun for parents, too, it’s important to keep an eye and ear on your kids at all times.

Getting your kids out to play should be a fun occasion, and keeping them safe doesn’t mean that your play time needs to be full of worry. Incorporating these few easy habits into your play routine can make it easy to keep your kids as safe as possible while taking those few inevitable bruises and scraped knees in stride. And if you’re ready to bring home the fun of an age-appropriate playground that can even grow with your kids, stop by a Play N’ Learn showroom. We can talk you through the process of adding play solutions to your yard that will be fun and safe for the whole family.

How to Join the Fun on National Play Outside Day

October 2nd, 2015 by

How to Join the Fun on National Play Outside DayDid you know that every first Saturday of every month is National Play Outside Day? Created in 2011 to encourage families to get outside and get moving, this “holiday” is a great way to make playing outside feel like an occasion. There are no formal, scheduled events associated with National Play Outside Day, but you can make it an event each month with your family. All you have to do to celebrate is go outside and have fun.

We’ve written before about just how beneficial and long-lasting the impacts of outdoor play can be. Yet in recent decades, children have begun to stay indoors more, spending as few as 30 minutes outside playing each day, but six or more hours a day on screens, according to a BBC article. All troubling information given that outdoor play can help young minds and bodies stay healthy.

In the face of chillier weather and shorter days, TV, computers, tablets, phones, gadgets, and other indoor activities become even more alluring. Some days it takes a concerted effort to get kids outside. Putting National Play Outside Day on your calendar for the first Saturday of each month is a great way to make sure you have dedicated time set aside for fun outdoor activities. If your kids love it, they’ll look forward to it over and over again each month.

So what kinds of activities can your family do to celebrate that will make outdoor play feel like a special occasion? Here are a few ideas:

  • Try a new biking path, let the kids help choose where to go, and then show them on a map how far you went.
  • Go apple picking at a local farm — see how many different types of apples you can identify — then make your favorite apple recipe at home with what you picked.
  • Hold a family HORSE tournament, and let the winner choose the dinner menu. Fun in the driveway often attracts other neighborhood kids. Before you know it, your kids will be making new friends around something other than a video game.
  • Invite neighbors to join in on a block party with relay games. Who doesn’t love a party?
  • Try out a different playground. It’s easy to go with what is familiar, but maybe the next town over has a playground that has different equipment, new slides, and new friends to meet!
  • Take your dog to the park to play catch. Even he probably needs more exercise! Let the kids invent a new game for the dog, or check out these 10 fun games kids can play with dogs.
  • Go on a nature walk and look for interesting plants and animals, or observe how the leaves are changing.
  • Make an obstacle course in the yard using household items and then invite friends — or even the family dog — to give it a try!

You get the idea — anything outside counts! Getting the whole family outdoors helps make new memories, models an active lifestyle, and creates respect for the environment — all important things for kids to learn early on. Take the opportunity for kids to use their imaginations, your family to meet new friends, and for parents to feel young again and have an excuse to unplug.

Getting outside doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or require a long trip in the car. You can celebrate National Play Outside Day in your own backyard or driveway!

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to encourage play in your yard or neighborhood, stop by a Play N’ Learn showroom to check out our playsets, basketball hoops, and more.

4 Tips to Help Kids Get Daily Exercise

September 23rd, 2015 by

4 Tips to Help Kids Get Daily ExerciseWith school back in session, you’ve likely noticed that homework and extracurricular activities are now taking over the bulk of your child’s after-school hours. These afternoon and evening commitments make for a busy family life — and leave little room for the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended for kids by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why is daily exercise so critical? Exercise can lower risk factors for health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, as well as obesity. Plus, it can reduce stress and help kids feel better about themselves. Instilling healthy exercise and play habits in childhood increases the likelihood of your child having a positive attitude about being active as an adult. But how can you make it happen, with so many other priorities on your family’s plate?

Chunk it up
Instead of tackling the entire 60 minutes at once, break it up into manageable portions that work with your other commitments. Have time to kill between after-school activities? Swing by the playground, take a walk around the block, or play a quick game of tag. Find other opportunities for active play throughout the day — before breakfast, while you’re waiting for the school bus, or after dinner — and 60 minutes will feel far less intimidating.

Forgo the car or bus
Instead of taking the car or bus to your destination, swap in bikes, scooters, or your own two feet to travel from point A to B. Kids love the adventure and benefit from the fresh air. And as an added bonus, you’ll get some exercise and fresh air, too.

Take homework breaks
Most kids have homework every night of the week, and the older they get, the longer those homework hours become. That’s why it’s so important to take active breaks during study sessions. Try a round of jumping jacks, push-ups, jogging in place, or hula-hooping. These activities won’t just help reach the 60-minute exercise goal — studies have shown that intervals of exercise are like fuel for the brain, helping kids focus and learn better.

Make play convenient
Busy families are short on time, and convenience matters. One of the most convenient places for active play, of course, is in and around your own home. But how can you make it fun and enticing for your kids? You have options:

• Put on some music and clear out a space in your house for dancing.
• Set up an obstacle course in your yard.
• Add some outdoor play equipment, such as a play set, soccer goal, basketball hoop, or trampoline.

With play sets, for instance, you can swap out or add accessories as your kids get older. Tire swings, fire poles, trapeze bars, rock climbing walls — a number of options can keep your kids engaged in active fun for years on end. Similarly, an adjustable basketball hoop in the driveway can grow with your kids — and offer a chance for the whole family to get in on the action.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore or something that you need huge blocks of time to accomplish — use what you’ve got to make it fun, and consider adding play equipment to your house and yard for added convenience. Ready to get started? Drop by one of our showrooms and explore ideas with a play specialist.

Prioritize Health as Part of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September 2nd, 2015 by

National Childhood Obesity Awareness MonthSeptember brings the first day of fall, back to school season, and an opportunity to evaluate your child’s nutrition as part of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Whether you’re confident that you’re making healthy choices or looking for a good way to start, there are things you can do to help your sprouts grow up strong and fit.

Make sure your kids get exercise, and enough of it
The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of exercise each day. That sounds like a lot, but replace two episodes of after-school TV with play time, and you’ve already done it. If your kids are bored with their normal play routines, see if they want to join a sport or take classes, get friends involved, or start a neighborhood play club to keep them engaged and interested. We have a broad range of fun play ideas in our blog archives.

Ensure safe and accessible park space
Even your best efforts to keep kids active can be met with difficulty when children don’t have safe and accessible places to play. That makes it difficult to go outside and get the playtime that’s crucial for physical and emotional development, let alone the recommended amount of exercise necessary to keep kids at a healthy weight. Time and again, we see examples of neighborhoods banding together with nonprofits or their local governments to turn unused land or run-down parks into places that are great for play.

Provide healthy and nutritious snacks
In addition to sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition is a big factor in childhood obesity. So instead of letting kids chow down on processed snacks and junk foods, fuel their play with fun snacks that also meet their nutritional needs—fruits, nuts, veggies, and more. You can also model good eating behaviors by drinking water instead of soda or sugary fruit juice and making healthy food choices yourself—after all, your kids look up to you to see what decisions you make, even if they say they don’t.

Know what’s normal and what isn’t
It can be hard to know whether your child is just going through a normal growth spurt or their weight gain is the beginning of an unhealthy pattern. The USDA has a helpful guide on how to navigate the sometimes tricky growth patterns your kids are going through. Most of all, your child’s pediatrician will be able to advise you about whether your child’s weight is normal. It’s generally better to model healthy habits and encourage kids to get out and play more, instead of imposing diets or focusing on losing weight—what’s important is for your kids to stay healthy and take care of the body they’re in.

The biggest takeaway: there’s no such thing as too much play.

Looking for ways to make your backyard an endless source of fun for your kids? Stop by one of our Play N’ Learn showrooms, and we can help you turn your yard into an active, nonstop fun zone.

How to Choose the Right Play Set for Your Yard

August 13th, 2015 by

How to Choose the Right Play Set for Your YardGetting a new play set or upgrading your existing play structure can feel daunting. From the variations of slides and swings to features like forts, climbing walls, monkey bars, and even chalk boards, the options are endless — and the decision isn’t something to take lightly, given that most play sets are a family’s hub of fun and activity for years on end. Where do you begin? What can help you find the right fit?

Below, we guide you through the process.

How do I get started?
Browsing play sets and accessories online is a great way to get initial ideas, but meeting with a play set specialist and seeing the options in person is always best. After all, you can compare the different sizes and add-on options, and a knowledgeable sales associate can chat with you about your needs and make recommendations based on the ages of your kids and the size of your yard. If you visit one of our showrooms, your kids can try out some of our play sets firsthand — and you’ll be able to see what excites them.

What if I have a play set I need to get removed first?
If you’re buying a play set from Play N’ Learn, we can remove your existing structure for a small fee. That way, your play set experience can be streamlined — and you won’t need to make arrangements with multiple companies. We’ll handle it all for you.

Can I still get a play set if my yard isn’t level or my yard isn’t big enough?
A short answer to this question is — absolutely! But it’s a question many families ask when they walk in our showrooms. Remember: the way we display play sets in the showroom isn’t at all how they have to look in your yard. The displays are there to give you ideas and let kids try out the options. If your yard isn’t perfectly flat, we can adjust the legs or add a different length slide. And if your dream play set won’t fit the current dimensions of your yard, we can shorten the swing beams or reconfigure slides and ladders to work around your space limitations. Plenty of options exist for uneven, awkwardly shaped, and even really small yards. So don’t let any of these stop you.

What if my HOA declines me?
In most cases, since our play sets are not fixed permanently to the ground, and since they come in neutral colors, they’re usually not declined by HOAs. If you’re awaiting HOA approval, we can stagger installation so that you can get the full go-ahead from the time you purchase to the day we install the swing set. And if you get declined, your purchase is fully refundable.

Can I add on more features later?
If you want to start with a smaller set and build out as your kids get older, that’s completely fine. Our swing sets are made so that you can add features like monkey bars, fire poles, tire swings, and other great accessories that can vary the play experience year after year. For instance, you might start with features like the captain’s wheel or telescopes for young kids who like to play imaginary games, and later decide to add accessories like a rock climbing wall for older kids who like a challenge or a hammock swing for those who like to relax and read. In this way, your play set investment keeps going.

At Play N’ Learn, we provide a full range of play equipment and specialize in helping families make choices that can grow alongside their kids and create lasting memories. Stop by one of our showrooms, and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Bring the Fun of Summer Camp to Your Backyard

July 23rd, 2015 by

Bring the Fun of Summer Camp to Your BackyardDo your kids go to summer camp? Playing all day with friends, having adventures, and being outdoors make for an unforgettable summer. But guess what? Your kids can experience this kind of fun whether they go to camp or not! Here are some classic games and activities that let you bring the fun of summer camp into your own backyard.

Capture the Flag
Round up friends and neighbors for an easy game of Capture the Flag. The division between your front and back yard makes a good boundary for the two teams. All you need for a “flag” is a sock or handkerchief. You can play during the day or at dusk or dark, and any place in your yard is fair game for hiding the flag, whether it’s a tree, part of the house, or a good nook or hard-to-reach spot on your playset. Here’s an overview of the game’s rules.

Water Balloon Wars
Fill up a bunch of water balloons and split into two teams. Take turns aiming and firing at the other team — below the neck only! Anyone who gets hit has to sit down. After the first round, it’s a free-for-all, and the object is to get across the enemy line without getting hit. You can make this more challenging by extending the play area to include hills or obstacles.

Drip Drip Drop
A hot-weather variation on Duck Duck Goose, Drip Drip Drop uses the same rules of one person walking around the circle of players sitting on the ground. Instead of tapping the players on the head, the standing person drips water from a cup onto their heads. On “drop,” the rest of the cup is poured over the sitting player’s head, and the chase is on!

Nature Walks
Going on hikes and exploring the outdoors is a quintessential part of the camp experience that you can recreate in your backyard or neighborhood. Do some research about common flora and fauna in your area, and see how many different species you can identify. Have your kids sketch and record what they see in a journal.

Backyard Camping
Want to up the ante on your summer camp experience? Try making your backyard a campground, and plan activities like roasting marshmallows over a fire pit, telling campfire stories, and stargazing before your kids settle into sleeping bags and tents outside. You’ll have all the modern conveniences you need nearby, but your kids can still scratch their camping itch.

So if summer camp is not on the agenda this year, or if a week or two is just not enough for your kids, bring the camp experience to your own backyard. And if you’re looking for a permanent fun fixture, head over to one of our showrooms for built-in play for days to come.

5 Ideas for All-Ages Fun at Your Backyard BBQ

July 9th, 2015 by

5 Ideas for All-Ages Fun at Your Backyard BBQSummer is barbeque season — is your backyard ready for action? Before guests arrive, while the hotdogs are cooking, and after dinner, here are a few ways to get everybody involved in making your backyard party central.

1. Have your kids decorate your playset or patio.
For your kids, the fun doesn’t have to wait until the guests arrive. Keep them busy and creative by putting them in charge of decorating the playset for their friends or the patio where you’ll serve your meal. Break out the construction paper, streamers, glitter — whatever you have in the craft supplies box is fair game. Twinkle lights can add extra sparkle if the festivities will go on until after dark. Just have an adult plug them in!

2. Get a game of HORSE going.
A game of basketball doesn’t have to feel like the March Madness tournament — a casual game of HORSE on the hoop in your driveway can keep guests of all ages involved as they try to match each other’s shots. For something different, try one of these basketball games the whole family can play. Your family and friends will only be a shout away when the food is ready to serve.

3. Bounce on the trampoline.
Jumping on the trampoline is fun for everyone, and has a host of health benefits for both children and adults, so no one has an excuse not to join in. Try one of many trampoline games you can play with friends to get the whole group involved. You’ll be getting exercise and having fun, all while staying out of the grill-master’s hair.

4. Set up an obstacle course for the kids.
Using your playset, basketball hoop, trampoline, or other play equipment you have, challenge the adults at your party to create an obstacle course for the kids. Then switch it around by having the kids create one for the adults. If your guests have a competitive spirit, consider tracking times and giving out some fun awards. Who will finish the course the fastest, the most gracefully, or with the most pizazz? Get creative with your awards categories, and if you’re feeling brave, team up with the adults to take on the kids in a course designed by everyone!

5. Go on an after-dinner nature walk.
You may be too full to bounce on the trampoline after a big meal, but you and your guests can still get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors after dinner. Have your kids prepare beforehand and lead a nature walk around your yard or neighborhood. They can point out different types of trees, flowers, wildlife, and any other interesting facts about the local landscape. If it’s dark out, offer kids mason jars to catch lightning bugs!

With summer upon us, the time to savor the warm air and sunshine of your backyard is now. Happy summer and happy playing! And if you’re ready to add some built-in fun to your backyard, stop by one of our locations to learn get decked out with some great play equipment.

Communities Band Together to Build Parks

June 25th, 2015 by

Communities Band Together to Build ParksOutdoor play is a crucial part of children’s development — it helps kids stay active and fit, builds their immune systems, and helps them develop creativity. For many kids, playing outdoors is only a matter of heading out into the yard or walking to the local playground or park. But what happens when your community doesn’t have readily available, safe spaces where kids can play?

In South Los Angeles, abandoned or vacant lots are abundant — there almost 3,000, compared to just 134 in West LA. At the same time, there are few or no parks within walking distance of many homes, making safe places to play hard to come by. Instead, kids frequently make the best of what’s available, which sometimes means playing in alleys or vacant lots with potential hazards.

So, community organizers came up with a solution: Why not make those vacant lots work for the community? By finding suitable plots and getting grants to buy land, organizers paired with The Trust for Public Land to convert a lot into what is now known as Serenity Park — an enclosed park where kids can play and adults can exercise on free equipment.

The Trust for Public Land works with community members to enable every resident to have a public park within a 10-minute walk from their homes. Why? Accessible and convenient outdoor play spaces help counteract inactivity, promote public health, and create a better sense of pride in the community. From helping combat issues like obesity to reducing “urban heat island” effects, parks benefit communities and the environment in many ways.

In South LA, Serenity Park is just the first of what will hopefully be many success stories. The non-profit organization Community Health Councils plans to continue acquiring underutilized land to convert to public parks as part of its ongoing goal to improve public health and make the community a great place to play and enjoy the outdoors.

While the process for procuring grant money, buying land, and constructing a park takes time, the positive impact on the community is immeasurable. Families welcome the new parks with open arms, knowing that the easily accessible, safe, and enticing spaces make it easier for their kids to experience the amazing benefits of play.

At Play N’ Learn, we support any opportunity like this to create fun, safe play spaces for kids, families, and adults. Kudos to this community!

To learn how to make your yard or community park a great place for people of all ages to stay active and play, contact us today or stop by one of our showrooms.