A History of the Playground: Part Two

September 9th, 2013 by

Young boy playing on a playground climbing wallIn our last post, we talked about the beginnings of the modern playground in America. This week, we’ll bring you up to speed to today’s playground movement.

Playgrounds Get Safer (and More Fun)
As playgrounds became a selling point for fast food restaurants, parks, and schoolyards, the business of playground manufacturing took off. As play equipment became more popular and common around every corner, safety regulations soon caught up. Potentially unsafe equipment was modified, and certain structures like climbing domes soon left most play areas due to risk of injury.

With new and improved safety features and more technology on the playground’s side, we can now offer features like shock-absorbing rubber mulch, strong, durable redwood on our playsets, and safety nets and padding on our trampolines. Not to mention, all of these years of kids playing have helped the playground industry develop some pretty cool new additions, like rope ladders, climbing walls, and tons of accessories that add to the play experience.

The Research is in
We now know after looking at the research that these add ons aren’t just for extra fun—playing on a playground can actually have many benefits besides putting a smile on your face. Playgrounds help promote healthy physical and mental development in children, including improving coordination and cooperation skills. The health benefits of playgrounds even extend to children with autism.

The New Playground
Just like when concept of the playground began gaining traction in America in the beginning of the 20th century, community organizers today still believe that the benefits of play are critical for children. Where access to playgrounds is scarce due to ill-maintained equipment or unsafe streets, new programs come in with solutions.

One of these movements is the pop-up playground. Neighborhood leaders section off a street on a certain day and promote play for all ages and try to teach kids sustainable habits. Charity groups also step in where playgrounds are needed most, securing the funds and materials to ensure all children have the opportunity to play.

As we learn more and more about the benefits playgrounds have on kids and their communities, the future of the playground is bound to be bright. Stop by your local playground with your kids and see what the all the talk is about—odds are good you’ll all leave a little bit happier!

A History of the Playground, Part One

August 22nd, 2013 by

A History of the Playground, Part OneIt’s hard to remember a time when playgrounds weren’t the norm. Today, any park or schoolyard without one would be lacking. You may be surprised to know, then, that the idea of the modern playground hasn’t been around for that long, although it has gone through substantial changes since its beginnings. Read on to learn more about the history of the playground.

Origins

Many of the components found on today’s playgrounds developed long before the origins of the modern concept of the playground. In fact, swings have been seen in ancient Greek art dating back to the 5th Century B.C., and much art since then has included people playing on swings. Other items like ladders, captain’s wheels, and telescopes existed for functional purposes and were later pieced together to make a fun playground experience.

Development

Although the first playgrounds as we know them originated in Europe in the mid-1850’s, the first American playground did not open until 1887 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Both parents and civic leaders quickly realized that playgrounds had an essential role in their communities. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out for the need for playgrounds, stating that city streets were an unsafe place for play and backyards were too small. He believed play was a fundamental need for children, and that it was important to have playgrounds in all cities within walking distance of all children.

Playgrounds began popping up all over the country throughout the early decades of the 1900s, with seesaws, climbing structures, and more. By this point, it was generally agreed upon that playgrounds promoted development of social skills and physical coordination. The spontaneous play that happened on a playground was proving to be hugely beneficial for children’s development.

With this realization came more commercial development, and thus the business of play was born. Corporations like McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants capitalized on the popularity of playgrounds, and big box manufacturers started cashing in on the new craze—but not without consequence. Stay tuned for our next post about the next phase in the playground’s history!

Benefits of Playground Equipment for Children with Autism

November 27th, 2012 by

How can playground equipment benefit children with autism?With the diagnosis of autism and related disorders on the rise throughout the United States, parents and teachers are looking for any way to treat and enrich the lives of children who are diagnosed with some spectrum of the disorder.

From highly structured therapeutic activities to address behavior and speech issues to other forms of treatment like animal or music therapy, there are multitudes of ways to engage and improve the lives of children with autism. One of these methods is using structured play. It’s important to note that play programs must be implemented properly in order to be effective, as participation in physical activity can be difficult for children with autism because of low motor functioning and social anxiety.

Read on to see how using structured play on playground equipment can benefit children with autism alongside a behavioral intervention.

1. Play promotes fitness and a healthy lifestyle

The prevalence of being overweight increases for children with autism, with 19% of children with autism being overweight and an additional 36% at risk. Being overweight can bring with it the usual associated health problems like diabetes, heart problems, and joint issues, but these conditions can become especially problematic in children with autism as they frequently already have health issues like gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, and depression. Promoting activity and healthy movement helps children stay healthy and fit to reduce the risk of weight gain.

2. Exercise and play improves motor function

If you think about the number of challenges your playset presents to your child, it’s no surprise that using a rope ladder, slide, or swing would increase motor skills. By engaging in structured play sessions using some aspects of a playground or play area, a child with autism can increase their balance, flexibility, and strength.

3. Structured play decreases negative behavior

Negative, self-stimulating behavior like body rocking, spinning, and head-nodding are frequent in children with autism. Exercise, however, can help curb these behaviors along with aggressive or self-injurious behavior. It’s possible that the routines of exercise are similar enough to distract from the negative behavior.

4. Physical activity improves social outcomes

The benefits of exercise and play for children and adults alike are well known—we all are usually in a good mood after we exercise, and playing on teams promotes cooperation and teamwork. For children with autism, these benefits can be even more important as these children are frequently anxious and depressed and have a hard time interacting with other people. Physical exercise and play can promote self-esteem, increase general happiness, and help develop social relationships.

Incorporating structured play and exercise into autism treatment can have a myriad of positive outcomes for children who have been diagnosed on the spectrum. Using playground equipment to help children with autism have a structured and safe environment is a great way to promote physical activity and all the benefits that go along with it for children with autism.

Planning Your Backyard Stay-cation

June 21st, 2012 by

Planning Your Backyard Stay-cation“I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.”

It’s the most dreaded sentence parents hear during summer vacation.

While it’s a safe bet you may hear that once in awhile, there are a few steps you can take to keep your children out of the summer doldrums. Start by planning a backyard stay-cation!

Stay-cations serve many purposes; they not only give children something to look forward to, they also allow you and your children to work together to plan it. Creativity is the most important tool when it comes to a stay-cation.

Plan on using your playset as the focal point for the stay-cation. Create fun and easy contests using every part of the playset—see who can swing the longest or complete an obstacle course in the shortest amount of time.

Including a water element brightens up stay-cations. Sprinklers are always fun, as are mini-pools and squirt guns. Fill up a basket of water balloons and watch as your children have fun and on a hot July day.

Don’t forget to schedule a picnic lunch during your stay-cation. Include your children’s favorite lunchtime meal and snacks to make this event special. The anticipation helps keep everyone involved and focused.

Breaking up the stay-cation helps keep the idea fresh and interesting to your children, so here are a few backyard games that are easy to plan and fun for everyone:

  • Freeze tag
  • Hopscotch
  • Beanbag toss
  • Wiffle ball
  • Foursquare
  • Obstacle course

A stay-cation should also have planned down time so everyone can recharge their batteries. Sidewalk chalk, coloring books, and crayons are inexpensive and help little artists display their latest creations. Visit the local library for summer classics that make for excellent reading circle time.

Don’t forget that part of stay-cation planning should include an inspection of your playset to make any necessary adjustments. You may even want to add new accessories to make your stay-cation the best ever!

Keeping Your Children Cool Over the Summer

June 13th, 2012 by

Keeping Your Children Cool Over the SummerSummer’s here, and that means the kids are home from school and spending plenty of time outside. Nothing’s healthier than time spent outdoors, but at the same time, there are certain concerns to keep in mind because of the heat and weather. Here are some tips for keeping your kids cool throughout the summer.

Drink plenty of water. This seems obvious, but it’s remarkable how easy it can be to forget in the midst of going about your day. On a hot day, make sure your child is sipping water constantly and always has convenient access to something to drink.

Take advantage of shade. If there’s a way to keep play to shadier areas, that’s always desirable, as you’ll want to avoid excessive exposure to the sun. This is also something to keep in mind with your playset; setting it up in the shade helps contain play to cooler, more comfortable areas. Trying to spend the hottest, midday hours inside helps with this as well.

Wear sunscreen. Avoiding sunburn is tantamount to a child’s health and enjoyment, so always make sure to apply sunscreen before playing outside and to reapply if outside for a long amount of time. If water games are involved, you’ll have to reapply more frequently.

Play water games. You could go to a local water park or pool, but those are often dirty and crowded. Instead, just create a water park of your own in the backyard using a sprinkler or water guns. Be sure to do your best not to waste water, though, especially during the summer.

Try to play outside in bursts. It’s better not to have too prolonged of an exposure to the harsh heat and sun, so try and organize playtime so that children spend a period outside, then can go back inside, then can return outside later once they’ve cooled down and/or the temperature has dropped.

Be wary of the possibility of heat exposure. Make sure, particularly in the summer, that you or another adult is easily available to help out if any of the kids begin to feel too hot or unwell. If one of your children does seem to suffer dehydration or heat stroke, be sure to call 911 as soon as possible.

As long as you play it smart and take all these factors into account, the summer should be nothing but fun. Just keep hydrated, take the sun into account, and enjoy the beautiful weather!

Motivating Your Children to Play Outside

May 23rd, 2012 by

Motivating Your Children to Play OutsideChildren enjoy play, but sometimes they don’t necessarily want to participate in the kind of play that’s best for them: outdoors, physical activity, constructive and safe. With the advent of video games, smartphones and all the other technology that distracts both children and adults, it has become harder to get children interested in playing outside, but here are some ways to motivate them.

Remind your children of games they can play. Oftentimes, the problem for kids is that they don’t know what to do once they get outside. But there are an almost endless number of games available for the enterprising child: any sort of sport, tag, hide and seek, imaginary play, SPUD, and so on. If kids have a particular activity they can get excited about before leaving the house, they’ll be more eager to do so in the future.

Encourage your kids to try and make something up. One of the most empowering things for a child is to discover a game that didn’t exist before, a game of their own creation. If you let your kids experiment with the possibilities of play, they’ll understand better that they don’t need to be bound by the rules of any pre-created game when they’re trying to entertain themselves, and that there are an almost unlimited number of ways to have fun.

Place limits on certain indoor activities. There’s nothing wrong with video games or television or the computer, necessarily. But in excess, these activities don’t contribute to overall health and wellbeing. If you limit the amount of time your children can use these indoor things to either a certain amount of time every day or only certain parts of the week, it’ll force them to find other ways to entertain themselves, and these ways will most likely involve going outside.

Play with your kids and exercise on your own. Playing with your children outside helps set a positive precedent. If they see you enjoying yourself outside, they’ll be more likely to do the same themselves. And if mommy and daddy are in good shape, they’ll want to be in good shape like mommy and daddy. Setting good examples for your children is incredibly important, particularly when it comes to active pursuits like exercise and play.

Get a Play N’ Learn Playset! Create a park for your kids to play in the backyard with a playset. Your kids will love the games they can play on it, and you can add and change features as your child ages.

Getting your kids to exercise is a very important part of setting them up to lead healthy and productive lives, and it’s crucial to start early. If your children are used to exercising when they’re young, they will expect it to be a part of their lives as they get older, and by then they will be able to be a part of organized sports that help instill play as a regular, daily activity.

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

May 10th, 2012 by

Be sure to monitor your child's exercise.Exercise is a hugely important part of life for your children — it keeps them healthy, entertained, and occupied, and it helps promote good habits for the rest of their lives. However, there is such a thing as too much exercise, and though it’s important to make sure your child is exercising, it’s also important to make sure they aren’t overexerting themselves. Here’s how to make sure your child is getting the right amount of physical activity.

Listen to your child. Children understand their physical needs more intuitively than adults do, which means that when their bodies are tired, they will often signal it. If your child says he or she is tired and needs to rest, let them take a break until they’re ready to get moving again.

Make sure they can rest while playing sports. Most of the time, children won’t have a problem taking a break while playing recreationally in the backyard or on a playset, but competitive sports are more likely to push them farther than they are able to go physically. So when your child is playing sports, make sure they have a way to take a break during the game, whether that’s a halftime intermission or substitutes available to switch in and out, and have water for your child to drink.

Don’t work out every day. Children should be careful not to play sports every day; recommendations prescribe a maximum of five days of sporting activity a week, with one day off from any sort of strenuous physical activity.

Beware of injuries. If your child indicates that part of his or her body hurts or that they are feeling overworked, make sure to take heed of that and give them time to rest until they start feeling better. Overuse injuries are a particular concern for children, because with their bodies still growing, they are more susceptible to strain than an adult is.

Remember to prioritize exercise over competition. It’s fine for children to want to win in games they compete in, but only so much as they want to win, and as long as they realize that it’s more about playing the game than winning. What becomes problematic is when adults pressure children into prioritizing winning over having fun and staying healthy; this can lead to children pushing themselves beyond their natural limitations, and ultimately lead to injuries.

No life is complete without a healthy amount of exercise, and especially with children, you want to make sure they are forming habits that they can keep for the rest of their lives. Just keep these factors in mind, and your child will learn to love and value physical activity.

Activities You and Your Child Can Do Together

May 3rd, 2012 by

Activities you can do with your child.As much fun as it is for your child or children to enjoy a playset or trampoline on their own, sometimes they—and you—would be much happier if you can also participate. Not every activity is appropriate for both ages to enjoy, but there are more than enough different things that you and your child can do together to keep both of you entertained through the summer and beyond.

Using the swings. The swings are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to spend time with your child; just push him or her back and forth, and all of a sudden you have a convenient chance to talk, a way to make sure they stay safe, and a fun activity to share. Even children who can swing by themselves will often prefer it if you push them, as it makes the activity seem like a ride at an amusement park.

Climbing and monkey bars. Some of the aspects of the playset that are a little more difficult, such as using the monkey bars, require help from the adult for younger children, so they would certainly much appreciate your involvement. This gives you a good opportunity to not only help build your child’s strength, but also to teach them about movement and terrain in a new and exciting way.

Pretend play. A playset creates a new landscape for children in the yard, something that isn’t like their house or the rest of their world, and that makes for a perfect opportunity for them to use their imagination. What makes this type of experience even more powerful is if you allow them to welcome you into their world and participate fully; this makes the power of their imagination seem even greater.

The trampoline. Adult supervision is always a positive with regard to using the trampoline, and though more than one person shouldn’t use a trampoline at once, standing by and overseeing your child’s play will give them the chance to impress you with their skills and you the chance to make sure they are safe and enjoying themselves.

Exploration. Like with pretend play, exploration is a fantastic way to let your child take the lead and guide you for a change. Have them show you around the playset and say why each part is interesting to them, what they enjoy doing there, and how they like to play. Your child will feel empowered and get to exercise his/her creativity.

There are countless other ways to enjoy your playset with your child; part of the fun is discovering them yourself, so get playing! If you want to test out any of these fun parent-child activities, be sure to check out our Free Open Play Days and our Play Anytime option  at our Columbia location!

Games You Can Play On Your Play N’ Learn Playset

April 11th, 2012 by

Games you can play on your Play N' Learn PlaysetA Play N’ Learn playset has near unlimited potential for entertainment, considering how dynamic and versatile of a structure it is. That being said, sometimes it helps to have specific games to play with your children, or for your children to play, when you’re using your playset. Here are a few ideas for more carefully designed play.

Tag: One of the most classic backyard games there is, tag takes on an added dimension on your playset, where kids can move around the intricacies of the set with an added dimension to their exploration. Players must also be more delicate and strategic in their pursuits than they normally would be on flat ground, changing the game from a purely athletic endeavor to one that involves planning and experimentation.

Roleplaying: Because playsets are such a different environment than the regular yard or ground, it creates whole new possibilities for pretend play, such as superheroes or other types of supernatural characters. The vertical element especially helps children escape the normal bounds of their psyche and become someone else.

Relay courses: Though racing can become unsafe on a playset, children can create courses that they follow in a specific route, and then have to copy each other or emulate the previous person’s route. If there are enough children playing, you can do it in a relay format, where once one child finishes the other carries on where he left off.

Swinging games: If your playset has a swingset attached, that opens up another realm of possibilities for game-playing. One good one is for children to try and swing in as close to synchronicity as possible, matching each other’s path exactly. Another is to try and swing on opposite trajectories but meet simultaneously in the middle. Timing games on the swings work on your child’s control and sense of movement, and can be good strength builders.

Hide and seek: While it’s difficult to contain an entire game of hide and seek to a playset, due to the fact that most of it is open and it doesn’t cover a huge amount of territory, the playset makes for a great hiding place in a yard-wide or household-wide game. Also, there are ways to contain a game entirely to the set if the seeker closes his or her eyes and stands nearby – this becomes more of a precision game than a wider game of hide and seek.

A Play N’ Learn playset is so much fun that you don’t even need games like this to keep you and your children entertained, but it never hurts to be able to diversify your play. And make sure to come up with games of your own!

Why You Should Get a Play N’ Learn Playset Instead of a Pool

March 13th, 2012 by

Playset fun!

Let’s face it: you probably only have so much space in your backyard. And that space, in many cases, could be spent on either a pool or a playset—often times, not both. That means that you might have to make a tough decision on the right one to get for your family. Here are some reasons why you should go the playset route:

Playsets are less expensive. Pools can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, which is considerably more than a playset would cost you. And post-purchase costs of a playset—especially our redwood playsets at Play N Learn—is incredibly simple, requiring just the occasional application of protectants. On the other hands, keeping your pool clean and in working order takes an elaborate routine of services and chemicals, plus the covering during non-swimming seasons.

Pools often necessitate excessive construction or landscaping. One of the biggest barriers to obtaining a pool is the initial excavation and digging that needs to be done to make a space for it. Besides being pricey and cosmetically affecting, this process is noisy, intrusive and can go on for a long period of time.

All a playset needs is to be put together. Unlike the pool, with a playset, you just need to assemble it in a flat space in your backyard—which either you or professionals can do—and you’ll be set and ready to go. No major changes to the landscape of your home, and no bothersome construction.

Playsets are safer than pools. Although a pool is safe if properly used, there are many concerns to be thought of when deciding on a pool for your family. Constant monitoring is required, and the potential for accidents is high. Playsets, on the other hand, require casual supervision to be very safe, and risks get noticeably smaller as children get older, whereas you can never quite outgrow the risks of a pool.

Playsets are far easier to maintain. As touched on when discussing expenses, playsets require very little maintenance to stay healthy and safe. Pools, on the other hand, need constant and complicated monitoring.

You can use your playset all year round. Pools have a definite window of use: warm weather, and that’s it. But deep into weather that would see your pool covered and out of commission, playsets still offer an enjoyable and constructive play experience—fall, summer, spring, no problem.

Of course, the choice between a playset and a pool has a lot to do with your family’s taste and preferences and the composition of your backyard. But we think that if you go the playset route, you certainly won’t regret it.