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Monday, December 22, 2014

Dash Through the Snow: 15 Ways to Play in a Winter Wonderland

Photo by: Heather Sunderland (Flickr)

Ahh, let's just curl up and hibernate until Spring gently rouses us from our slumber... hold your reindeers, parents! Winter weather doesn't have to freeze playtime. It's magical and lovely out there, so why not bundle up and enjoy it with the kiddos? There's oodles of family fun to be had around the holidays and a winter wonderland of play possibilities awaits outside! If you're blessed (or cursed, depending on your outlook) to live in an area blanketed with snow, I've got some kid-approved ideas on how to have flurries of fun!

There are tried and true rosy-cheeked adventures such as building a snowfamily or catapulting snowballs, but let's get creative! Play is a fantastic way to banish the winter blues, bond as a family, and discover the joy in all seasons. Plus, who doesn't love coming in from the cold to a steamy mug of hot chocolate?

Here are 15 ways to play in a Winter Wonderland.

  1. Hula Hooping: Hula hooping is lively fun no matter the weather. Now imagine the extra challenge of keeping it floating while all bundled up! Cue laughter! Plus, you can lay them down for an impromptu game of snowball toss.
  2. Get Artistic: How about some snow graffiti? Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and let the kids work magic on the fluffy white canvas! My girls absolutely adore this and were delighted by their first attempt. If you try it, pictures please!
  3. Snow Castles: Do you miss the beach? Me too! As we long for sunny sand, let's break out the sandcastle molds. Your kids can nurture their inner architect by building from hard and packable snow.
  4. Build a Fort: If your family is to ever stand a chance against the neighborhood onslaught of snowball warfare, you need to build a snow fort. The more snow, the more gloriously cavernous it can be. Snow forts are also perfect for hide-and-seek!
  5. Pin the Carrot on the... Snowman?: I LOVE this idea! Borrow Mr. Snowman's scarf for a blindfold and ready your carrot for this twist on the classic game. Just be warned that your beloved snowman may end up with a big orange growth anywhere BUT his face!
  6. Go Sledding: This is a winter rite of passage! Soar down the slopes, conduct races for your kids, or arrange obstacle cources with cones. If your kids are a bit older, you can help construct jumps out of snow to achieve some air. After all, excitement and healthy risk benefits kids in several key ways.
  7. Snowball Fights: Warm up those pitching arms! There are intricate gizmos and gadgets that formulate the perfect snowball, but our hands do just fine. Just be sure to remind your kids to never throw ice or aim at the face.
  8. Artic Hunt: Scavenger hunts in the snow? Now that's dashing! Your kiddos will adore the challenge of digging through the snow in search of treasure. You could even provide those sand excavation toys I mentioned earlier. I love puns, so I use "warmer, colder" clues to guide my snow angels.
  9. Crazy Footprint Tag: When playing tag in the snow, it's crucial to follow in the footsteps of the greats. Really! Declare a new rule: when chasing a target, you may only step in the footprints they leave behind. The hopping, tiptoeing, swerving, rolling, and leaping over obstacles make for a thrilling game! The more movement, the merrier!
  10. Exotic Snow Creations: The snow is your muse! Break beyond the mold of a simple snowman. You can make animals, objects, self-portraits, and the next world wonder! Found objects make dazzling decorations, too.
  11. Snow Angels: Who doesn't love making snow angels? So whimscal and relaxing! Spice it up by painting on dresses with the food coloring spray paint.
  12. Channel Elsa: Spritz a piece of black construction paper with water and pop it in the freezer until it's frozen. A thin layer of ice crystals will blossom across it like magic! Offer your kids magnifying glasses so they can marvel at the crystalline landscape. You can also catch freshly fallen snowflakes and encourage your kids to try identifying them with a handy chart.
  13. Ice Bubbles: Did you know that if you blow bubbles when it's below 32 degrees out, the bubbles can freeze in the wind? My girls just love the irredescient baubles!
  14. Take Decorating Further: Parade the festivities outside! Do your kids have a beloved playhouse, playground piece, or background area? Invite them to decorate with lights, homemade decorations, and whatever else they dream up. Let it be their project!
  15. Stick-Stack-Snow: Simple and classic! Carve a square board out of the snow and use twigs as X's and rocks as O's. To encourage more playful movement, you can make the board HUGE!

I hope you enjoy these 15 ways to get out there and play with the fam! Do you have any more suggestions? I'd LOVE to hear them! Let us know in the comments section!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playful New World: 10 Ideas to Innovate Cities for Playability

Photo by Matthias Ripp (Flickr)

The word "playability" is joyously abuzz in the play world right now. Play is a natural, boundless way to learn and grow, so it's no wonder that families are seeking more playable places. Playability is about building environments that are fun and spontaneous. These innovations brighten life in a flash and invite everyone to let loose and play. So, how exactly does playability unfold?

It begins with us! Parents, children and educators are putting their imaginations to work. Play advocates from all over the world are building playgrounds, rallying for recess, and promoting play. We need playability now; the constant lure of devices threatens the health of generations to come. With environments that encourage whimsy and exploration, kids and adults will be more in tune with their surroundings and each other. This benefits the health of the society as a whole! Where do we begin? Well, some cities have already leaped into it!

Here are 10 current and hopeful ideas for playability in cities:

  1. Dancing Street Lights: Would you ignore the do-not-walk symbol at crosswalks if it busted out slick dance moves? With dance lessons from passing pedestrians, the red light figure promoted safety with sashaying hips. How could you not giggle at that? In fact, the developers reported that 81 percent more people obeyed the dancing dude and stopped. Plus, the "dance instructors" enjoyed a burst of playful exercise.
  2. Bristol Brilliance: Bristol, England is bursting with playability! From 300ft water slides over main shopping streets to talking street objects to play-friendly street closures, residents are rediscovering their city and the joy it offers! The minds behind these efforts seek to connect rushed families with playfulness. They believe "people, hospitality and openness" are the key to a Playable City.
  3. Sensational Subways: The morning commute doesn't have to be so brutal and drab! There's so much potential for playability here. What if there were slides next to some stairs in subway stations to zip you to your connection faster? How about a game of hopscotch for the kids as you wait for your ride? I do so love the smörgåsbord of artwork in the NYC subways; it's literally buried treasure!
  4. Enhance it With Art: Enough gray! Banish the blues with color and culture. Just like a home is the canvas to the family's imagination, a city's visuals should blossom from the creativity of its inhabitants. Public art (PDF) can spark conversation, encourage smiles, and ease tension. In essence, it makes the city seem truly alive. I love the idea of kids being involved in creating murals that expand each year!
  5. Swing and Wait: Nothing announces bus stop like a big, climbable "BUS" structure! It provides shelter and an easygoing sense of novelty. Let's explore this route further. What about swings under awnings? Monkey bars? As long as everything is a safe distance from the road, these ideas could transform a passive waiting space into a playable experience!
  6. Rainbow Brick Road: I've been toying with this idea forever! What about bright, educational pathways from the schools to local playgrounds? Quotes, maps, animals, alphabets, languages, literature, hopscotch, puzzles - so many delightful possibilities! Even better, students can play an active role in creating the walkable murals. Anything that unites play, learning, culture, exercise, and art is a win-win-win!
  7. Spice Up the Center of Town: How much do you know about your local history? I believe that every town should have a freely accessible cultural hub of some sort. This third place can also serve as a community builder, play-maker, fitness maker, and farmer's market! Murals can grace the walls, offering insight into local heritage. Does your town have such a place?
  8. Maximize Space: Lack of space dominates most big cities, but that just means we need to think outside of the box. Check out this pink and orange pool noodle alleyway. I want to leap like a majestic gazelle through that! This project breathed life and cheer into a unsavory space. What about transforming an alley into a ping pong court? Imagine the wild ricochets!
  9. More Playgrounds: Of course! Do your kids have a fun, safe place to play? Where there's a will to play, there's a way! Organizations like KaBOOM! offer grants to build and enhance play spaces.
  10. Playful Public Seating: Phew, I'm pooped from all that playing! Why don't we have a seat? Let's skip the mundane bench. Playful public seating is the way to go, don't you think? Hammocks, swings, planter benches, and funky shapes add all visual quirkiness.

I know that many of these ideas are easier said than done, but they ARE happening! It all begins with a dream and a go-getter attitude. What ideas do you have? Please share in the comments. Let's talk play!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Happy House: 11 Ways to Boost the Playability of Your Entire Home

Photo by Jeff Kubina (Flickr)

If you're a regular visitor to my blog playground (I hope you are!), you know my kiddos and I LOVE the grand outdoors. Whether it's having a picnic outside on a dazzling day or taking a bike ride around the neighborhood, we treat the open air like a member of the family. There are countless benefits to playing outside, but sometimes, circumstances like weather befuddle our nature-bound adventures! But worry not, because...

Play can unfold gloriously indoors, too! A playful house is a happy house. After all, having fun is essential ingredient to happy and healthy mindsets in kids! All it takes is a splash of creativity inside the home and you'll be able to unlock a playful new world for you and your ducklings to enjoy. We call it playability; this literal movers and shakers movement is creating environments that enable and encourage play. You can take part right at your doorstep.

Here are 11 ways to boost the playability of your entire home:

  1. Shoot Some Hoops: Laundry baskets double as hoops! Swoosh your way to smiles by challenging your kids to some basketball. Sort clothes into color coordinated baskets or assign a basket per family member. Invite your kids to arrange them about the room, creating imaginative challenges.
  2. Hopscotch Indoors: This idea is simple and super affordable! Tape some quirky hopscotch designs on the floor of a heavily traversed hallway. These small bursts of movement add up to plenty of playful exercise throughout the day!
  3. Swinging Around the House: Ready for a daring and ambitious playful home idea? Install a rope swing in the house. You can do this in an open area like a den or living space. Just be mindful of the surroundings; you wouldn't want family fun time to hit a brick wall... literally. This a wonderful idea for the living room since it makes watching TV a more kinetic, engaging experience!
  4. Active Cleaning: Washing dishes. You feel icky just thinking about it, don't you? Let's ban boring chores! Try doing the dishes on a step climber. It'll entertain onlookers and provide a quirky leg workout. How about hula hooping while dusting? Skateboarding while sweeping? Okay, those might be a tad extreme, but I hope it gets the creative juices flowing.
  5. Dive Into the Ball Pit: Isn't it every child's (and adult's) dream to leap into a ball pit right at home? It's not such a far-fetched idea! Google DIY ball pits and you'll discover a creative medley of ways to make it happen. Animal pens filled with balls can also provide an impromptu dream come true.
  6. Play With Extra Space: Do you have a room that you're not quite sure what to do with? Fill it with play! A small room can transform into a playability paradise with bean bag chairs, balls, bouncing balls, cushioned flooring, and yoga mats. This colorful space would be ideal for kids to productively release energy!
  7. Fold-Up Games: Board games, hopscotch, indoor horseshoes, puzzles, and hallway bowling are just a handful of ways your family can play on a rainy day! Play banishes the cloudy blues and gathers us together as a family. What's your favorite way to indulge on a rainy day?
  8. Build Something Special: Building objects builds brawn and brains. Announce an eco-friendly building contest! Participants can gather natural objects and recycled goods to construct the next world wonder! It's great imagination food and provides entertainment in a frugal, engaging way.
  9. Hot Lava: Fire up this high-stakes game by playing epic tunes or decreeing absolute silence. My girls like to transform the entire house into Middle Earth, using skateboards to glide across areas with no furniture.
  10. Treasure Hunt: Treasure hunts are rich with potential! You can propose themes, such as 10 objects that are green (granted they return them to their rightful places afterwards). You can also make them productive, like cleaning 10 objects in dire need of TLC!
  11. Don't Forget About the Yard: I've witnessed too many neglected yards! A patch of land, no matter how humble or grand, can be a playful wonderland. Consider playground equipment or a little garden. No matter what you do, know that kiddos are capable of imagining any place into a playful place.

We don't need outrageous sums of money or time to create playful opportunities for our little ones. What have you done to make your home more play-friendly? I'd absolutely love to hear your ideas!

Find more about the author: Kim Hart