KaBOOM!’s Summer Playground Challenge

Bug Hunt at Holly Farm Park

Holly Farm Park, Portland, OR

This comes from Portia Obeng, Program Outreach Coordinator for KaBOOM!:

Why Playgrounds (and Your Kids) Need A Challenge

As the national nonprofit KaBOOM! kicks off its 2012 Summer Playground Challenge — which challenges families to explore as many playgrounds as you can this summer and offers prizes for your playground visits — past Challenge participant Angie Six shares what she and her family gained from a summer full of outdoor play.

Last year my family and I participated in the KaBOOM! Playground Challenge, I thought it would be a fun way to make sure we spent some time outside every week and maybe we’d find a new playground or two. Little did I realize what an inspiring, eye-opening experience it would be for all of us. Here are 5 reasons why your community playgrounds and your kids need a challenge this summer:

1. Kids know what they want, and we should listen – At the beginning of the challenge I assumed that the kids would play and I would take the photos and notes. The business end of the challenge was my job; their job was just to go along for the ride and play. From the very beginning they were interested in rating the playgrounds with me. It was eye-opening to hear what they thought from a kids’ perspective. Equipment I thought was great deemed “boring,” and components I would’ve overlooked were given high praise (playground with pea gravel to scoop and dump – I’m looking at you).

Challenge: Visit old playgrounds, new-to-you playgrounds, and everything in between. Ask your kids what they like and dislike. Take notes for little ones, but encourage older kids (who have the strongest opinions and some of the best ideas) to carry their own Playground Challenge journal.

2. There are hidden gems all around you – I thought I knew every great playground in our area – boy was I wrong. Between exploring the Map of Play, researching surrounding communities, and asking other parents, we found awesome playgrounds we’d never heard of before. Our favorite was an older wooden playground (so hard to find these days!) with lots of shade, places to hide, and an actual train that whooshes by several times a day.

Challenge: Get out of your playground “comfort zone” and find a new playground – then share your discovery with others!

3. Safety in numbers – Recently there was a lot of discussion on the pros and cons of “Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” One of the valid concerns about kids playing alone at the park is that should a predatory adult appear, who would the kids turn to for help? It’s an understandable concern if your kids are the only ones who ever play there. In order for parents to feel more comfortable letting their older kids play alone at the park, they need to know they’ll have friends there to play and band together with in the event they see anything suspicious. However, in order for this to happen, we as parents need to be willing to give our kids just a little more freedom to play independently.

Through visiting the playgrounds near our home, it was easy to see which playgrounds were well populated and which were eerily quiet. I made note of which ones had more kids and parents playing and sent my oldest child to those when she requested independent play.

Challenge: Find playgrounds in your area that see lots of participation from kids and families and recommend them on the Map of Play.

4. You can’t improve what you don’t ask for – Before the Challenge, I never really gave much thought to playgrounds. Evaluating playspaces for the Map of Play opened my eyes to the needs of the kids in our community and the many opportunities we have to improve the playspaces around us. Many community planners just go with the cookie-cutter playgrounds that are marketed to them, but if we want natural playspaces, unique equipment, or innovative and challenging spaces for all ages, we have to speak up.

Challenge: Take what you learn while visiting playgrounds and come up with something your community can implement to improve children’s play experiences. Let the decision-makers in your community know the work you’ve put in and the ideas you have.

5. A little boredom does a body good – My kids are five years apart, so I heard plenty of “I’m bored” from the 9 year-old. Sadly, it’s true – most playgrounds are geared to kids 7 years-old and younger. This combined with the lack of diversity among playground equipment (you’ve seen one combination slide and platform with steps, you’ve seen them all), made even an afternoon of play seem like torture to a tween. I found that if I ignored the whining, she’d come up with her own activities to keep her busy. Sometimes she’d help the younger kids. Other times she’d come up with elaborate games of tag or hide-and-seek, or explore the fringes of the playground. The end result was that she found ways to use her imagination and make a boring playground fun.

Challenge: Give older kids the opportunity to push through the boredom and find the fun no matter where they are. Leave the crutches they use to combat boredom at home – no smartphones, iPads or Nintendo DSi’s at the playground!

What are you waiting for? Sign up for the 2012 KaBOOM! Playground Challenge and see how it changes your view of play for the better. Just watch out for us, though. We’re taking the challenge again this year and we’re in it to win it!

Angie Six is a mother of three from Indianapolis, Indiana and the blogger behind Just Like The Number, where 2+2=Six. She also runs a blog The Risky Kids with her husband Mike. Get motivated to visit more playgrounds with your kids this summer by joining the 2012 Playground Challenge! The three top Challengers will win a trip for two to DC and all participants can win great prizes throughout the summer.

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