How to Choose the Right Play Set for Your Yard

March 15th, 2016 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.

4 Tips to Help Kids Get Daily Exercise

March 3rd, 2016 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.

Cabin Fever Cure-alls: Ideas for Winter Break Fun

December 17th, 2015 by

Cabin Fever Cure-alls: Ideas for Winter Break FunIf you don’t have travel plans on the books for winter break, you may find the kids getting stir crazy. Once the holidays are over and the constant hum of activity and visits from relatives die down, your kids may not know what to do with themselves, especially with cold weather keeping them indoors. While it may seem difficult to come up with options entertaining enough to catch your kids’ attention, winter break is a great time to think outside the box and try some new activities.

After all, being out of school and off work is a great excuse to do activities you wouldn’t normally be able to. Now’s an opportune time to take advantage of all the fun indoor places to play that you may never have visited before, or that your kids have already come to love. Here are a few ideas for how to keep winter break fun and active.

Take a spin on the ice
To get your dose of winter fun, head to the ice skating rink with your kids and their friends for a few hours of free skate. Ice skating helps with balance and coordination and is great exercise…but your kids won’t realize it’s anything but good old fashioned fun. Top it off with some hot chocolate afterwards and you’ve had yourself an exciting day.

Try out an indoor trampoline center
For some higher energy fun, check out a trampoline center near you where you and your kids can go for an open play session, or you can invite friends for a special post-holiday jumping party. Jumping on trampolines is a great way to exercise for both kids and adults, so join in the fun! If your kid has already been to an indoor trampoline center, mix it up by going to a special class or dodge ball game.

Head to an interactive science museum
While some kids may balk at the idea of going to a museum when they’re supposed to be out of school, odds are good that your city has a science museum that isn’t just about displays and facts. If you visit a science museum that has interactive displays and experiential learning exhibits, you’re in for a fun day of hands-on learning and activity that the kids will be talking about for days to come. Plus, when you go to a museum with the family, there are no packets to do or quizzes at the end — it’s all about just running around and having fun . . . and learning something, too!

Blow off some steam with laser tag
Laser tag is tried and true — it keeps your kids moving, it keeps their minds active as they make up strategy, it encourages teamwork, and you can play as many or as few rounds as you’d like. Plus, you can show up with a huge group or just a few people and you’ll be paired with other kids. It’s the perfect outing for a day when you realize you have a few hours to fill and you want to spend them doing something fun that also gets the heart rate up.

Come visit a Play N’ Learn showroom
We get it: Your play set is probably going unused right now because of the cold temperatures. But if your kids still want to enjoy playing on a play set and the added fun of trying out features that your set doesn’t have (plus basketball, trampolines, and more), come visit us at a Play N’ Learn showroom for one of our open play sessions so they can try everything out.

We hope you and your family have a happy holiday season and enjoy the opportunity to play!

Simple Tips for Decorating Your Playset for the Holidays

December 3rd, 2015 by

Simple Tips for Decorating Your Playset for the HolidaysNow that Thanksgiving is over and December has arrived, it’s officially time to move on to the end-of-year holidays. That means celebratory decorations will be popping up all around the neighborhood, from wreaths on the doors to that one neighbor whose light show takes up 50 percent of the power grid (you know who you are). You probably have some tried and true decoration plans for your house, but have you ever thought about incorporating your swingset into the decoration scheme? While you decorate the house, your kids can take ownership of decorating the swingset. Here are some fun, simple ideas for how to get started and get the kids into the holiday spirit.

String lights around support beams
Your swingset is a perfect place to string lights; it’s easy to wrap lighted garlands around and when the whole thing is lit up, it’ll be transformed with holiday cheer, enticing kids to get out there and play. Try using icicle lights to run across horizontal beams, or wrap lights around each leg. While you work on the house and front yard, your kids can design the perfect plan for making your swingset the main attraction, from what color lights to use to the size and where they’ll put them.

Hang ribbons around the top of the fort
Your kids can add another layer of festiveness to the swingset by adorning it with the big, shiny ribbons that always appear during the holidays. A few ribbons on the upper level in the fort add a nice touch and make the whole structure look like a big present — and you’ll be able to appreciate them any time of day, not just in the evening when the lights are on.

Hang a wreath above the slide
Create a focal point for your holiday decorations by hanging a wreath above the slide. It can be small or large depending on whether your kids will still be sliding during this time of year. If your kids are still playing on your swingset throughout the winter, remember to make sure you’ve done a winter safety check as the weather shifts and keep lights and other decorations out of their way.

Hang birdseed pinecones
Let’s not forget to bring some holiday cheer to the animals that might hang out in your back yard alongside the kids. While you’re decorating, why not give the birds and squirrels an early present by making some birdseed pinecones? Using pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed, your kids can make homemade feeders to string up on the swingset. If your kids still play a lot on their swingset during the winter, have them string them up in a less trafficked area of the set; otherwise, they can use the main support beams to hold the special treats.

Once all the decorations are done, celebrate with some hot chocolate in the fort with friends! You’ll be making good use of your swingset even when it’s too cold to enjoy it for playing. Thinking about adding a playset to your backyard? Come visit a Play N’ Learn showroom where we can walk you through all the options for how to ensure amazing play throughout the seasons.

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.

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.

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.