From Time Health & Family | By Bonnie Rochman
Playtime can be as important as class time for helping students perform their best.
Recess is most children’s favorite period, and parents and teachers should encourage that trend, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Recess can be a critical time for development and social interaction, and in a new policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics, pediatricians from the AAP support the importance of having a scheduled break in the school day. “Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges,” says Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University who is a co-author of the statement. “They tend to be less able to process information the longer they are held to a task. It’s not enough to just switch from math to English. You actually have to take a break.”
The AAP committee that developed the statement began its research in 2007, expecting to discover that recess is important as a physical outlet for children. What they found, however, was that playtime’s benefits extend beyond the physical. “We came to the realization that it really affects social, emotional and cognitive development in a much deeper way than we’d expected,” she says. “It helps children practice conflict resolution if we allow them unstructured play, and it lets them come back to class more ready to learn and less fidgety.”
The policy could be a lifeline for the dwindling role recess plays in the school day as districts trim budgets and hours of instruction, and squeeze more academic subjects into existing or even fewer school days, often sacrificing recess in the process. A year ago, a national survey found that just six states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois and Iowa — adhere to standards from the National Association for Sports and Physical Education that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education. And just three states — Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska — have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess a day, according to research published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Since the 1990s, 73% of elementary school students through sixth grade have some form of daily recess, though it can vary widely between districts and even from school to school. That inconsistency could have serious implications for children’s health, says Catherine Ramstetter, Murray’s co-author and a health educator at Cincinnati’s Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences. As recess started to disappear, for example, researchers noticed a spike in childhood-obesity rates.
A school volunteer, Ramstetter has personally encountered the challenges of maintaining regular recess. The inner-city Catholic school in Cincinnati where she offers her services has no playground. Recess takes place irregularly in the school gym or at a local park, and only for students through fourth grade. And teachers often withhold recess as punishment.
She and her fellow committee members say that could be a mistake. Banning unruly kids from recess can backfire since these students are precisely those who may potentially benefit the most from the break that recess represents.
It’s also important to distinguish recess from physical education, says Ramstetter. While gym class offers kids a chance to stretch their legs and get their heart rate up, it is still considered instructional time, with very different goals from those of the unstructured downtime of recess. Likewise, it’s important to let kids play what they want — that means playground monitors shouldn’t organize kids to play kickball or soccer. “When it’s structured, it’s not a break in the day,” she says.
The new statement is not meant to be a recipe for rescuing recess; it does not specify how long recess should last, but calls for more studies to determine the optimal length of breaks in the school day. But the authors do advise that recess should be a protected time, a sacrosanct period of free play that is no less important than the hours devoted to math or reading.
That understanding reflects a growing body of research documenting the power of some time off for improving concentration and even creativity. “Everyone, not just kids, benefits from regular breaks in the day,” says Murray. Adults rarely sit down and spend two or three hours focusing on a single task. “We get up, we get coffee, we mix and match our tasks during the day so our concentration can stay sharp,” says Murray. “With kids, we have to schedule these breaks.”
Without such intentional periods of play, the AAP committee says, it’s not just children’s waistlines that may suffer, but their ability to pay attention, and ultimately their academic performance as well.
Most of the commercial playground manufacturers have systems like those described below available from distributors (like me!). Some systems are very basic while others are more complex (expensive). If anyone is interested in more info, just send me a message. I sell throughout the lower 48! This article is from this morning’s USA Today.
No costly membership. Open 24/7. Doesn’t take up any space in your home. And it’s good for you.
Free outdoor gyms, the latest weapon in fighting the nation’s obesity epidemic, are sprouting up in city parks across the country. Clusters of traditional fitness equipment from elliptical machines to leg press and sit-up benches are being installed in city parks, often in poorer neighborhoods that may not have access to healthful options.
Leading the effort is the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit land conservation group that created its Fitness Zones program about three years ago to help cities fund outdoor health playgrounds.
Accessible to anyone walking by, 80 fitness zones are either being built or in the process, says Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for the trust.
“It went gangbusters,” he says. “Essentially, it’s like an outdoor gym with new varieties of exercise equipment built to withstand the rigor of weather vandalism.”
Zones usually have six to eight exercise units but some, such as one in New Orleans, has 18.
The concept is appealing because outdoor gyms use available park space that municipalities already own. The trust not only helps pay for the zones but helps cities raise private funds.
And most important, they’re free to anyone who wants to use them.
“That’s what defines them,” Benepe says. “They’re in a public park and accessible to the public. … You can be outdoors with friends and neighbors.”
Nearly 50% of Americans get less than the minimum recommended amount of physical activity, and 36% of U.S. adults engage in no leisure-time physical activity at all, according to the trust. While many variables can account for these statistics, “fitness deserts” — areas where residents don’t have access to exercise opportunities — are high on the list.
“In 30 years as parks and recreation director, I have never seen as much of an immediate impact,” says Sherry McBee, St. Petersburg’s parks and recreation director. “One of our goals is to improve the health of our citizens. It’s just really been a win, win, win, win. … I have never gone by one of them that they haven’t been heavily in use.”
Florida has 17 of these open-air gyms. Sprawling Los Angeles County has 41.
“They tend to lend themselves to warmer-weather cities, but they’re also being installed in cold-weather cities” such as Newark, Denver and Minneapolis, Benepe says.
Improving Americans’ health has moved up most cities’ agendas. In Florida’s Dade County, there are 11 Fitness Zones — eight that opened in the past year alone.
“We want to put them in all 40 parks,” says Jack Kardys, director of Miami-Dade County’s Parks, Recreations and Open Spaces, which has been on a health campaign and has banned high-sugar content snacks from recreation centers.
The concept of outdoor space for exercise is common in Asia and Europe. Now, a Swedish company has created stainless-steel sculptural structures that double as workout equipment.
Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson of Malmö, Sweden, designed City Art Gym as “gender-neutral outdoor fitness that’s beautiful:” a sphere, a bridge and a bar in stainless steel that can be used for at least 17 exercises that use more than one muscle group.
“Some fitness equipment doesn’t make the city more beautiful,” says Rolfsdotter-Jansson, a former basketball player. “I wanted to create a fitness structure that was beautiful.”
In Malmö, there’s a City Art Gym on the waterfront and one in a town square near a medieval church. Now, U.S. cities have inquired, she says, including New York City, Salt Lake City and Sarasota, Fla. Cost: $22,000 plus tax and shipping.
Jennifer French, a member of the Paralympics U.S. sailing team that won a silver medal this year, lives in St. Petersburg and is a city volunteer who advocates for people with disabilities.
A quadriplegic, French has used the Fitness Zone that is wheelchair accessible and is working to expand it to other parks.
“Fitness for people with mobility impairment is very hard to find,” says French, 41. “Having this outdoors and the ability to use it and in your own time is great. … It’s right in a shaded area so you’re not in the beating sun.”
“It’s brought people to our parks who in the past were not regular users,” McBee says. “Grouping equipment together in a visible location makes more people comfortable using it. It’s somewhere you could watch your child in the playground while you work out.”
I’m covering various designations that you should find inside playground catalogs. Today’s organization is the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials). This organization sets standards for the playground equipment. ASTM provides safety and performance standards for various types of public playground equipment. Its purpose is to reduce life-threatening and debilitating injuries. While it’s not a law, virtually every manufacturer makes equipment to satisfy the ASTM.
It is early December, and outside today the snow is softly falling. Children are making snow angels, and hoping for enough snow to build forts. How does the winter season affect your playground? Depending on your local weather, things may not change or they may be very different from summer play conditions. Some owner/operators will close down playgrounds for the season, but they often can’t stop the kids from coming to play anyway.
As always, supervision plays a key role in safe play. Parents or caregivers should think about things like:
Equipment choices can also help. Some forms of commercial playground equipment, like net climbers, are not hard surfaces and may be less impacted by winter conditions. This can come in the form of less cold transfer to the users, less surface areas for snow or ice to build up, and increased visibility for supervision. Active play with lots of movement will also keep children warm & rosy-cheeked happy.
Who is making the hot chocolate? Play safe and enjoy the season!
The value of child-directed play is universally recognized and one of the few aspects of child-rearing that experts and thought leaders agree on. Independent play makes for highly productive, happily occupied kids, which in turn makes for happier, calmer parents. And it’s natural — the desire and ability to create play is inborn. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Parents often share with me the difficulties they’re having establishing the independent play habit for their kids. They tell me their infants cry when they’re placed down, their toddlers won’t play unless parents play with them, or their preschoolers need constant entertainment and direction.
Most of these problems stem from common misconceptions about independent play (all of which I once had):
Play Myth # 1: Babies can’t do it.
“Infancy is a time of great dependence. Nevertheless babies should be allowed to do things for themselves from the very beginning.” – Magda Gerber
Perhaps the most pivotal difference between Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach and other child-rearing methodologies is Gerber’s disagreement with the common perception of infants as helpless. Infants are dependent,but not helpless, corrected Gerber. She and her mentor Dr. Emmi Pikler perceived even the youngest infants as capable self-learners, able to initiate play and exploratory activities, experience mastery, engage directly with their environment and participate in communicative mind-to-mind partnerships with caregivers.
Brain studies recently conducted by psychologists like Alison Gopnik, Elizabeth Spelke and Paul Bloom have confirmed Gerber and Pikler’s views (finally). Infant minds are now proven to be up and running.
But this capable, competent infant is at odds with the more passive, helpless infant conceived by Dr. William Sears, influential writer Jean Leidloff and others. In their popular model based on ancestral practices, babies are dependent on their caregivers for entertainment and education and need almost constant physical contact to feel connected. The focus of this approach is carrying the baby for the majority of the day.
Establishing the habit of free play requires a quite different perception and focus — creating a safe play space and trusting the baby to initiate worthwhile independent activities. Of course, infants need lots of attentive holding and cuddling, but in Gerber’s model, they also need play. She noted that infants can clearly indicate when they need to be held, but they can’t enjoy playing independently until we believe they have something to do.
Play Myth #2: If a baby cries when she’s placed down, she must not like playing.
The best way for babies to begin free play is on their backs, because this is the position in which they have the most freedom, autonomy and mobility (try your tummy and then your back to see for yourself). When parents tell me their baby cries as soon as she is placed down on her back, it is usually for one of these reasons:
The baby is placed down abruptly or without a word.
Capable (dependent, rather than helpless) babies are whole people, and they need to be our communication partners. They need to be listened to and also spoken to respectfully about what will happen to them. “Now I will put you down on the blanket to play.” Then let’s say the baby cries. “Oh, you weren’t ready?” The parent might then lie down next to the baby and caress her. “Was that too fast for you? I’m right here for you.” If the crying continues, the baby needs to be picked up but can remain in the parents lap until she feels settled and comfortable enough in her surroundings to try playing again.
The baby is used to being carried, propped or positioned.
Young children are adaptive but usually prefer to do what they are used to doing. In this brand new world, babies understandably crave the familiar, and they develop habits quickly. Habits like being carried orseated in an upright position often seem to become the child’s “needs”, even though these needs were actually created by the parents’ choices.
Developing the free play habit is also a choice. It works best when parents prioritize it by makinguninterrupted play the focus of the baby’s “spare time” between naps and attentive feedings and diaper changes.
If parents want to make a transition from carrying or propping babies into independent play, the key is to introduce the new experience gradually and responsively with honest communication (“this is different, isn’t it?”) and patience.
The parent places the baby down and immediately leaves.
No one likes to feel dumped. Parents usually need to begin play by holding the baby while seated on the floor and then stay there for a while after the baby’s placed down. If the parent decides to leave, the baby must be told, or trust in the parent (and in play) can be undermined.
Play Myth #3: Play means “doing” something.
Often the richest, most productive play doesn’t look like much because it’s dawdling, imagining, daydreaming, big picture thinking. To encourage this kind of play we must: first, value it; second, observe it; and lastly, not interrupt. The secret to not interrupting is to refrain from speaking to children until they initiate eye contact.
Side note: Happily occupied babies don’t feel neglected because adults aren’t engaging them (even if several minutes have past). They know quite well how to ask for attention. Trust your baby.
Play Myth #4: Gated play areas are restrictive “jails”.
A safe space is essential for fostering independent play. Free roaming babies that follow parents around, even in the most baby-proofed home, don’t focus on play as well or feel as truly free as babies in secure areas. Independent play requires a place free of “no’s” and a relaxed, trusting parent who mostly stays put in order to be the “secure base” young explorers need.
Play Myth #5: Independent play means leaving children alone.
One of the many positives about independent play is that once it’s established in a safe space parents can usually leave their content, occupied child alone briefly while they do chores, use the bathroom, check email etc. But the most valuable child-directed play is fostered when we learn a new way to enjoy playing with our kids, one that is mostly about observing and responding, less about actively participating. It’s natural to want to interact, but parent participation has a tendency to take over. The more we are playing, the more our child is following our lead, rather than creating and initiating plans of his or her own.
Parents often ask me what they can do to wean older children off the play “dependencies” they’ve unwittingly created. Generally, the process is to first believe our child capable and accept “not having anything to do” (and our child’s frustration about that) as perfectly okay. Then, relax, stay put and let the child decide to explore and return to you, let go of the need to please, and keep subtly volleying the imaginary ball back to the child.
Play Myth #6: When children get frustrated or ask for help, we should solve the problem for them.
As tempting as it is to fix situations for our children when it takes us all of two seconds, we are far more encouraging when we allow frustration, give verbal support, let go of results (since children often don’t care about them as much as we do) and perhaps help in a very small way, so that the child is doing much more than we are.
When children ask for help, reflect, and then ask questions. “So, you want to draw a dog? What kind of ears do you want the dog to have? Oh, the kind that point up? Show me what you mean.” You might even resort to allowing the child to move your hand while you hold the pencil, but do all you can to give ownership of play to your child, which also means allowing some activities to be left unfinished.
Play Myth #7: It’s our job to entertain and play with our children
There’s definitely some truth to this one. Bonding through fun with our children is one of our jobs, but if we’ve encouraged kids to love playing independently, playtime together seldom feels like a chore, especially once we’ve discovered the joy of taking a back seat and trusting our child to drive.
As my own kids have gotten older, an invitation to play with them is such a rare and precious treat that I’ll gladly drop everything. Come to think of it, I’m often the one asking!
“It was a pleasure working with Molanda Co, the equipment purchased was excellent quality and our students will enjoy using this equipment for years to come. Thank you Molanda Co. for putting smiles on our students faces. We appreciate you putting your customers needs first and we look forward to doing business with you in the near future. Best regards.”
King Academy Community School
“We had a very positive experience working with Dale at Molanda. After calling several companies, we chose Molanda for Dale was the only one willing to work to meet our tight time frame. He was friendly and very helpful in discussing our options and helping us make the best choice. He made extra calls to accommodate our requests. We highly recommend Molanda!”
Vineyard Garden Center
Check out our whole line of Rope Combo Climbers! We’d love to give you the same customer experience!
Harrisburg, Illinois Park District purchased these tables and umbrellas for the opening of their pool in the spring of 2012. They took a unique approach of deliberately mismatching the colors of the tables and the umbrellas to make more of a festive look. The tables are covered with thermoplastic, therefore reducing the possibility of fading from direct sunlight.
This week’s 5% Friday Special happens to be a great table, perfect for your park or playground!
Check out our whole line of tables and umbrellas to find one that will fit your project!
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[singlepic id=20 w=320 h=240 float=left]FunTimbers are an excellent choice for providing a containment system for you playground surfacing. They can be used with engineered wood fiber, shredded rubber, sand, or pea gravel surfaces. They come in 4′ lengths and the height choices are 8″, 9″, and 12″. All FunTimbers are only $30 each for a limited time (plus freight). Each timber comes with a long spike that is used to connect two timbers where they overlap each other and to fix their location in the ground. Also available are End Caps as well as ADA ramps that adapt to these FunTimbers.
As a side note, FunTimbers can also be used in a totally different function, they work extremely well when building raised bed gardens! We just bought some for our own “square foot garden” that we constructed this spring. We just applied some duct tape where they junction to keep the dirt from washing out over time. (Duct tape is unnecessary for playground surfacing since the surfacing is much more coarser than dirt.) They are the perfect size and are light and easy to work with when building your garden.
If you have any questions on FunTimbers, contact us today!
Welcome to my blog! As you might have guessed, I sell park and playground equipment to a variety of groups. The website should give you a pretty good idea of the product mix that I have, but it still doesn’t encompass everything. I will be updating the site on a regular basis with new product offerings and special promotions that the manufacturers publicize as they come along.
I will also be updating this blog with helpful tips and pointers regarding the playground and recreation business. Please feel free to send me any questions that you might have that could be of value to others. Also, send me pictures of your projects that feature any of my products. Consider the Before, During, and After phases of your projects so others can see your progress.
We can all learn from each other, so I welcome all questions and comments regarding playgrounds and park issues. My goal is to put the “personal touch” on the product mix that I sell which, in turn, helps you out in your decision making. Until next time… Play On!