Even though the flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have long since receded, the need for support across our area remains massive. As our communities continue to recover, families with children are among those with the greatest needs. Here are a few ways you can help Houston’s kids get the support they need as recovery efforts continue.

Save the Children

Hundreds of displaced families with young children are still being housed in shelters, and Save the Children is making sure they have what they need with family-friendly supplies and services. A donation of $15 will provide arts, crafts, and recreation supplies, and $500 will provide child-friendly play spaces for 100 displaced children. Click here to learn more about Save the Children’s relief efforts, and click here to find out how you can help.

Houston Food Bank

Many displaced families with kids are struggling to provide for basic needs, and the Houston Food Bank is helping by distributing food and other supplies. Click here if you’d like to make a monetary donation, or you can bring food and other items to 535 Portwall. According to the Food Bank’s website, most-needed items include

  • Canned, ready-to-eat vegetables and fruit with pull tops
  • Protein in pouches or pull-top cans (tuna, beef stew, chili, canned chicken)
  • Peanut butter
  • Snacks (granola bars, breakfast bars, etc.)
  • Toiletries
  • Paper goods
  • Diapers
  • Cleaning supplies (mops, mop buckets, brooms, bleach wipes, bleach, garbage bags, bug spray)

Houston Children’s Charity

When displaced families are able to return to their homes, many will have no furniture to come back to, due to destruction from flood waters and mold. Houston Children’s Charity is teaming up with Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa to ensure that each child has a bed of his or her own waiting for them when the family is able to return home. Their goal is to raise $500,000 to purchase 5,000 beds; click here to make a donation.

 

The people of Houston have shown tremendous community spirit in helping each other recover from this disaster, especially our neighbors with little ones. Let’s keep the spirit alive until all children have what they need to learn, grow, play, and just be kids again.

On August 25-27, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on southeast Texas, causing historic flooding and leaving many areas in shambles. If your school, park, or neighborhood playground was affected by the flood, here are a few tips to help you bring the fun back while ensuring the safety of kids and families.

Inspect All Equipment

If your playground was submerged in flood waters — even just a few inches — it’s important that you inspect it carefully before allowing kids to play on it. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Water may be trapped in double-walled components like slides and climbers. If a piece of equipment is holding water, it needs to be drained before it’s safe to play on. Drill a small hole in a low, unused location (such as the very bottom of a slide) and allow the water to drain.
  • Erosion may have occurred around the base of the equipment. As flood water drains, it can carry large amounts of soil with it, and erosion can make playground equipment unstable. If you notice significant erosion, keep the playground closed and contact the equipment manufacturer.
  • Hardware such as nuts and bolts may have become compromised. The force of flood waters can loosen and even sweep away hardware elements. Inspect each piece of equipment carefully for loose or missing hardware, and tighten or replace as needed.

Clean It Up

Flood waters can contain numerous toxins, so playgrounds that have been exposed to flood waters must be thoroughly cleaned before they can be safely used. Pressure washers are a good choice for this task; just be careful with your pressure settings to avoid damaging the equipment.

Check Moving Parts

Moving equipment like merry-go-rounds can trap debris and sand in their internal mechanisms if they’re submerged in flood waters. Check each piece of equipment by moving it around a bit. If it doesn’t move normally, try flushing the moving parts with clean water. If that fixes the problem, let the equipment dry and then lubricate according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If the problem persists, contact the manufacturer.

Check Safety Surfacing

Pay special attention to your safety surfacing, as it’s the component most likely to suffer flood damage. Once you’ve removed any large debris such as branches and trash, inspect the area for missing, torn, or otherwise damaged surfacing. Different types of surfacing require different approaches to cleaning and restoration, so review your manufacturer’s recommendations, and contact them if you have questions.

Keep Records

You will need documentation for insurance claims and other purposes. Take photos and videos of any damage as soon as you notice it, and make a list of all actions taken, such as cleaning or replacement of components.

 

If you have any additional questions about restoring your playground after the flood, please feel free to call us at (713) 939-9888.

The first day of spring is just a few weeks away … although you might say that the season arrived early here in southeast Texas, given the warm temperatures we’ve been seeing! Spring is the perfect time to spruce up the greenery around your playground and enhance the natural surroundings for kids and parents alike.

Spending time in a greener environment isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it benefits kids as well as grownups on many different levels. Studies have shown that spending time in nature builds kids’ confidence, improves creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, and stimulates their brains by engaging all their senses. For parents, being around trees and other greenery has a calming effect, offering a welcome break from fast-paced, technology-packed routines.

Of course, lush greenery also enhances the eye-appeal of your playground, enticing kids and young families to visit more often and to stay longer. If the green areas around your play equipment could use a little TLC, this is the perfect time to spruce them up.

Safety First

Remember that anything you plant will be accessible by little ones, so keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Avoid plants with thorns that can cut or scrape little ones as they run past or fall into branches.
  • Avoid plants that produce small berries; even if nonpoisonous, they could pose a choking hazard.
  • Steer clear of plants that are prone to attracting stinging insects.

What to Plant

If you’re ready to add some fresh life to the green areas around your playground, here are some terrific options for planting this spring:

 

Shade Trees: Trees offer not only health-boosting oxygen, but also the shade that becomes so important during our hot Texas summers. Think about adding some different varieties of oaks or elms to add color and variety to your landscape.

 

Hardy Shrubs: These little green gems let you create paths and segmentations without blocking visitors’ views … not to mention keeping bouncing balls from rolling into the street. They’re also great for games of hide-and-seek. Consider boxwood or another hardy variety of shrub to make sure it stands up to heavy traffic … and occasional tackles by rambunctious little ones.

 

Vines: Well-placed vines offer a great way to beautify vertical structures such as chain-link fences or to use as ground cover in shady areas. Some vine varieties grow more aggressively and require more frequent trimming than others; keep this in mind when deciding which ones to plant.

 

Flowering Plants: Plant flowers in lower-traffic areas where they’re less likely to be trampled by little guests. A colorful bed of blooms near the entrance to your playground adds eye appeal that will help attract visitors. Choose hardy varieties that require little maintenance, such as yarrow, petunias, and daisies.

 

Happy planting!

The coldest days of winter are just ahead of us, and with them come additional challenges of playground safety and maintenance. Research shows that kids who play outside during winter tend to be healthier than those who stay indoors, so we need to make sure those kids have a safe place to play throughout the season. Paying extra attention to playground maintenance during the cold season helps ensure the safety of both the kids and your equipment, and here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Surfacing

Winters can be rainy here in Texas, and precipitation can wash away the material that makes up your playground surface. Check the surfacing under and around all equipment at least once a week to make sure you have adequate cushioning to avoid injuries due to falls. Also, remember that freezing temperatures can decrease your surfacing’s impact attenuation (its ability to absorb shock), so always check it thoroughly after a hard freeze.

Wood Preservation

If you have wooden equipment on your playground, keep in mind that winter conditions can lead to wood degradation. Damaged wood may pose a safety hazard in addition to being expensive to replace. Use a non-toxic wood preservative on wooden structures to prevent deterioration, and also check for any loose-fitting elements that could be blown away by high winter winds.

Hardware

Harsh weather conditions can loosen the hardware on your playground equipment, which presents a serious safety hazard. Inspect all hardware to make sure it’s secure before the coldest days of winter set in. This is important for ensuring the longevity of your equipment as well as for keeping kids safe from injury.

Stairs and Slides

While there’s little chance of snow here in south Texas, there’s always the possibility of icy conditions, which can make structures such as stairs and slides slippery and therefore dangerous. It’s important to monitor these structures and make sure they are dry and free of ice before kids engage in play. Also, remember to clear any standing water, as it can pose an additional hazard if it freezes.

Plan for Winter Attire

Winter scarves and hoods with drawstrings may pose choking hazards if they catch on to protruding or jagged surfaces, such as splitting wood or exposed bolts. Check your playground equipment for any elements that might snag winter clothing, and repair or replace as necessary.

Inspection

To ensure the safest possible experience for kids who visit your playground this winter, have your grounds and equipment inspected by a certified professional who can identify any hazardous conditions. Areas to look out for include fall zones, pinch points, and protrusions. Once the problems are identified, make sure to complete any needed repairs and replacements promptly.

 

Winter maintenance benefits not only the kids who visit your playground, but your equipment as well. By identifying hazards and conducting any needed repairs promptly, you increase the lifespan of your equipment in addition to protecting the families you serve.

Playgrounds play a significant role in childhood development. Outdoor activities help children develop physically, mentally and socially, so it’s important for every community to have access to playgrounds, whether at schools, churches, or neighborhood parks. If you’re looking to build a new playground or upgrade your equipment, costs will of course be involved — costs that may or may not be in your budget. If you need a little extra help pulling those dollars together, here are a few fundraising ideas for you:

1. Host a fundraising event

You can hold a special event to raise funds for your playground. Think beyond the usual bake sales and car washes, and create unique experiences that help people understand and appreciate the importance of a playground. These can include sports tournaments, walkathons and marathons, family festivals, and dance contests. You can even create a Facebook page to reach a wider audience who will support your cause. Whatever you do, make sure to keep costs as low as possible to maximize your net funds raised.

2. Apply for playground grants

Many government institutions have programs to provide financial assistance to communities for amenities they require, and some private companies also offer playground grant programs. Go online to find out which programs are offered in your area and what is required to apply.

3. Hold an auction

You can ask your community to donate items and auction them to raise playground funds. You may decide to do a live auction, or you can do it online. The big benefit of auctions is that they help you get more money from an item than you would have received by simply selling it. During a live auction, you can bring in more funds by selling other items like refreshments.

4. Offer advertising space

If your playground is in a high-traffic area, you may be able to offer advertising space on the grounds. Before approaching local businesses, check with your attorney to make sure it’s legal for you to sell ad space.

5. Utilize Little Tikes Commercial DoughBuilders Program

This program offers a wide variety of programs for your consideration including Cookie Dough programs, Bakery items including Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Cakes, Pies, Braided Bread, Pumpkin Rolls and much more, Custom Tumblers featuring your logo, Collegiate Tumblers, Candles, Gift Brochures featuring over 100 different gift items, Tote Bags, Gift Cards, Snack Foods, Boxed Chocolates, Spirit Lites featuring NFL, NBA and MLB teams, and Jewelry. You can learn more about the Little Tikes Commercial DoughBuilders Program here: http://littletikescommercial.com/financing/fundraising/

No matter which fundraising option you choose, remember to involve the whole community and help them understand the importance of having a playground. Have blueprints available to show everyone how the new space will look. Make use of social media and local news media to spread the word far and wide. And remember to contact your local government institutions to guide you on the funding process as well as ensuring that your new playground complies with local regulations.

Halloween is mostly synonymous with kids dressing up in spooky clothing and trick-or-treating from one house to the next. However, there are many other ways Halloween can be made enjoyable, including neighborhood- and church-focused gatherings. Did you know you can make your playground the hub of a fun Halloween festival for all to enjoy? Here are a few tips to make your event one they’ll remember:

Spooky Decorations

Get creative by decorating playground equipment with spooky props like scarecrows, carved pumpkins, witches, black cats, scarecrows, and spider webs. This will help create a ghostly ambience to serve as a backdrop for your “ghoul-tastic” activities.

Costume Contest

It just wouldn’t be Halloween without kids dressing up in costumes to represent their favorite characters. Host a costume contest to reward their creativity, and include special categories such as Scariest Costume, Funniest Costume, and Best Cartoon Character. Some events include a “costume swap” where the kids try on each others’ costumes, which can also be a lot of fun.

Face Painting

Face painting is another popular activity during Halloween that both kids and their parents can enjoy. Ask around to find a professional face painter in your community, and be sure to check out their work online before you hire them. Look for an artist with a broad range (not just scary faces) to accommodate the requests of kids and grownups alike.

Storytelling

Telling scary stories is a time-honored Halloween tradition; you might want to check with your local library to see if one of their more popular storytellers is available to read a favorite ghost- or goblin-themed kids’ book. Alternatively, you can also set up a projector and screen some scary (but still family friendly) movies.

Halloween Games

When it comes to Halloween games, the choices are endless; here are a few you options to consider:

  • Pumpkin decorating
  • Eyeball spoon races (with a plastic eyeball balanced on a spoon)
  • Mummy wrap races (teams wrap one member in toilet paper from head to toe, and the fastest team wins)
  • Skeleton bone hunt (disassemble a plastic skeleton and hide the pieces around the playground; the child who collects the most pieces wins)
  • Pumpkin bowling (using empty soda bottles as pins)

 

No matter which activities you decide to include, you can make your playground the site of a fun, safe Halloween event that parents and kids will remember all year long.

Playtime is important to every child’s development, not only contributing to physical and social skills, but also helping them discover their own self-interests. Research shows that children who enjoy regular playtime are less likely to suffer from depression and childhood anxiety.

However, finding the perfect place to play isn’t always easy, especially for kids with physical challenges. The government is making headway in this area under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires all playground designs, materials, and equipment to provide equal playing opportunities to children with disabilities as it does to their more able-bodied counterparts.

Playgrounds should not just be inclusive, but also allow effortless movement for wheelchair users. Here are a few product components that provide all children an opportunity to enjoy playtime:

Activity Panels

Activity panels give kids a chance to exercise their creativity and imagination through music exploration (learning about rhythm, sound, and pitch) and simple coordination games. These panels have accessible-height activities to promote mental engagement and hand coordination through moving steering wheels and colorful balls.

“Rock’n Ship” Glider

According to the ADA, wheelchair accessibility platforms must have guardrails or barriers, and openings for access/egress play components should be narrowed to 15 inches or less. The wheelchair-accessible Rock’n Ship glider features a moderate swaying motion and 70 square feet of deck surface.

Double-Rail Ramps

Rails are important for kids in wheelchairs as they provide gripping support, helping improve their ease of movement and maneuverability.

Therapeutic Rings

Therapeutic rings are ideal for stretching and exercising the upper body, helping improve mobility, strength, and overall health for any child.

Talk Tube

Talk Tubes offers kids the chance to experience quiet downtime away from the noise of the playground while still enjoying one-on-one engagement.

Inclusive and adaptable playgrounds are important for all children to be able to interact, regardless of physical ability. To accomplish this goal, consider additional components such as ramping structures, surfacing, and sensory panels. Kids with disabilities and their parents will thank you … and so will their friends!

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