Yes, the dreary winter season is still upon us here in southeast Texas, but the month of February still gives us plenty to smile about. (And no, we’re not talking about those delicious Valentine’s Day chocolates.)

For facility and recreational managers at parks, schools, churches and neighborhoods, February offers your community two reasons to get out and enjoy your playground and other outdoor amenities:

February Is American Heart Month

Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 cause of death among both men and women in the United States, leading to 1 in every 4 deaths nationwide. The good news is that heart disease is highly preventable, and prevention starts with awareness.

The American Heart Association has declared February American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease and how it can be prevented. This month offers a perfect opportunity to reach out to your community and encourage them to make heart-healthy choices, including increasing their physical activity. Of course, your playground and other outdoor amenities offer an ideal location for getting healthy exercise while enjoying fresh air and the chance to engage with others!

How you can celebrate:

  • Host a community event where families can learn about heart disease prevention from local healthcare providers.
  • Schedule a “heart walk” around your neighborhood that finishes with a party at your playground.
  • Encourage young families to take advantage of nice-weather days (or at least non-rainy days) by taking the kids to your playground for some heart-healthy activity.

February Is Recreational Therapy Month

February is also National Recreational Therapy Month, sponsored by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association. For people with illnesses or debilitating conditions, recreational therapy offers the opportunity to improve their psychological and physical health, recovery, and well-being through recreation and other activity-based interventions.

While not everyone has a condition requiring formal recreational therapy, this month offers an excellent opportunity to highlight the therapeutic benefits of activity even for healthy kids and adults.

How you can celebrate:

  • Use your community newsletter, Facebook group, or other communications to remind your community that recreational activity can boost mood, improve sleep, and reduce stress.
  • Host a “beat the winter blues” walk or fun run in your neighborhood to encourage families to get outdoors, even if the skies are gray.
  • Remind your senior community members that physical activity can prevent disease, improve balance and stability, and increase life expectancy.

Wishing you and your community a happy, healthy February!

Whether your property is a municipal park, a school, a church, an apartment complex, or a neighborhood, your playground is a place for young families to come together as they enjoy fresh air and physical activity. To keep parents and their children engaged between visits to your play space, consider publishing a community newsletter.

Whether you publish weekly, monthly, or quarterly, a family newsletter will help you

  • Strengthen the sense of community among the families you serve
  • Engage parents by offering healthy living tips on nutrition, activity, and wellness
  • Keep readers apprised of family-focused events at your facility and in the surrounding area
  • Attract new visitors to your playground and other outdoor amenities

As you consider the content and format of your family newsletter, here are a few decisions to consider:

  • Print or online: Online newsletters are less expensive to produce, but could get lost among the dozens of emails recipients get every day. Print newsletters cost more to print and distribute, but some studies show that they’re more likely to be read.
  • Name: Come up with a catchy name for your publication, one that people will remember.
  • Frequency: If you have a large, active community with plenty of activities on a regular basis, a weekly newsletter might serve you best. For smaller communities, a monthly or even quarterly publication might be a better choice.
  • Length: Consider how long you want your newsletter to be, and keep the length consistent from issue to issue. Remember, if you opt for a print newsletter longer than two pages, your page count will need to be a multiple of 4.
  • Format: Just like a newspaper or magazine, your newsletter will have regular sections and columns that will appear in every issue. Determine what you’ll want those sections to look like; for example, each issue might include a story on family health and wellness, a neighborhood family profile, a list of upcoming events, announcements (such as school closures), and a fun element like a seasonal trivia question or a pet-of-the-month photo.
  • Images: Every newsletter needs good visuals, so plan in advance where your publication’s images will come from. Will you use stock photography, original photos, or a combination of the two? Keep in mind that if you use photos of people in your community (especially kids), you’ll need to obtain permission.
  • Process: Decide who will create the content for each issue and what the editorial approval process will look like.
  • Schedule: Set a delivery date for each issue you will publish this year, then work backwards from each date to determine when layout needs to be done, when content needs to be completed, when images need to be submitted, etc.

The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for launching a newsletter to engage, inform, and entertain the families in your community. Plan your product carefully, build your team, put your processes in place, and get ready to reap the benefits of a vibrant, engaging publication that your families will love.

It’s only January, and already this winter has brought sub-freezing temperatures and even some snow to the southeast Texas area. With two more months until the first day of spring, it’s likely that there more wintry weather is on the way, and it’s not too late to protect the plant life in your playground area. Here are a few tips for making sure your trees, shrubs, and other plants around will be prepared for the chill and ready to bloom when spring rolls around.

Trim and prune trees. Winter is a great time to cut away branches that block views or that may be in danger of breaking off and creating a safety hazard. Pruning also promotes faster regrowth in the spring and gives root systems a chance to strengthen.

Keep roots warm. Adding an extra layer of mulch will give root systems additional insulation against the winter cold and helps sustain soil moisture.

Continue watering. Even though the above-ground portion of trees and plants may be dormant, root systems are still active and will continue to grow if they have an adequate supply of water.

Be ready for freezing temperatures. If your trees and shrubs are well mulched, they probably have adequate protection against the occasional light freeze. If temperatures are projected to fall into the 20s, make sure plants are well watered ahead of time — the water will actually act as an insulator — and cover them with old sheets, burlap, painter’s drop cloths, or or a similar fabric, but never with plastic.

Anchor plant coverings. If you need to cover plants, make sure your coverings reach all the way to the ground, and anchor them with bricks or rocks to protect against wind and keep heat inside.

 

Happy winterizing!

While families with children and young, active adults have traditionally been the target markets for community parks and recreational facilities, the “graying” of America is inspiring some bold new approaches. According to the most recent U.S. Census, 14.9 percent of the population in 2015 was age 65 or older, representing 47.8 million older adults. More of these seniors are choosing to “age in place” — remain in their homes of choice rather than transitioning to senior living facilities — which generates a greater demand for senior-oriented activities and services from local parks and rec facilities.

According to a recent survey by the National Recreation and Park Association, those demands are being heard loud and clear. Nine out of 10 agencies now dedicate programs, facilities, and programming to older adults. And 71 percent of those agencies characterize themselves as the leader or one of the leaders offering services and programming for older adults in their communities.

Diverse Services for a Diverse Group

While we tend to think of “seniors” as a single bloc, this demographic is actually a highly diverse group with an equally diverse array of needs and interests. According to the survey, parks and rec agencies are offering a varied slate of offerings for their senior patrons. Ninety-one percent of respondents offer exercise classes, and other offerings include

  • Field trips, tours, and group vacations: 70%
  • Arts & crafts classes: 67%
  • Volunteer opportunities in rec centers: 58%
  • Special events for seniors: 58%
  • Group walks: 53%
  • Volunteer opportunities in parks: 48%
  • Employment opportunities (leading classes, etc.): 47%
  • Group nature activities: 38%
  • Cooking and nutrition classes: 36%
  • Mentoring opportunities: 14%

Serving a Broad Age Range

While the U.S. Census defines “seniors” as those age 65 and older, parks and rec agencies are targeting their senior programs to those as young as 50. “This reflects not only the fact that older working Americans themselves have unique needs that park and recreation agencies can meet,” the report states, “but also represents an opportunity to keep these people connected with park and recreation after their children have left home and they may have become less active.” Forty-four percent of respondents have a minimum age of 50 for their senior programs, and 40 percent have a minimum age of 55.

Health and Wellness Rules

As seniors age, staying healthy and active becomes a priority, and parks and rec agencies are stepping in to help. Three-fourths of survey respondents offer one or more evidence-based wellness programs for older adults, including tai chi, fall prevention, diabetes prevention and self-management, and Arthritis Foundation programs.

Assessing the Demand

How do these agencies discover what older adults in their communities want and need from them? According to the survey, most respondents say they get direct response from current and potential users through

  • Surveys of community members: 73%
  • Target marketing and outreach: 60%
  • Community engagement at senior housing communities: 33%
  • Community engagement at faith-based organizations: 13%

To learn more about trends in senior programming among parks and recreation agencies, see the National Recreation and Park Association’s report Healthy Aging in Parks Survey

In today’s high-tech, digital-obsessed environment, some may be tempted to write off the local neighborhood community center as an anachronism. With such an abundance of resources available online, many of us may wonder whether we really need these facilities at all.

Yet according to a recent survey by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the demand for community-center services is stronger than ever, across all generations. “While traditionally these agencies have brought a focus of fitness and fun to their local community members of all ages,” the NRPA says, “now many also include healthy living classes, computer and internet availability, and older adult transportation, just to name a few.”

According to the poll, Americans are not only supporting their local community centers — they’re demanding more “nontraditional” services that go beyond the usual after-school programs and aquatic facilities:

  • 51 percent would like to see their local centers offer healthy living classes.
  • 46 percent want programming for older adults.
  • 45 percent want nature-based activities.
  • 43 percent want access to computers and the internet.
  • 41 percent want inclusive facilities for all abilities and all needs.
  • 38 percent want health clinics and services.

Even more surprising is the outcome that shows Millennials supporting community center services just as strongly as — if not more so than — their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts. 57 percent of the Millennials surveyed want fitness facilities at their local centers, 53 percent want healthy living classes, and 50 percent want out-of-school time programming.

For more information about the results, visit the NRPA’s blog post.

While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the law of the land since 1990, facilities managers of parks, churches, neighborhoods, and other properties are still figuring out how their playgrounds can best comply. They also realize that, regulations aside, offering a fun, engaging experience for kids of all abilities is just the right thing to do. It’s good for the families they serve, good for the community as a whole, and ultimately good for business.

As you explore different resources to learn more about accommodating kids with disabilities on your playground, you’ve probably come across the words “accessible” and “inclusive.” You may have wondered what the difference is between the two terms … or do they mean the same thing?

The answer is the two terms do have different meanings.

A playground is accessible if it is usable by kids of any and all ability levels. Or to phrase it another way, it has no barriers that would prevent kids with disabilities from entering the grounds, accessing different elements, or navigating the landscape. For example, an accessible playground would have no barriers at the entrance or along pathways and would offer ramps leading to elevated areas.

A playground is inclusive if it’s designed to encourage engagement and participation by children with disabilities. It goes beyond simply ensuring access and embodies a commitment to offering a fun day of play for all little ones, regardless of their physical condition. For example, an inclusive playground would offer a mix of activities that ensure kids who can’t slide or climb still have fun activities available to them. It also encourages social engagement among all visitors instead of isolating “special” elements in one area.

So if you’re looking at building a new playground or replacing an old one, whether you opt for “accessible” or “inclusive” depends on the needs of your community, the space available, and of course, your budget. If your primary concern is complying with the ADA, taking steps to make your play space accessible will likely help you steer clear of problems. Inclusivity involves going one step further and requires a greater commitment of resources. If an inclusive playground is your goal, you may need to do some convincing to get the necessary funds allocated to your cause.

Of course, every facility’s needs and situation is different, and we’re always happy to help. If you need some advice on accessibility and/or inclusivity features for your playground, just give us a call at (713) 939-9888.

 

With vacations winding down and school starting up again, church activities will soon be in full swing, including children’s ministries. As you plan your activities for the first few weeks, keep in mind that the kids may be feeling a bit unsettled as they adjust to new schedules, new teachers, and possibly even new schools. You may also have some new kids in your class who moved to the area over the summer and who may be nervous about joining the group.

 

To help kids ease into the school year and build camaraderie, here are a few fun activity ideas:

Create a “Prayer Hands” Banner

This is a perfect activity for helping your kids “make their mark” as they begin a new school year. Get a large piece of fabric that’s thick enough to paint on. Let each child dip his or her hand into a paper plate of paint (make sure to use a paint that washes off easily) and make a handprint on the banner. Then let each child sign his or her name next to the handprint and write a short prayer for the class for the coming year. Hang the banner in your classroom and re-read the prayers at the end of the year.

Pack Backpacks for Kids in Need

Host a school supplies drive at your church and collect backpacks, pencils, notebooks, glue sticks, scissors, crayons and other items for kids in need. Have your class pack the backpacks while you talk about gratitude for the blessings you have and the importance of helping others. Let each child write a note for the recipient wishing them a good school year and slip it into the backpack.

Get Outside and Get Active

In addition to letting your class enjoy free play time on your church playground, you can help them burn off some extra energy with classic outdoor games. Think hopscotch, Simon Says, jump rope/double dutch, Red Light-Green Light, Red Rover, and other time-honored activities.

Bring Bible Stories to Life

Divide the class into groups of three or four and let each group choose a Bible story to turn into a skit. Help them decide how to tell their chosen story; you might even bring a box of random items and let the kids exercise their creativity in creating costumes and props. When each group is ready, have them act out their skit for the class, and film it with your smartphone so that they can see their own performances.

 

Happy back-to-school season!

We all know that outdoor play benefits cardiovascular health and offers kids a much-needed break from electronic media … but did you know that’s just the beginning?

 

As you encourage the families in your community to visit your playground, take the opportunity to educate them on the lesser-known benefits of playing outdoors:

Improved Attention Spans

According to a study reported in the American Journal of Public Health, time spent outdoors, particularly in greener settings, improved symptoms in children with ADHD, regardless of gender, socioeconomic factors, or environment (urban versus rural). Even when children engaged in the same type of activity indoors and outdoors (running, climbing, etc), it was the outdoor activity that showed a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.

Enhanced Social Skills

Because playground equipment must be shared, kids must work out among themselves who gets to do what, when, and for how long. Not everyone can go down the slide at the same time, for example, so kids must learn how to cooperate — how to make sure everyone gets a turn and how to wait for theirs. Even when it looks like they’re “just running around,” they’re actually learning the ABCs of cooperation, fair play, and respect for others.

Improved Vision

Better vision through outdoor play? According to two separate studies in Australia, the answer is yes. Data from the Orinda Longitudinal Study of Myopia showed that children of myopic parents who spend sufficient time outside are at only slightly greater risk for developing myopia than children without myopic parents. And results from the Sydney Myopia Study suggest that greater time spent outside can override the myopia risks associated with near work and schooling.

 

The precise reason for this benefit is not yet clear, but it could involve pupil constriction in the brighter outdoor light, which results in greater depth of focus, or it could be a direct effect of the light exposure itself. Whatever the reason, parents in your community who are concerned with their kids’ visual health should be encouraged to take advantage of your playground and other outdoor amenities.

Decreased Stress

Yes, kids can have stress, especially those who have busy schedules both within and outside of school. Studies show that regular outdoor play can alleviate symptoms of stress and also ward off more serious concerns such as depression and anxiety.

Vitamin D

Spending time in the sunshine — even during winter when the sun is not as warm — boosts kids’ Vitamin D levels. This important vitamin can help young bodies ward against bone problems and heart disease in the future and can even boost mood, energy levels, and memory. Studies show that even 10-15 minutes of outdoor exposure can boost Vitamin D levels and the related benefits.

 

So the next time someone asks why your community needs a playground, tell them you’re providing a vital resource to help families raise happier, healthier kids — in more ways than one!

During the winter season, many states have extreme weather conditions that keep them indoors most of the time.  Fortunately, we live in Texas, where outdoor play can be a year-round activity, even during the holiday season. Here are a few fun ideas for engaging families in your community during this festive time of year.

  1. Themed Events

You can conduct themed events during daytime or (with proper lighting) evening hours. For instance, during the day you could host an Alice in Wonderland–themed event where kids dress up as their favorite characters and enjoy a holiday tea party, or go with a Dr. Seuss theme, complete with props and masks as well as creative decorations. If you decide to go with an evening event, string lights on nearby trees to create a winter wonderland the whole family can enjoy.

2. Santa Meet-and-Greet

Every child wants to meet Santa and share this year’s wish list. Getting a Santa to interact with the kids — and maybe also read some beloved holiday stories — is a great activity that’s sure to get a festive vibe going. You can also have other holiday characters, such as snowmen/women and reindeer, and incorporate live entertainment from local musicians. Extend the activity to kids with disabilities as well so that the whole community feels involved.

3. Caroling Night

Musical events are always a hit during the holiday season. Caroling helps everyone get into the spirit and brings the whole community together for a fun-filled evening. Invite local performers as well as children’s choirs to lead an evening of sing-alongs. Encourage attendees to bring lawn chairs or cushions to sit on as they enjoy the music. As an added bonus, singing is not only fun, but also highly therapeutic, so it’s a perfect activity for stressed-out moms and dads during this busy time of year!

4. Reindeer Games

Invite local families to take a break from the holiday rush for some outdoor fun and games at your playground, and choose games the whole family can participate in. Think about a gift-wrapping race or an arts-and-crafts competition, or bring in a snow machine for a snowman-building contest. Another fun option is a candy cane race: Divide the kids up into teams and have each child hold a candy cane, then have each team link their candy canes together and run as a group toward the finish line. If the candy-cane link breaks, they have to start over, and the first team to cross the finish line wins.

5. Holiday Markets

This is a terrific option for getting moms and dads involved: Host a holiday fair where you encourage your community to support local businesses. Invite local restaurants to serve food and local vendors to bring their gift-worthy wares for sale. Include face painting and other activities for the kids to enjoy while mom and dad are shopping. The grownups get to shop for unique gifts in a stress-free environment, local businesses get some valuable exposure, and your playground may attract some first-time visitors.

No matter which activity you decide, this is a perfect opportunity to get the whole community together in the spirit of the season.

Merry Christmas & Happy holidays!

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