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The most insightful articles and posts on playgrounds, parks, and recreation in Florida.

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International Darwin Day and the Evolution of Playgrounds

International Darwin day is February 12th, so in honor of that, let’s take a look at the evolution of playgrounds.

In the grand scheme of things, the late 1800’s wasn’t that long ago.  We had cars, cameras, telephones, record players, electric lighting, and typewriters, but pretty much no playgrounds.  They weren’t a thing. 

Very uncommon and if you did find one, it was what the name says; a place (ground) where children played.  The idea was to give kids a place to play that wasn’t in the street.

Cars evolved from the three-wheeled Benz, of Mercedes fame, that didn’t even have a proper steering wheel, to the luxurious, practically self-driving, AI machines of today. 

Cameras are phones.  Wait … phones are cameras?  Actually, phones are also “record players”, but vinyl is making a huge comeback.  Lighting went from that single brownish incandescent bulb that didn’t really illuminate the far corners of the house to the multi-hued, multi-colored, variable brightness, illumination experience we fully control with our … phones.  Typewriters are now a software program or app that’s downloaded onto powerful computers we take for granted.  Remember typing class in school?  Now it’s just inherent. 

And “playgrounds” evolved from sand gardens that were basically an open lot between buildings, to the elaborately designed and constructed destination play-plexes we see today.  I should copywrite that: “Playplex”. 

Back in 1905, the director of the Washington DC playground system and the director of physical education of the New York City school system, got together and formed the Playground Association of America. 

The PAA’s basic belief was “that inasmuch, play under proper conditions is essential to the health and the physical, social, and moral wellbeing of a child, playgrounds are a necessity for all children as much as schools.”

Hmm.  Sounds well and good, but their literature dictated that an ideal, proper (see, there’s that word again) playground, would have separate play sections, and not only would it be supervised, but there were instructors (on a playground?) to teach children necessary (necessary?) lessons and organize their play. 

They pretty much ruined the very definition of play.  Play is imaginative, full of discovery, not structured, actually fun, mentally and physically engaging, while decompressing from the regiments of life.  They made it regimented.  They took play out of play. 

Early playground apparatuses weren’t very safe.  In fact, they could be quite dangerous, so maybe the supervision part was needed.  Everything has a starting point, so in the case of playgrounds, evolution is a good thing.  Through the years, playground manufacturers used better materials and safety in components and overall design became a thing.

In the 1970’s we had the brilliant idea to stop using asphalt, you know … what we make roads out of, as playground surfacing.  We started coming up with more resilient, softer, and less bodily-damaging surfaces.

Today, we have committees, standards, compliance in design, and so many other safeguards that would make you think the next evolution in playgrounds is a padded room. 

Instead, playgrounds are more elaborate with more play value, inclusivity, challenging, engaging, inviting, and lots more fun than their ancient ancestors. 

The evolution of playgrounds has come a very long way in a short period of time. 

Happy Darwin Day!

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About the Whole Flower, Bee, Playground, Child, Community Analogy

“A flower is simply a weed with a good marketing budget.” – Rory Sutherland

A weed gets no love, but a colorful flower gets bees.  More bees, more pollination, more flowers.  The landscape is enriched with beautiful weeds; eh … flowers. 

But it’s not just flowers.  These bees will pollinate and fertilize other plants that produce seeds, and the entire habitat continues to grow and thrive, supporting other animals.  Life proliferates harmoniously.    

Without these flowers, there would be no bee activity, and no pollination or fertilization of more than 70 crop species out of 100 that feed around 90% of the world’s population.  No honey either. Our world and lives would become much harsher, bland, and devoid of many things.

Because of these well-marketed weeds, the bees get excited and that communicates joy and excitement to other bees that also visit the flowers and that’s how all of this works.  Everything is positively affected exponentially.

To paraphrase Mr. Sutherland, a playground is a park with a good marketing budget.  It makes the landscape more attractive, just like a flower to the weed.  It’s not that much of a stretch, but the point is that a playground brings more kids, which excites other kids to visit and play. 

This spreads joy, health, social skills, happiness, positivity, fitness, friendships, learned cooperation, risk taking, resiliency, and stress relief.  Yes, children experience and hold more stress than we’d like to admit.

They get better sleep, it strengthens their immune system, and their brains are more prepared for learning.  Beyond the children, there’s the community.  A park with a playground increases property values, which means more property tax and therefore more funding for better maintenance, beautification, and growth and the ecosystem proliferates positively. 

And it’s not just playgrounds in this respect: Shade structures, shelters, site furnishings, outdoor fitness equipment and so on, are like planting flowers, whereas they add something beautiful and useful to the landscape that attracts more “bees”.  More “bees”, more “honey”, more growth and so on.

Let’s plant some flowers. 

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Even Monkeys Fall From Trees

Climbing, swinging, sitting, eating, socializing, playing, and living in trees isn’t just second nature to monkeys.  It’s their way of being.

But … “Even monkeys fall from trees”. – Japanese Proverb

Humans fall from “trees” too.  We slip, stumble, and fall literally and metaphorically.  Many times we’re embarrassed and our confidence takes a hit.  We hope no one noticed, we assess the damage, take emotional and physical inventory, and mentally process the moment.  Sometimes we’ll dwell on what just happened; “should I ever go back up in the tree?”

Well … do you know what the monkey would tell us?  Not much, I’m afraid.  It’s a monkey and they tend not to speak.

But, they would be back up in that tree, looking down at us, not understanding why we’re still sitting there.  Because when monkeys fall from trees, they shake their head, regroup, and get back up there, because it happens.   

Even experts make mistakes.  It happens. 

Kids are experts at playing.  And they’re experts at making mistakes.  It’s their nature.  It’s how they learn, develop resiliency, make adjustments, build confidence, and realize that falling or making a mistake or misstep is not the end of the world.  Sure, we might get a little embarrassed, but we shake that off too and the other monkeys quickly forget.

As we get older, we tend to hold on to those mistakes and lose some of that resiliency.  The best thing we can do is keep playing.  Just because we become adults, as if it’s some kind of cosmic transition, doesn’t mean we stop playing.  The activities and approach might be different, but we need to maintain our ability to fall and get back up in the trees.

Keep playing.  Keep climbing.  Stay resilient.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

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The Positive Health Benefits of Our Uncommon Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and you know what that means.  Yep, you guessed it: John Madden tournaments with the cousins!

Wait … what? Bear with me; I’ll bring it back around. Did you know that there’s more to thanksgiving traditions than turkey, the Macy’s parade, and Black Friday? 

With just a little research we found close to a hundred not-so-uncommon Thanksgiving traditions, such as: Playing a board game with family, hanging by the fire pit, cornhole, running a turkey trot, bocce ball, or other outdoor leisure games, and taking the kiddos to the playground just to name a few.

In our family, the John Madden trash talk starts right around this time.  Then on Thanksgiving day, first thing in the morning, you can hear John’s voice, “Boom”!  And the gaming has started, followed by lots of yelling.  At some point during the day, John’s video game character will say something like, “Here’s a guy who’s 6’,4”; which means at his height, he’s taller than the other players who are shorter than he is.”

Great stuff.  We’ll play Madden all day, only taking a break to eat with the whole family. 

The common theme here is quality leisure time with family and friends.  Whatever the activity, the benefits come from social interaction while letting go of the pressures of everyday life.  Laughing, playing, interacting, and just enjoying each other’s company is so good for us.

Leisure, recreation, and play with others reduces stress, decompresses our mental pressures, alleviates anxiety, enhances positivity, and heightens happiness.  Overall, our mental, emotional, psychological, and even physical health is restored and upgraded.  Literally, our joints, muscles, blood pressure, heart, brain, immune system, lymphatic system, organs, digestion, and so much more are all positively affected through play and leisure with others. 

Maybe not a cure for eating turducken, but it helps. 

Thanksgiving gives us a reason to do all this, but once a year isn’t nearly enough.  We can’t go to the gym for nine hours once a year and expect to be healthy and fit.  But going for 30 minutes every day will.  Same with play and leisure time.  All those benefits come from relaxing and decompressing on a regular basis.  Still do the full-day on Thanksgiving of course, but throughout the year, we really need to play.

Taking our kids to the playground for 30 minutes on a regular basis increases their learning capacity, alleviates stress, enhances focus and attention, and it positively affects their overall productivity.  But more importantly, all those health benefits. 

Regular bouts of play and leisure with others isn’t just for kids and it’s not just for Thanksgiving.  Neither is turkey, by the way.  And neither is Madden NFL Football. 

Let’s play.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by MART  PRODUCTION: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-brown-sweater-sitting-on-brown-leather-couch-7330165/

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Burke, NRPA, and the Importance of a Big Purple Party

Fun is only done right for the sake of fun with no peripheral agendas, hints of business, or underlying purposes.  Otherwise, it’s “fake fun”.  When fun isn’t real, we don’t get the full benefits.

“We need more moments where we’re simultaneously in the zone and feeling ourselves, but not for work.” – Catherine Price; Author of The Power of Fun

Real fun; unadulterated fun, brings us happiness and joy.  We’re enjoying ourselves in the moment, being fully present, without our brains being attached or distracted otherwise.  Experiencing happiness and joy on a regular basis is more powerful than genes, nutrition, and exercise for overall health and longevity. 

Add friends or a group of friendly, fun people and the effects are multiplied.  I used the word “unadulterated” because as adults, we tend to do fun things from time to time, but not fully.  We convolute it with thoughts of things we have to get done, “important” stuff (whatever that is), and other obligations.  Children get fun right.  It’s very important that we do as well.   

After 15 years in the parks, recreation, and playground industry, I had the pleasure of attending my first Big Purple Party by Burke.  Business and marketing sure, but when it was purple party time, that’s what it was.  It was just fun for the sake of fun.  It was observable and apparent in the 1,800 people in attendance. 

Great band, great music, and dancing.  I caught myself a couple of times thinking the music is just a little too loud to have a conversation with someone.  Crazy, right?  It’s like playing pool volleyball, wondering if the water could be less wet. 

This is the playground industry.  We promote play and fun.  Everyone at the party was a professional working in the parks and recreation industry.  It sounds like working in a field with the words “parks”, “recreation”, and “playgrounds” would be all fun and games.  While it’s fulfilling and can be fun, it’s a lot of work, stress, moving parts, red tape, politics, management, organization, delegation, responsibilities, and a hundred other things. 

It was so good to see all these professionals letting go and just having a good time.  We can get caught up in day to day responsibilities and making fun available for others, while we lose track of our own fun.    We all need to recharge, reinvigorate, and decompress.  This is what I saw at Burke’s Big Purple Party.

Looking forward to seeing everyone at next year’s party.

Play hard!

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The Art, Science, and Consequences of Playground Color Schemes

If we need a hammer drill, would we go to a furniture store?  How about a suit or a dress?  Would we go to Best Buy?  We wouldn’t go to GameStop for a ping pong table no more than we’d go to an appliance store to buy a watch or a purse or makeup or shoes or … okay, you get the picture.   

What if there was a store like that?  Well … there was and it was called Sears.  One of the biggest reasons Sears ceased to exist is that they became everything and nothing at the same time.  Sears lost it’s identity because, according to George Troy, author of the Five Laws of Retail, upper management focused on financial shell games to enrich themselves personally and to appear successful in the short term.  They profited, but at the cost of killing Sears.

Back in the 1980’s Pepsi’s marketing department launched the Pepsi Challenge.  Pepsi vs Coca Cola in a blind taste test and guess what; most people picked Pepsi.  Great for marketing, but here’s the problem; it was a one-sip test.  Pepsi was much sweeter than Coke and in the short term, our senses loved it.  In the long-term though, too sweet is just too sweet and people went back to Coca Cola.  Even today, Coca Cola is worth $65-Billion more than Pepsi, even though Pepsi is a much larger company with many more different brands.  Hmm.      

When we mix all the paint colors together on a palette, we don’t get an explosion of color.  Instead, we get a drab, gray sludge.  Some colors and various shades of those colors are more colorful than other colors.  Individual colors can compliment other colors, making each even more vivid.  Doing this strategically makes the whole more colorful.

At the back of a Playground catalog, there’s a color palette with examples of playground designs in different mixes of colors and they’re brilliant.  There’s an art and science to it, but many years ago, I got the idea that I was smarter than that and created a playground with various colors that I picked.  Looking back on it, it was like pushing Bob Ross aside, while slapping various paints onto the canvas.  I had no idea what I was doing and when I saw the finished product, I realized I created a gray sludge with no artistic theme or identity.  All of the individual colors lost their value.

Sears tried to be everything to everybody and became nothing to nobody.  Pepsi won the battle but lost the war.  Well they’re not exactly losing by any stretch, but you get the analogy.

Instead, consider the audience.  What does this playground design mean in this space, in this community, in this park?  What are we trying to accomplish?  Narrow that down and get real focused on the “why”.  Is it about nature and outdoors, is it about a colorful wow factor, is there a theme to this area that relates to certain colors? 

Maybe there isn’t any of that, but in any case, going to a color palette that was designed by a trained and experienced expert is probably the best way to go.  They know color schemes and how certain colors affect other colors, creating an identity for each design so that it will engage with the human spirit.

Otherwise, we might get an unappealing gray sludge with no identity and no staying power.

Photo by Chaewon Lee on Unsplash

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Rust. It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

Fe2O3 H2O. Hydrated Ferric Oxide. Rust! 

Why do things rust so easily? 

Steel is made of iron and carbon and iron can’t help but rust, because all it wants to do is go back to its thermodynamically-favored state of being, which is iron ore.  When we mine iron, it looks like rust, because it is rust.  When we make steel, we’re forcing it to be something it doesn’t want to be and rust is iron’s way of defying our efforts.  Here in Florida, that fight is even tougher. 

So to counteract that, we clean, treat, coat, paint and so on.  But, that only slows down the process.  On most outdoor fitness equipment or playground products, we first see rust occurring at the welds.

Why there?

The process.  One of the best ways to fight rust is galvanization, but it’s rust-resistance qualities are compromised during the welding process.    

When galvanized steel is welded, it is exposed to extremely high temperatures, typically exceeding the melting point of zinc (419°C or 787°F). During welding, several key factors can impact the integrity of the zinc coating and the overall corrosion protection:  Zinc vaporization, oxidation and depletion, spatter and contamination, heat affected zones are compromised. 

BeStrong Outdoor Fitness Equipment uses a different approach.

Post-Weld Galvanization:  Galvanizing after welding, ensures that all component parts, including the welded areas, receive the necessary surface treatment for corrosion protection.

Thickness:  BeStrong’s galvanization is 2.5 times thicker than competing products.    

Grinding: After welding and before galvanizing, our craftsmen employ precision grinding techniques to refine the appearance and aesthetics.  While it provides and exceptional visually appealing product, it removes even the smallest burrs and pits, further protecting any chance of rust sneaking in. 

Sandblasting: BeStrong adheres to the stringent standard SA3, where cinder, rust, and other surface impurities are completely removed, setting the stage for a flawless finish. 

Primer:  Before final surface coating, Epoxy Resin Powder is applied at 2.36-3.14 mil. thickness.  E-coating is commonly used in industries such as automotive, appliances, and furniture for corrosion protection and as a primer coat for additional coatings.

Top Coat: Lacquer with Weatherproof PES Powder, provides the ultimate protection against environmental factors. 

Beyond the process:  High quality standards in material selection, advanced material cutting techniques to ensure seamless assembly, and highly skilled welders using state-of-the-art equipment to join each piece to create a solid and dependable framework.  

BeStrong – Outdoor fitness equipment of the highest quality. 

Photo by Rémi Jacquaint on Unsplash

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When a Playground is the Content and the Context, We All Win

“Picture a flower.  Then … picture a flower in a field or completely by itself.  Or a flower on a gravestone, and then picture that same flower in the barrel of a gun.  The context changes the content and the background of a picture changes the subject.” – Rick Rubin

To continue with Rick Ruben’s thought, when we see a picture of a flower sticking out of the barrel of a gun, some of us will see a message of peace, while others will see the destruction of peace.  In either case, the gun is not the main subject.  It’s about the flower.  But if we see peace, we see that the flower is affecting the gun.  If we see the destruction of peace, we see the gun affecting the flower and what it represents. 

As Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not so much what we look at that matters.  It’s what we see.”

While context and background can affect the perception of the content, how we see it and interpret it, depends on us.  What kind of mood are we in?   Our outlook, philosophy, beliefs, positivity or negativity, optimism or pessimism, political leaning, personal experiences, religion, education, and a thousand other things in real time, considering the infinite number of variables, circumstances, and dynamics of reality.

As adults, we’re experts at convoluting what is.  Children are better at just being.  A playground changes the landscape.  It can be the content as well as the context, but it remains the subject.  When we look at it, children and adults both tend to see the same thing; play. 

Play is liberating and invigorating.  It un-convolutes our brain chatter and let’s us relax and be in the moment.  It’s healthy and rejuvenating.  It allows us to decompress, relax our shoulders, and let joy and positivity in. 

Children are under so much pressure to achieve, level-up, and be better.  All well and good when managed correctly, but if not, that pressure can build and cause distress.  When a playground or just play in general is the background, the subject is elevated.  Let’s help our children elevate themselves.  And we adults should remember to play as well. 

We’re part of the context.

Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash

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Albert Einstein's Formula for Success

“We don’t stop playing, because we grow old.  We grow old, because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw.

In a 1929 interview with the New York Times, Albert Einstein presented his simple formula for success.  It goes like this: A = X + Y + Z

“While A represents Success, X is Work, Y is Play, and Z is Keeping Your Mouth Shut.”

Hmm … “Keeping your mouth shut” provides some insight as to where his head was at. We can read into that some other time, but in this important formula, there’s Y.  Play. 

Play relieves stress and makes us more resilient.  Resiliency is a huge deal.  Play improves brain function, stimulates our mind and boosts creativity and overall competency.  It improves our relationships and interactions with other humans.  It greatly improves and fosters emotional and psychological stability and overall health.  Maybe more importantly, it keeps us young and energetic. 

Play is so vitally important to human nature, overall health, and longevity, but in terms of success, it’s a must.  Play makes our work better.  Without our “down-time”, leisure, and active play, any time we spend “working” will suffer in quality.  It’s not so much about time spent working; it’s about how much we’re actually accomplishing. 

This is why recess is so important.  Well, adults need recess too.  Maybe more so. 

Play!  It might just be the fountain of youth as well as the key to success.

We’ll see you on the “playground”. 

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The Human Benefits of Mindless Play

Mindfulness is a popular go-to term these days: “We need to be more mindful”.  Maybe, but it’s grossly misunderstood. 

Mindfulness is not a mind full of chatter, thoughts, worries, expectations, multi-tasking, distractions, perceptions, ego, and a thousand other things.  That is overwhelming and most of us kind of live that way.  We don’t “notice” it, because we think it’s normal, but it does take a detrimental toll. 

So what then?  Mindlessness? 

That’s actually hilarious, but no.  Mushin.  In the movie, “The Last Samurai”, Tom Cruise’s character while being trained in the way of the sword, is getting thrown all over the place, no matter  how hard he tries.  After one of the hard falls, he’s approached by a fellow student, who tells him “Too many mind.” 

“Too many mind?” 

“Hai; you mind the sword, mind the people watching, mind your enemy.  Too many mind.  No mind.”

“… no mind.”

This is Mushin.  Mushin is the Japanese concept of mind of no mind. When a person’s mind is free of thoughts, judgement, fears, ego, anger, and so on during combat, as well as everyday life.  This is acting accordingly to the situation at hand, without the burden of conscious thought. 

How do we do that?  Mindfulness.  Wait … what?

Mindfulness and Mushin are like yin and yang.  YinYang is not about balance between opposing forces.  It’s about interrelated harmony of those forces.  This is the same with mindfulness and mind of no mind.  We cannot be mindful, if our head is full of “too many mind”.  Mindfulness is being in the moment, within reality in real time, as in unfolds dynamically.  Mindful of being there in the now.  Do this so well, we achieve Mushin.

We may not see it, but this is what happens in children as they play.  Climbing a net, traversing a horizontal ladder, swinging, spinning, balancing, sliding, and running while interacting with others.  No adulterated egos, worries, or outside distractions.  They are there.  Completely. 

It calms the nervous system, we uptake and utilize oxygen better, our brains are more powerful (because they’re not clogged up), pain is reduced, sleep is better, concentration, balance, and emotional and psychological health is better.  It keeps us more youthful. 

This kind of play is harder for adults, because we have adult responsibilities, problems, and so on.  True, but sometimes we can allow too much or blow things out of proportion.  So we practice Yoga or Martial Arts, which both require Mushin/Mindfulness to do effectively.  But even in pickleball, if our head isn’t in the game, we’re not going to do very well.  Same with everyday life. 

Mindfulness, yes.  Mushin, yes. 

Be there or be square.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash