At our house, summer means long hot days spent outdoors as much as humanly possible. And with two, active kids under 4, there’s no better place for that than our local playgrounds. After nearly 3 years now of playground adventures under my belt, I have just about perfected the list of essentials to guarantee a long and successful playground outing. Check out my recommendations to insure your family’s playground fun!
10 Must Haves for Playground Fun
With kids home all day, all summer long, visits to the playground have become part of our weekly rhythm, and one of our go-tos to change the mood of the day when everyone seems cranky. It does, however, take some effort to load up the kids in the car and drive them there, so we try to make the trips lengthy. To avoid the “I want to go home” or worse, “I need to go home” due to accident, injury or potty stop, this is my list of must haves to insure a successful playground adventure!
I don’t recommend carrying much, but what you do carry, you’ll want something to carry it in. And a backpack is immensely more practical than a diaper bag. It leaves your arms free for chasing toddlers, lifting preschoolers and pushing on the swings.
Summer is hot. And that combined with increased activity levels can quickly lead to dehydration. Be sure to bring water not only for your kids, but for yourself as well. It can also come in handy for rinsing scrapes, unidentified sticky hands, and stubborn sand.
3. Portable Potty
Whether your child is in the midst of potty training, newly trained or even fully trained, I can’t tell you how many times we have been saved by the portable potty in the back of my car. Whether at the playground where there is no bathroom at all (or only a Porto-potty or a bathroom that hasn’t seen a toilet brush in a decade), on road trips or even when you’re just leaving the mall and already have everything loaded in the car, for less than $20, I have more than gotten my money’s worth out of it!
Last week, on a trip to the playground, 5 minutes after our arrival, Big M declared she had to use the potty. We were at a playground with NO bathroom. Thanks to the Kalencom Potette Plus the crisis was easily averted. The seat legs collapse for easy storage, and the liners absorb liquid for easy disposal.
In the summer, I never go anywhere without it. Big M especially is so fair, she literally burns in minutes. Let them play freely, in sun or shade, with adequate protection. Our favorite sunscreen of choice? Protect your family with safer sunscreen – Beautycounter’s All Over Sunscreen and Sun Stick. Check your favorite sunscreen’s toxicity rating on the 2015 EWG Guide to Sunscreens (2016 should be out soon!).
5. Band Aids
Maybe it’s just girls, or just my girls, but the first sign of red at our house is meltdown-inducing, and only cured with a band aid. After more than one playground adventure was derailed by little more than a skinned knee, I added these to my playground must-haves!
6. Extra rubber bands
The girls play hard at the playground, and on more than one occasion, I have experienced where they either lose or snap the rubber band in their hair. While Big M largely prefers to have her locks flow freely, Lil’ M’s hair falls all in her face unless it is put up. No fun tripping and falling because your hair is in your eyes, or having to go home just because of a broken elastic.
Even when you expect the playground to be dry, before lunch, often the slides and swings still are damp with morning dew. I started keeping an old hand towel in the car when we were potty training, and used it to dry slides on the playground more than anything else. It’s a much better option than letting Big M go down the wet slide and the drama that then ensues over wet pants.
8. Sensible Wardrobe
Dress appropriately – both you and your children, from clothes to shoes. They are there to play, climb, jump, run, dig in the wet sand, and any other mess they can get into. They can’t do that if they are worried about messing up their new dress, or if they have on flip flops that keep falling off. Wear washable, cotton clothes and sneakers, or in the summer, mine often opt for Crocs.
Oh, and be sure you wear clothes and shoes that allow you to climb, bend over, and chase them down too.
9. Purel and/or wipes
I am far from a germaphobe… BUT Lil’ M especially is still at the stage where she constantly is putting her hands in her mouth. And while I let it be while we are playing, when we get in the car to head home, or sometimes it may be headed straight to eat, I try to sanitize everyone. Wipes come in handy too for when they stick their hand in someone’s dropped sticky mess or any other unsightly filth they encounter on the playground.
Whether it’s the camera on your smart phone or your DSLR, bring a camera. I always get my favorite shots of the girls while they are engrossed in activity, and the playground offers the perfect backdrop: vivid colors, natural light, and lots of activity! I took all the main images for this post with my DSLR, which I am finally learning to fully utilize thanks to my favorite photography blog, Click It Up a Notch.
I use a Canon Rebel T3i and am beginning to master shooting in Manual mode. The latest version is the T5 or T5i if you also want video capability. The difference in picture quality is amazing, and Click It Up a Notch has the first tutorials I’ve read that actually not only made sense, but that I actually remembered what to do when I went to take pictures.
What to Skip
Unless you are planning to have a full picnic, I err on the side of not bringing food to the playground. And even then, I don’t bring it out until we are sitting down to actually eat. My kids are there to play, not eat. Food is usually the motivator to get my girls to leave the playground – we play until it is time for lunch, and they are hungry so don’t put up a fight about going home.
The other concern with food at the playground is it often attracts other kids… and in today’s era of rampant allergies, you should really never give food to a child you don’t know. Also some kids’ allergies are so sensitive, just airborne exposure or remnants of peanut particles from your child’s hand can trigger a reaction. We are extremely luck to be free of allergies in our family but would hate to unknowingly harm another child.
Dress up clothes, accessories
See #8 above. But this goes for any clothing or adornments that are detachable as well. Be it sunglasses, hats, headbands, bracelets, tutus or anything else. If it can be removed, it usually will be within 5 minutes of arriving. Then, I end up toting it around, or worse, it gets lost and mayhem follows. We have a spot on the kitchen counter at home where all these items are left as we walk out the door, patiently awaiting our return.
Toys from home
This is probably one of my biggest playground pet peeves. A child brings their favorite toy from home, leaves it behind to go and play elsewhere… until it draws the attention of every other child on the playground. Then drama begins – they don’t want to share, 4 others kids are upset because they can’t play with it, and instead of anyone playing on the playground, all the kids are now crying over a toy. Buckets and shovels for the sand box are one thing (and at our local playground unnecessary because there are tons already there), but don’t bring your child’s favorite dump truck or the latest prized Frozen doll to the playground.
My worst trip to the playground ever occurred when a mom let her preschooler and toddler drive to the playground in their Power Wheels. They parked it, got out to play, and then I got to spend the next 30 minutes fending my child away from it and telling her no she couldn’t ride in it, it wasn’t hers, until finally we just left because she wasn’t playing on the playground at all.
What do you ALWAYS bring to the playground? I love how each of the M’s favorite things at the playground is totally indicative of their personality: Big M loves the swings where she stays clean and the wind blows through her hair, and Lil’ M loves the sand box, where she can be sure to get absolutely filthy!