How to Build a Natural Playground

Remember playing outside for hours on end when you were growing up? Adventure was found in your own backyard under rustling leaves. Today, some kids are missing all that fun. They’ve traded blue skies for blue screens, and they don’t even know they’re getting the raw end of the deal. 

Too much screen time—whether on smartphones, game consoles, or computers—is linked to sleep disturbances, obesity, and a host of other issues. And a 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health found that two or more screen-time hours correlated with lower language scores! 

Fortunately, coaxing your bleary-eyed child into the great outdoors may not be as hard as you think. Create a backyard nature playground, and watch them head for the back door! 

1. Choose a Location

Select a playground location that is both safe and convenient, away from traffic, deep water, and other hazards. If swings will be included, allow plenty of clearance between fences and other obstacles. To make supervision easy, find an area that is clearly visible from a convenient vantage point. Choose a shady spot so that direct sunlight won’t overheat play surfaces, but steer clear of thick weeds and shrubs or heavily wooded areas, where ticks might be lurking. 

Look for existing natural features within your yard that appeal to your inner child. Is there a tree with gnarly roots or an old stump to climb and balance on? What about a small hill, a thicket of trees, or large rocks? Grown-up eyes might not see the magic in these objects initially, but kids are innately drawn to simple nature-based settings and materials. Don’t forget to include wide-open space for running, too.

2. Find Intriguing Materials, Starting with These Backyard Playground Ideas 

Wondering how to build a natural playground without breaking the bank? Don’t worry—kids’ backyard playgrounds don’t have to cost a fortune. Peruse your storage shed and attic for materials that are languishing. Look for fun items at yard sales and thrift stores. Use your imagination. For example, you can transform old tires into swings or string them together to make a bridge or climbing feature.  

Here are more natural playground ideas that are simple and inexpensive: 

  • Repurpose an old canoe, rowboat, or under-the-bed storage box as a sandbox. Add oars, and it’ll double as a play prop. You may also consider raising the container on a stand and adding tools like measuring cups, scoops, sifters, pots and pans, wooden spoons, and a balancing scale to inspire exploration. Bury items like small rocks, fake jewels, coins, or rubber fishing worms, and let the treasure hunt begin. 
  • Line up a few landscape timbers to use as balance beams. Make sure the ground and other surfaces near the beams are soft. 
  • Fill shallow plastic bins with water. These are a favorite, but always supervise young children during water play! Toy boats, turkey basters, sponges, funnels, clean squirt-top containers, and plastic cups for pouring will keep kids busy. Add a splash of dish soap occasionally, and let your kids wash the toys!  
  • Build an obstacle course or a fort with miscellaneous items. You may choose to use bricks, logs, tires, sturdy boards, tarps, and rope. Interesting “sets” like this boost children’s creativity and logical thinking skills. 
  • Hang wind socks, chimes, garden flags, and wind spinners. Easily found at dollar or discount stores, these items create a whimsical atmosphere that inspires imagination. You can also create your own wind spinners using old CDs: glue pairs of disks together with the shiny sides facing outward, and string them together with fishing line or string.  
  • Make a fun “garden” with artificial flowers and plants. Section off a small plot of dirt or a raised garden bed. Let the kids “plant” and rearrange flowers and other items to design their own unique landscapes. Kick up the creativity by adding small garden statues, fairy houses, and plastic toys (dinosaurs, farm animals, action figures, etc.). 
  • Turn a fence or a sheet of plywood into a chalkboard. Use chalkboard paint or any dark-colored outdoor paint to cover a section of wooden fencing or an old sheet of plywood. Provide your budding artists with colorful sidewalk chalk, and they can draw and share messages on the board.  
  • Make a tennis ball maze with plastic gutters and drainpipes. This is like a marble track but bigger! Attach straight pipes and elbow pieces to a wall or other vertical, flat surface, to create a track for a tennis ball to roll down. Arrange gutters and pipes at different angles so your kids can drop balls in from various points. If you have older kids, challenge them to build their own mazes with Velcro®-backed pieces.

3. Design Around the Materials You Found

Once you’ve gathered materials, it’s time to organize and set up. Ask your children for their ideas, and encourage them to help with the design. To accommodate a variety of interests and moods, try creating zones or stations for different types of play—from creative to active to calming.  

Consider your children’s ages and abilities, and think about skills you would like them to further develop. Items like climbers, swings, and slides promote balance and gross (large muscle) motor skills. Water tables and sandboxes provide sensory input and help develop fine motor skills. Tunnels, forts, and lookout towers stimulate creative and social play.  

Related content: Outdoor Fire Pit Ideas for Family Fun Nights

4. Make Landing Surfaces Soft 

No matter how skilled your aspiring gymnasts are, occasional tumbles are inevitable. Be sure that swings and climbing or balancing items are placed over soft ground surfaces like loose sand, wood or rubber mulch, or other spongy materials. Remove large rocks, sticks, or other hard objects in potential fall zones, and teach children to keep those spaces clear of toys and other items. 

5. Establish Rules 

Neighborhood kids seem to be blessed with a sixth sense that draws them to anything new and exciting. If you build it … they will come. Set ground rules about always checking in with a household adult before playing in your yard. Always provide age-appropriate supervision. 

Engage your children in helping establish safety rules. For example, ask your kids to create colorful posters that highlight expectations. Laminate the posters to protect them from rain, and hang them in easy-to-see places.

6. Make It Safer with DIY Maintenance and Home Services

Regularly inspect the play area, structures, and equipment for damage and hazards. Seal or paint wood surfaces to protect them from weather damage. To reduce the risk of ticks—which can transmit Lyme Disease and other illnesses—keep the grass mowed and move woodpiles away from play spaces. Be sure to drain standing water regularly to reduce the mosquito population. 

When it comes to your children—and their friends—fun and safety should go together. Consider scheduling regular tick, flea, and mosquito barrier spray treatments from our Mosquito Joe® experts. We even offer all-natural pest control options. Simply book online or call us at 1-855-275-2563 to get started. 

These other reliable Neighborly® experts can also help you make your natural backyard playground safer: 

Related Topic: Tick Tips—What You Need to Know 

The Benefits of Natural Playgrounds  

Natural backyard playgrounds foster creativity, critical thinking skills, and independence—three essential skills for a successful life. According to Stanford Health, kids who play outside often are happier and healthier. Simple activities like digging in the dirt can reduce stress levels and strengthen their immune systems! Building a reliable, intriguing backyard playground that offers ample opportunities for unstructured outdoor play is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Time to grab your kids and get started! 

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Backyard Movie Nights – A Great Way to Bond with Neighbors

Having a sense of community in your neighborhood is incredibly important. But with so many options for entertainment, it can be difficult to get people out of the house and gather them together for fun and camaraderie. Many people don’t even know their neighbors, which isn’t conducive to a safe, cohesive neighborhood.  

One of the best ways to get people together and get them to socialize is to put together a backyard movie night. Everyone loves a movie outdoors, and it’s a great chance to give everyone an excuse to mingle and create that sense of community. Here are a few things you should know before your first backyard movie night.  

Advantages of Knowing Your Neighbors 

There are a lot of advantages to knowing your neighbors and understanding who they are as people. Not only can it give you that sense of togetherness and community, it can also provide some practical advantages. Some of the benefits of having a good relationship with the people living in your neighborhood include: 

  • Extra security  
  • Know who you can depend on  
  • Know who is coming and going  
  • Community feeling  
  • Find shared interests  

One of the best ways to get to know your neighbors is to put on a backyard movie night with drinks and snacks. This way, you can get everyone together and give them a chance to get to know one another. It can really bring the whole neighborhood together.  

Preparing Your Yard 

Prepping your yard should be your first step before your backyard movie night. Be sure to trim back any vegetation like shrubs, bushes, and trees, and to cut the grass to somewhere between two and three inches tall. Not only will this keep everyone comfortable and reduce the risk of people getting caught on branches, it will also keep pests like mosquitoes and rodents from nesting and ruining the event.  

Related Topic: What’s in Natural Mosquito Yard Sprays and Do They Really Work? 

Setting Up Your Theater 

After trimming back your yard, you will need to get your theater setup put together. Decide whether you want to use your backyard or front yard based on how private you want the event to be. You can then figure out what to use for a screen. This could be something as simple as a white sheet, or you can opt for an inexpensive metal-frame outdoor movie screen.  

The equipment you use will also be very important. You can use a simple smartphone projector and speaker setup, or you can invest in a more expensive mini projector with a laptop. If you are interested in doing this kind of event more than once, it might be best to spend a little more money and get a more reliable projector.  

Choosing a Movie 

The movie you choose for your backyard movie night will depend on your audience. If you are going to have adults only, you can reasonably expect that everyone will be okay with something rated PG-13. For kids, family-friendly films are going to be your best bet. Either way, try to avoid any controversial themes or violence and try to settle on something that everyone can relax with and enjoy. Popular classic films like Casablanca or Singing in the Rain are always a good option.  

Related TopicBest Ways to Protect Kids and Pets from Ticks This Fall 

Preventing Uninvited Guests 

Bugs like mosquitoes and ticks can quickly ruin your backyard movie night. Mosquito Joe can help you make sure the event is comfortable for everyone involved and that the night is fun for your guests. Barrier treatments or even special event treatments can help prevent pests and keep your backyard safe and relaxing. Call or contact your local Mosquito Joe today. 

 

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How to Properly Check and Remove Ticks from Your Pets

When tick season rolls around, your pets are much more susceptible to bites and tick-borne diseases. Even if they are on preventative medication for fleas and ticks, it’s still important to check them regularly and after they have been outside. It never hurts to be sure that your pets are safe from these parasites.  

While you may be more vigilant about checking your dog for ticks, it’s also important to check your cat(s). This is especially true if they spend most of their time outside. The quicker a tick is removed, the better the chances are that it won’t pass on any diseases to your pet.  

What Do Ticks Look Like? 

Because there are different varieties, ticks come in many different colors and shapes. Some are grayish-brown, while others are brown, black, reddish, or even yellow in color. They are a flat oval shape and can be as small as a pinhead. This is why they are difficult to notice on your pets if you don’t check for them regularly.  

Ticks have eight legs and will start to get bigger in size the more they feed on your pet. The bigger a tick is, the longer it has been attached. They don’t have wings, which, is why they spend most of their time hiding and waiting for a human or animal to walk by so they can latch on.  

Related Topic: Meet the Entomology Expert Behind the Science and Research at Mosquito Joe 

Where Do Ticks Hide? 

Ticks will hide in tall grass or heavy vegetation. Because of this, it’s very important that you keep your grass cut short during tick season to help keep them out of your yard. When your pet walks through the grass, ticks will latch on and start to feed.  

Ticks latch onto your pet in places that are easy to hide. Check their head and ears, making sure to pay special attention under the collar. They will also latch onto their armpits or the underside of the tail. These warm and dark areas are perfect for hiding, so it’s important that you check them thoroughly. 

Finding and Removing Ticks on Your Pet 

To find ticks, start by putting on a pair of gloves and combing through your pet’s fur with your fingers, checking for any bumps on their skin. If you feel anything, carefully separate the fur and look for any ticks. If you see one, you should then remove it as quickly as possible.  

Using a pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool, grab the tick’s head and pull it up with a smooth, upward motion. Make sure that you have completely removed it and then clean the area around the bite with antiseptic.  

Related Topic: What’s in Natural Mosquito Yard Sprays and Do They Really Work? 

Should I Save the Tick? 

It’s a good idea to save the tick in some rubbing alcohol for a few weeks after you have removed it. If your pet starts to get sick, bring it to the vet so they can test the tick for diseases. This is the best way to be sure that your pet gets the right treatment for whatever is ailing them.   

Prevention is Your Best Defense 

Preventing ticks is the best way to make sure your pet doesn’t get bitten in the first place. On top of keeping your grass mowed, you should also be sure to keep woodpiles far away from the house and other areas where your pet usually goes. Keeping your pets away from heavily wooded areas is another great way to prevent them from coming in contact with these pests.  

But for the best prevention, barrier sprays are a great way to keep pests like ticks out of your yard. The pest control experts at Mosquito Joe can help control ticks by spraying the perimeter of your property and targeting shrubbery and thicker vegetation. Our targeted approach can keep both you and your pets free from ticks all year round. 

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Meet the Entomology Expert Behind the Science and Research at Mosquito Joe

 
Many of us take enjoying a playful evening with the kids, BBQing with family and friends, or just spending a quiet evening relaxing in the backyard for granted. Until uninvited guests show up to spoil our good time. Nothing throws ice water on outdoor fun faster than mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. Even an annoying relative is more welcome than those buzzing, biting pests who show up and crash the party. However, if you’re among the many thousands who use Mosquito Joe to keep mosquitoes, flies, and ticks from ruining your outdoor activities, you’ve been enjoying the great outdoors without missing a beat.  

But have you ever really thought about why Mosquito Joe is so effective at keeping bugs away from your family fun? What’s the science and research that makes Mosquito Joe work so well? To learn more about how Mosquito Joe continues to make the outdoors fun for so many people we spoke with David Price, Entomologist, and the man behind the science and research at Mosquito Joe.  

In this first of a series of articles, we interviewed David to learn more about how climate change, the global economy, and other factors are impacting insect populations, migration patterns, habitat, and disease transmission. Also, how research is influencing various treatment options that are designed to control mosquitoes, flies, and ticks in order to reduce the transmission of potentially harmful diseases. 

Related Topic: Do Mosquito Repellant Plants Really Work? 

A Lifetime Studying Bugs 

For those who don’t know, an Entomologist is someone who studies insects and arthropods (an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages). And although it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, David developed an interest in bugs at a very early age. This fascination only grew as David got older. After graduation from Purdue University as a Structural/Urban Entomologist —someone who studies insects found in structures and insects of medical importance found within urban environments that potentially carry/transmit various diseases (mosquitoes, ticks, flies, rodents that host insects)David spent the last 35 years working in the pest control industry.    

Today, David helps Mosquito Joe test new treatment products, tracks the number of applications applied throughout various regions, develops operational strategies, trains field personnel, and participates in the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (a program focused on integrated pest management). The PESP considers insect biology, behavior in their environment and looks at available products and how best to apply them with the least risk to people, pests, and the environment.   

 Related Topic: How Can I Make My Backyard Fun for Kids? 

 The Impact of Climate Change 

You don’t have to look too hard to find information about how our changing climate is affecting the world around us. Changes in weather patterns, intensity, and rising sea levels have been well documented. A lesser-known effect of climate change is the impact on insect migration patterns and habitats. Since temperature and moisture (relative humidity) are two of the biggest factors related to insect breeding and expanding populations, even a slightly warmer climate means big changes for insect populations.  

Recent studies have discovered insects once confined to specific southern regions establishing seasonal habitats much further north. For example, ticks have now migrated as far north as Maine. And with them an increased potential for transmission of Lyme disease to people and pets. Insect samples have also identified new, invasive species of disease-carrying mosquitoes in states like Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. So, what are David and the team at Mosquito Joe doing to address some of these migratory and habitat changes? Find out in our next article: Battling Bugs: How Science and Research Are Influencing Pest Control.     

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