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Speaking of Playful Celebrations…

To celebrate the last day of our winter hours when we are closed to the public for three days a week, a few of us headed out west to visit a couple of sister organizations, Children’s Fairyland in Oakland an the Berkeley Adventure Playground.

A flute fairy at Fairyland!

A flute fairy at Fairyland!

Our first stop was Fairyland. After a tour through their 10-acre site, we shared lunch under the trees with our counterparts and friends. It was great to swap stories about birthday party packages, membership programs, marketing plans, general maintenance, food service, guest activities and weather issues.

The proscenium side of the stage

We were all impressed with their new theater facility. The stage could open up on one side for a lawn seating amphitheater, and on the other side for more traditional proscenium-style seating. We were jealous of the walk-in refrigerator and freezer in their cafe. And we loved their new Jack and Jill Hill! A small hill covered in turf, children spend hours rolling or sliding down it on large pieces of cardboard. The simple things are often the most fun!

Entry way to adventure play!

Entry way to adventure play!

After lunch, we headed further west to the Berkeley Marina where we got a brief history and in-depth tour of the Berkeley Adventure Playground. It was the first time anyone (besides me) had experienced an adventure playground, and all were amazed. It is such a surprise to enter an adventure playground because things are higgledy-piggledy rather than neat, organized and padded. It is a magical environment nonetheless – because it’s an environment that kids create themselves. Established for older children ages 7 and up, it offers a safe environment for kid to explore and take risks. Hammers and nails can be checked out to build huts. Paint is available to paint the huts – or anything else they might find, and a garden area is available for those who want to dig in the dirt. A rope swing around a may pole, and a dirt hill with old tubing for rolling down it are there for the more daring.

Zipping alongside the bay

Zipping alongside the bay

And – best of all – there’s a zip line to play on!

We arrived back at Fairytale Town at the end of the day both tired and inspired by our adventure. A full day of play was just what we needed to get geared up for spring!


Seuss-ational Fun!

Seuss Readers by Dina (18)None can deny that Dr. Seuss played with words. His rhymes and nonsense words made his stories original and fun.  We were happy we could open our spring season with a celebration of his birthday on March 2.

Lots of party guests arrived! At the end of the day 2650 people came through the gates.

_MG_9625I think the first thing they noticed was the Truffula Trees. Our talented staff created brilliant truffula-top covers for the light poles around the park.  It was fun to hear guests ooh and aah as a favorite storybook setting was transported into real life – if only for a day.

Once inside, kids could make ‘Cat in the Hat’ hats, create rhyme books and plant Truffula seeds (dandelions) to take home and watch grow. Through these playful activities they developed the eye/hand coordination so important for reading, learned about individual letter sounds, and connected the dots between seeds and trees.

Seuss Readers by Dina (19)Many guests congregated by the Mother Goose Stage where they could hear local dignitaries and celebrities read Seuss stories all day long. It’s not very often a child gets read to by their local councilmember or television anchor! Through this activity children and their family members were able to make important connections to their community.

It was a good day of play. And it all started with a few simple words!

Photos by Dina Heidrich


Renovating A Forest

Not everyone can say they are refurbishing a forest.

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But that’s what we’ve been working on at Fairytale Town. After a two-month renovation, Sherwood Forest re-opened last weekend.

The new play set has activities for children ages 2 and up including slides, climbing apparatuses, a talk tube and a telescope. Sherwood also has a refreshed birthday party area as well as new hand-made chairs, animal sculptures and landscaping.

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The renovation actually began last year when the old play structure was starting to show signs of wear. (It isn’t easy being exposed to the sun, rain, wind and 230,000 annual visitors!)  A task force was formed to head up the renovation project and designs were sought from four different playground designers. In the meantime, a search for funding was underway. A design was selected. Applications for building permits were submitted and construction plans were approved. The old set was demolished and the new one erected. Three inspections were made to ensure the structure was sound. Cash and in-kind donations were received and acknowledged. New chairs and fencing were built. Holes and trenches wee dug and new plants and irrigation were installed. A re-opening ceremony was held and the ribbon to the new Sherwood was cut.

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Now the work is turned over to the children who visit us. It’s their job to play and imagine to their hearts content in the new Sherwood Forest. Judging from those who have played on it already, they are doing their job well – and happily!


New Play Structure for Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood, his Merry Men and Maid Marian reopened their forest haven with a new play structure on February 16, 2013!

sherwood_forestWith earth-tone colors and forest-themed elements, the structure was custom-designed to echo the entire Sherwood Forest play set. The structure features slides, crawl tubes, a talk tube, telescope and multiple climbing apparatuses, including steps shaped as tree trunks and bedrock, an inclined log and a vertical rock climbing wall. Wood chips surrounding the base of the play structure will make for soft landings during play time on the structure.

In addition, other parts of Sherwood Forest were spruced up while under construction. Our Grounds crew was hard at work installing an irrigation system, planting new shrubs, refinishing the dining area and more.


Down Time is Productive Time


Beginning November 1, Fairytale Town shuts down for three days a week and operates Thursday through Sunday until March 1. We do this for a variety of reasons. The weather this time of year is often cold and wet, so not as many people visit. And after a busy spring, summer and early fall, the physical facility needs a little break from the daily wear and tear that thousands of little hands and feet make each day.

Of course, the people who make the physical plant clean and magical also need a break. Not a break to kick back and enjoy, but a break to do the kinds of projects that have to be done, but are easier done without worrying about thousands of little hands and feet. This is the time of year we dig ditches, freshen up paint, clean or reorganize offices and storage areas, and plan for the future – and do it during normal business hours and without roping off areas, locking up tools or wearing uniforms. Though it’s a very productive time of year for us, we call it our ‘down time.’


Children need down time also. During down time children play in quiet and unobtrusive ways. They may read, draw, write, shovel sand, water plants or just day dream. Quiet play is a productive time for children. It’s when they can let their hair down a bit, relax, think things through and ponder. While engaged in quiet play children gain understanding of themselves and the people and things around them.


During the hectic holiday season be sure to schedule some down time for yourself, your family and your children. It may be the most productive thing you do!


Greetings from the 2013 IAAPA Convention

Today’s post is by Doris Sanui, Fairytale Town’s Assistant General Manager. Doris is attending the International Attractions and Amusement Park Association Convention this week in Orlando, Florida.  

I’m here this week in Orlando, Florida, home to many amusement parks, water parks and more! This year, Fairytale Town is proud to take part of the International Attractions and Amusement Park Association (IAAPA) Convention that takes place at the Orange County convention center. All types of parks, such as zoos, water parks, play parks and family fun centers, unite under one roof. As we shuttle in and out of the many education classes, we also have the opportunity to meet others from parks and share ideas. I’ve met people from all over the nation as well as other countries!

Besides all the presentations on topics like food, retail and customer service, I also attended a presentation featuring three CEO’s from three very successful companies. They each shared their knowledge and experiences with having a successful workplace. Here I’d like to quote one presenter’s teaching: “Always have fun, having fun!” I couldn’t agree more! Not only does this apply to work but in everything we do, and it’s such a perk to see that especially with all our families that visit Fairytale Town.

The other great part of this trip is the expo. Here, vendors and suppliers showcase their best products. Rides, play sets, zip lines, jungle gyms and more are all available for the testing.

Can’t wait to bring great ideas back home to Fairytale Town!


Scary Play

Not all play is fun. Some of it is scary.

I remember this each Halloween as the talented Fairytale Town staff begins to build sets and decorations for our annual Halloween program. This year’s theme was Grimm Fairy Tales. The team worked diligently to create over-sized cauldrons, papier-mâché wolves, witches lairs, and all sorts of other sets and props for the three-day Halloween extravaganza. This year, more than 5,000 people attended to take part in trick-or-treating, puppet shows, seasonal craft activities, photo souvenirs, and plain old Halloween fun.

Why do people enjoy scary play?  Is it because it taps into our darker sides? Is it because we like the surprise behind a scare? Or is it because we feel exhilarated once we’ve survived a fright?

Other kinds of play can be scary too.

‘Risky play’ is often considered scary by parents and teachers, but a recent Play England study concludes that risky play is important for children. The study quotes a number of play providers who highlight the benefits to children of taking risks. ‘Risk-taking increases the resilience of children,’ said one. ‘It helps them make judgments,’ said another. ‘It lets them test their boundaries and learn about their potential as well as their fears and abilities.’ Some risky play the research says should be encouraged includes fire-building, den-making, water sports, paintballing and climbing trees.

So, once you’re done with the ‘scary play’ of Halloween, let your children engage in a little bit of risky play as well. One can gain a great deal of perspective from the top of a tree!


Fairytale Memories

The Fairways to Fairytales Golf Tournament was founded in 2003 to honor David Blaylock. David was an accomplished financial planner with Smith Barney and an involved member of the Fairytale Town Board of Directors. He was slated to be President in 2003 but died suddenly in November of 2002 at the young age of 48. At his funeral, his friends and colleagues in the financial services industry remarked that the only time they saw each other was at funerals, and they should get together more often for camaraderie and fun.

Dave’s widow, Nina, and Smith Barney colleague, Cathi Johnson, took those remarks to heart and came to chat with me in the spring of 2003 about putting together a Golf Tournament in Dave’s honor to benefit Fairytale Town. The first Tourney was held that fall at the 9-hole Land Park Golf Course.  After the Tourney, golfers and their families wandered over to Fairytale Town for a reception and awards. Dave was fondly remembered, toasted to, (roasted a bit as well) and celebrated. It was – and continues to be – a meaningful way to remember a wonderful man, spend time with old friends and colleagues, and benefit a worthy cause.

As time has marched on, the Tourney has evolved. After a few years it moved to an 18-hole course to accommodate more golfers, and has become a friendly competition among the brokerage firms in town. Not all of the golfers have connections to David Blaylock any more, but they all share things he valued – time spent with family and friends, the game of golf, and supporting community causes.

This is the 10th year of the Tourney and the last year Cathi Johnson will head up the effort.  She has done an incredible amount of work over the years to make the game of golf meaningful and fun.  The Fairways to Fairytales Tournament has raised more than $90,000 for Fairytale Town during its 10 year history.

Fairways to Fairytales is a wonderful legacy to David Blaylock.  It brings people together for an afternoon of play, provides a touching way to remember a wonderful man, and makes a lasting contribution to children in our region. I know Dave would be proud of Nina, their daughters Elise and Mallory, and his friend and colleague Cathi, who have worked so hard to make this possible.  I know all of us at Fairytale Town are grateful to have had Dave’s involvement here and for the incredible support his family and friends have shown us.  We are honored to be part of his legacy.


Multi-Generational Play

Last Sunday was National Grandparent’s Day.  The purpose of the day is to celebrate all that grandparents bring to our culture, their families and, perhaps most importantly, to their grandchildren.

Grandparents have a special place in the heart of their grandchildren. Not only do they have a common enemy (those pesky parents!), they have that special bond of unconditional love. Grandparents bring more to the relationship than love. Being two generations removed from the child, grandparents connect grandchildren with the past and family history.  These connections are important to children as they help build perspective, compassion and identity.  Of course, grandchildren are important to grandparents as well, helping them see the world from a new point of view and reciprocating their unconditional love.

On Grandparent’s Day, grandparents received free admission at Fairytale Town so they could come out and play with their grandchildren.  Many used the excuse to bring three generations of family members here to play. Children were able to make special posters or pins for their grandparents. It was delightful to see how excited the kids were to make the crafts and present them to their special person.  I am pretty sure that their efforts will be hung on refrigerators and saved in jewelry boxes for many months.  And it was fun to see the different generations playing in the park.  I’m certain each generation created playful memories that will last a lifetime.


Labor Day Play

Labor Day signals the end of summer, and it is already here!  A national holiday since 1894, it was created as a day of relaxation and festivals to honor workers. It’s sort of ironic that it now prompts a back-to-work/back-to-school mentality.

It doesn’t have to!

There is plenty of time in the day to include play. As a former boss used to say, “There are 24 hours in a day. Eight hours to work, eight hours to sleep and eight hours to play.”  (Somehow he never took into account commuting, cooking, eating, cleaning and doing laundry. But even so, you can always squeeze in a little bit of play every day.)

For children, the best play is free play. That is, play that’s not organized by an adult. Adults facilitate free play by providing materials, space and time.  Kids can get a lot of imaginative and creative play out of sticks, empty boxes, and fabric pieces, as well as art, building and gardening materials.

So as you get supplies and schedule activities for the school year, throw in some whimsical play items and be sure to schedule some free time every day to play!