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How Your Basement Can become a Winter Playground

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nov10homespunweb.jpgBy Heather Dorsey

RISMEDIA, Nov. 10, 2008-(MCT)-The mercury is beginning to dip along with the falling leaves. Soon the same children who are anticipating snowflakes will begin complaining about frozen fingers and toes. As the cold weather in places like southeastern Wisconsin chases kids inside, parents may feel their walls shrinking and decibel levels increasing.

Creating a basement play area for children not only restores a little peace but also encourages kids to stay active and burn calories during winter.

Whitewater, Wis., mother Nancy Lynd O’Hara created an area for her daughter, Kelly, 10, to have fun when she designed an exercise area for herself and her husband, Bob, in their basement years ago. A little planning and a simple trip to the hardware store was all it took.

“Kelly loves to dance and, because of my own background in gymnastics, I could see early on that she was following in my footsteps,” O’Hara says.

O’Hara hung an inexpensive ballet bar, similar to handrail on a stairway. The O’Haras bought three large mirrors for $100 to line the walls of the room.

“Kelly loves to put on music and dance like they do on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ She likes to pretend she is being judged. … She puts on costumes.”

O’Hara also has a mini-trampoline that she says was purchased years ago at a garage sale for $30.

She says Kelly is testing her gymnastics skills.

“She puts the tramp in back of the couch, and she’ll try and do a back handstand, putting her hands on the couch; or she’ll do a forward roll,” says O’Hara.

Dodging Snowy Weather

Paul Shebesta of Germantown, Wis., enjoys the creative games his grandchildren drum up in his unfinished basement. He and his wife, Luciana, especially appreciate the area when it’s cold out.

“During the winter when it is difficult to get dressed and play in the snow, the kids are the ones that will suggest playing in the basement. They do all sorts of games … dodge ball, kickball, baseball, soccer.

“We have a net that we set up, with thick plastic sheets on the side, and we have a pad on the ground that they dive on or use for home base, depending on the game,” says Shebesta.

He says the L-shaped area is roughly 30 feet by 30 feet at its widest point, with the smaller end of the L-shape about 15 feet by 15 feet.

The Shebestas have nine grandchildren, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years old, and six of them use their basement on a regular basis.

“Maybe we will use it in another way when the kids are older; but for now it’s an extended family situation. We’re a second home for our grandkids,” Shebesta says.

John Moynihan, owner of Keeper Goals, a sporting goods manufacturer in Butler, Wis., says there are many options for parents who want to create an exercise area for their children.

“We custom make netting _ that we normally manufacture for gymnasiums _ that can protect windows, the furnace, hot water heaters and those sort of things,” he says.

Depending on the size and basement room configuration, netting typically costs between 30 cents and 90 cents per square foot. The business also sells stock netting that could block off an area for $98.

Padding for corners and basement walls is also a good idea to help keep kids safe, Moynihan says. Corner pads run between $80 and $120 depending on the size; 5 feet by 2 feet wall pads run about $70.

“Basically there are lots of options, depending on your price range. Good options for flooring are rubber floors or turf floors, or just leave the concrete basement floor,” Moynihan says.

“When we were kids we just had a piece of carpet down. We used miniature Nerf balls; we would just make something up for a goal, use buckets as baskets. We didn’t have anything down in the basement that was breakable.”

Mini Golf Range

Moynihan says another popular idea is putting in a mini golf range in the basement. And as more and more kids learn to play golf, it’s something they can do with their parents.

“We typically install 8-by-12 or 8-by-24-foot netting. We tell people to go to driving ranges at the end of the year and ask for their old used mats,” he says.

Ranges usually replace their mats each year. New mats typically sell for between $250 and $500.

And something else to keep in mind, Moynihan says, regardless of the type of area you put in: “The kids will enjoy it even more if you are down there playing with them.”

Getting Started

Here are a few more ideas to keep kids moving this winter:

- If you have an open area on concrete basement floor:
Bring down the kids’ bikes and scooters. For little ones, get a jump start on spring and take the training wheels off their bikes now so they can practice in a controlled environment. Be sure to supervise.

Bring in the sidewalk chalk, jump ropes and balls, and visit www.gameskidsplay.net for many games for the kids to play. They also have instructions on how to draw a hopscotch pattern or a four square, among other ideas, on the floor.

Bring in the kiddie pool and fill it up with sand and beach toys.

Use chalkboard paint to paint a chalkboard on the basement wall.

- If you have an open area with carpeting or flooring:
Make an inexpensive stage in the corner, hang curtains and bring down play clothes and puppets. Visit www.ehow.com for instructions on how to build your own stage. Suggest play themes with active plots to keep them moving.

- Set up a child-size basketball hoop or invest in an electronic game such as ESPN’s game station, which features football, hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball and golf. New games cost about $200; but used systems can often be found online at Craigslist.org and eBay for less.

© 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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