Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall "Friendmaker" for the Playground

Hover Disc in action.  No, it won't fly away.  I promise.

WHAT: Hover Disc
DOES: fill a large pita-shaped balloon with helium or air and toss it around with friends, doesn't pop easily
INVEST:  $7-8 not including shipping
TOOLS: My Body Needs to Move, Social Scene Helper

In the summer, when I go to the playground, I arrive toting a bag on wheels.  It's a little embarrassing.  While I myself, generally stay away from strange people arriving at a playground with supplies, for our family, it is sometimes necessary.  Number 2 is very shy and needs more that just the jungle gym and swings to socialize with other kids. For Number 2, props are great "social scene helpers."  In the bag are usually buckets, shovels, bubbles, and very small water guns.

I have to bring toys in the fall as well but it is so much harder to pick out toys for the fall to bring to the park.   No one wants to get wet, sandy, and to a certain extent, no one wants the kids to get too dirty either.  Summer clothing is cheaper, lighter, and easier to wash.

But it is now Autumn and I'm faced with a sudden lack of outside toy ideas, otherwise known in my vocab as "friendmakers."  My latest friendmaker discovery, the Hover Disc was serendipitous.
I saw it on sale at a big box store and grabbed it immediately. I rarely find unusual things at big box stores but there it was.  I suppose it was on sale because it was marketed as a summer toy but at least for us, I think this disc might be better in the Fall.

It is a three foot wide disc that sort of acts like a frisbee, balloon, and ball rolled into one.  I suppose you can say it is shaped like a blown-up pita.   It can even temporarily levitate when you fill it with helium (not included) which I suppose would be inconvenient for just a quick trip to the park but on those days, you can just fill it up with air.

But seriously, it is not hard to see how it can be really really fun and so easy to play with!  It's not a frisbee but you can somehow throw it like one and I have to tell you, I STILL CANNOT THROW a frisbee for my life.  So guess how much luck I have teaching Number 1 and Number 2 how to throw a frisbee?  You guessed it.  After a few tosses, we give up. We did such a bad job throwing the last frisbee we had, that we lost it.  We literally had no clue where it was just seconds after we threw it.  Note to self: don't play with green frisbees on a grassy field.  Not a good choice.

Special education teacher and co-owner of Emerge and See Education Center in New York City, Alison Berkley knows just what I mean when it comes to success playing outdoor games.  With regards to balloon toss-like games that could progress at a slower pace because of helium she says,  "Any kid that sees it being tossed around for a minute can sort of hop in and join the game right away and be pretty good at it."

For my family, there is nothing wrong with "easy" when it comes to being outdoors.  It's hard to teach and supervise a game unless you are doing it on a structured basis like Little League.  I can see this disc at an outdoor birthday party where an adult could sort of give the kids the disc and then walk away.  You don't have to teach them how to play this and there aren't special rules like you'd have in softball or soccer.

This disc is also fun for kids who have a hard time in the playground because they are shy or have low self-esteem.   They can play with a Hover Disc and inevitably a curious kid will come by and ask to try it out.  If your kid is shy, teach your kid to say "yes" or even offer a kid to play with him when he sees the body language of an interested kid.  (ie. double takes, googly eyes) However, even before that, teach him how to play with it with another person by tossing the disc around with him yourself.  The thing is, there are so many ways to play with it.  You can just toss it in the air like you are playing balloon toss or toss it up vertically like you are performing a trick (bounce it off your head even) or roll it to a friend....  Let your kids come up with the ideas.   They'll feel more attached to the toy and feel more confidence about playing with it.

I must warn you that this disc is just a bit too awesome meaning, if you walk into a park with this toy, people will look at your family.  If your child lets another child play with it, his friends will follow and the next thing you know, your kid may be standing there fuming as he watches other kids play with his toy. Alison had wise words in this area as well. "I think that happens on a lot of playgrounds with a lot of different kids and it's part of growing up and learning social problem solving."  Alison suggests that a grown-up on the scene might not want to intervene but rather speak to the child on the side and suggest to the child that if he told the other kids that he wants a turn then maybe he would get it back.  That could give him the tools to get back in the game.  What a great face-saving suggestion!

We already had a problem like this and while it was painful when it happened, we have to go through them to learn how to solve them.  Troubleshooting is key if you know this might happen.  Preparing your child with problem-solving tips in advance should help.

Also, the reason I said this toy is great for the fall is because it makes you sweat!  Imagine doing a balloon toss in a big park!  I usually do something like that at home where the space is confined but there is no limit to how far you have to run with this thing especially if you fill it with helium.  I can't imagine doing this on a hot hot day.   Our disc went over the fence twice but we chuckled each time it happened!   I am thinking that maybe I will fill it with 1/2 air and 1/2 helium next time!  This is also a good time to mention that you really should not play this on a windy day.

Anyway, I was almost grateful when it went over the fence because they needed a break.  Balloon-toss type games can make you go a little crazy.  The kids were panting... so excited.... parents were staring with curiosity....  Within one hour, at least two fathers came up to me to ask me where to buy this.  Fathers, not mothers, I tell you.   That was interesting.  "Got it on sale for 6 dollars!" I shouted.  This was true.  I did!!!!   Which was great because had it popped on me I wouldn't have gotten upset.  (it could happen because the little ones tried to roll on it until I stopped them).  Even if it was ten dollars (which it was because I had to pay to fill it with helium), I think it makes a trip to the playground more interesting.  It's still cheaper than the movies and more importantly, it gets them moving.

So with the Hover Disc, I have bid farewell to the traditional frisbee and have put the trusty playground ball on my B list.  It hasn't popped on me yet but if it does, that will be okay with me because I will not want to store it over the winter.  I  feel like it is worth it for even a couple of days of fun. In fact, it might be wise to buy two so that you can just keep an unopened one stored somewhere for a day when you feel like you need an excuse to go outside.  But it can be stored after you deflate it.  That was something I slowly figured out after it was just left in the back of my mini-van, just sitting there, happily puffed up for the longest time to remind us of a very active and social day.

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of this product for the publication of this post . 


  1. Hey Jenn, this is great that you are doing a new Blog!
    Our son Benji got one of these things a few years ago and at first we were disappointed when we read it used helium. We just put air in the thing and it turned out to be fun and easy like you say. We kept it at our house upstate and even played with it after it was flat with holes in it.
    I am a sucker for anything Alien and ours looked like a UFO with an cute green alien flying it!
    Good Luck Jenn, Steven

  2.  Nice post! Looks really interesting, looking for more post from you.