Playground time is precious time. For both kids and adults.

That’s why 12-year-old T.J. Negraval of Eastampton launched a YouTube channel to answer a simple question: Play or Nay?

With a catchy theme song, cool graphics, and expert narration, channel subscribers get a sneak peek at New Jersey playgrounds to help them decide which are worth the trip.

“I really wanted to come up with something a little different,” T.J. said. “Ever since I was little, I always found it fun to make videos and review things. I also enjoy working with clips and editing on my computer.”

Playground reviews seemed like the perfect fit for T.J.’s interest and talents and so he pitched the idea to his parents, Lauren and Justin Negraval, who are both public school educators in New Jersey. They loved the idea, but suggested T.J. do some market research to make sure his channel would be unique, T.J. said.

“There were a couple of other playground reviewers on YouTube, but no one was doing it the way I wanted to do it,” T.J. said. “This was something I could do with my family, and everyone could participate.”

Once the project was greenlighted, the family of four got to work.

“My dad came up with the theme song and my brother (six-year-old Jace), mom, and I sang the vocals,” T.J. said. He also designed the Play or Nay logo.

So far, the Negraval family’s search for the perfect playground has taken them to East Brunswick, Pemberton, and Spotswood, among other towns. To date there are eight full-length video reviews, roughly three minutes each, and a few shorts, which are seconds long.

During a recent video shoot at the Donaldson Park playground in Highland Park, T.J. explained how they work as a team while on location.

“We start out by going to a playground and getting all the footage. My dad does all of the shots and videos on the outside. This includes wide shots and things the park offers. My job is to get all the footage of the equipment on the playground. My dad and l take turns doing the walkthroughs,” T.J. said.

Walkthroughs give the viewer the perspective of actually being on the playground equipment.

“My mom gets a lot of the still shots. You see a bunch of those in the thumbnails of our videos. And my brother tests a lot of the equipment and gives his opinion on if they are safe, or if they are just good overall,” T.J. said.

Lauren Negraval said Jace has strong opinions about the feel and texture of the paint, especially on the monkey bars. Speckled paint with flecks that irritate his hands get a definite “nay” from Jace.

After a day spent at a playground gathering footage, the family votes during the car ride home, each giving their overall score from one to 10, with 10 being the best.

So, what makes a playground a 10?

“There are multiple things that we look for. One major priority is safety. No one is going to go to a playground if it’s not safe for their child,” T.J. said.

They also consider the layout and organization of the playground, and if the equipment is a good fit for families with different-aged children. “We also ask ourselves, how long could you stay here? Are there other things to do? My brother and I love standing spinners and zip lines. In fact, we just got back from vacation in Florida, and there was a really cool playground that had a zip line. That video will be coming out soon.”

Justin Negraval said they’ve noticed that Landscape Structures make some of the better-designed playgrounds.

The overall quality and condition of the equipment, and surrounding amenities like benches, shade, parking, water fountains, restrooms, fitness courses, walking paths, and bike routes also factor into whether a playground gets a “Play” or a “Nay.”

At home, the production work begins.

T.J.  said his family forwards him all the video clips and still images, which he then downloads to his computer and organizes in editing software. “From there, my mom and dad look over the order of the videos to make sure that they make sense. After that, my dad and I make a ‘shot list’ which basically gives a blueprint for the script,” he said.

Once he has a script, which T.J. writes with his dad, he records the voice-over for the video clip. Before the video gets exported and eventually uploaded to YouTube, he makes edits based on his family’s input and does a final check of the music and sound effects. A thumbnail with a title and description is created for each video before T.J. clicks “upload” and the video goes live. Thumbnails are the cover image, a still photograph that acts as a preview of the video.

Maintaining a YouTube channel takes time and organization, which means sticking to a production schedule, mom Lauren and T.J. agreed. So, what advice does T.J. have for kids who want to start their own YouTube channel?  “I’d say try to find something original and see if people are interested. Make the best videos you can with what you have and try to have some fun.”

As T.J. and his family continue to explore playgrounds in New Jersey, they’re also looking toward the future.

“If the channel is successful, we’d love to expand outside of the state and travel. We’d like to help clean up parks and possibly donate new equipment. All that could be possible if we gain a large subscriber base… so like and subscribe,” T.J. Negraval says.

Jen Salvato Doktorski is a freelance writer and the award-winning author of five young adult novels.

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