Could your Colorado playground equipment provide more benefits for children than you realize? It’s been widely reported that playtime is good for kids. Physical play on playground equipment is especially beneficial for young children for many reasons. Not only is this type of play typically a social experience, exposing children to others and preparing them to form better relationships with their peers, it’s also a good way for children to learn how to use their bodies and build basic physical competencies that will help them later in life.

Let’s take a look at what human development scientists and other experts have to say about the benefits of playing on playground equipment.

Play Time Builds Better Brains

Playing outside helps develop a young person’s brain, creating noticeable differences in brain formation and structure. Some research even suggests that playing on the playground may be more important for developing brains than attending school.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -Fred Rogers

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” said Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”

Changes to the prefrontal cortex in children start to wire the brain’s executive functioning, which regulates emotion and helps us solve problems and make plans. Pellis says that the crucial factor in playing outside that develops better brain function is free play, with no rules, umpires, or coaches. One way to promote free play that benefits brain development is by allowing children to enjoy plenty of time at the local playground.

The Importance of Free Play

While the benefits of free play are well-documented at this point, there are many barriers to free play, including overbearing parents, restrictive school environments, and a focus on academics and enrichment programs. Using playground equipment can bring children together and give them an outlet for their energy while encouraging free play where children can grow in using their imagination.

Of course, there should always be someone supervising free play at a playground. But when we give children free rein to play how they want, as long as they’re not hurting themselves or others, they learn more in this than in other activities about how their bodies work and what they can do physically.

Parents today are often buffeted with a multitude of structured activities they can have their children do. Many parents feel the pressure to prepare their children for academic and social success by pushing them into as many structured, “team” activities as they can at younger and younger ages. While there is value in playing team sports, even at a young age, children still need time to play and explore their abilities in a non-pressurized, no-expectations environment. A safe, well-built playground can provide this free play environment.

While there are many ways to encourage children to engage in more physical free play, parks and playgrounds offer a multitude of activities and ways for children to use their imagination to create their own games and ways of playing. It’s this creativity and the sense that they can do whatever they want that helps develop the brain and expands the imagination.