When most people think about early childhood development, playgrounds and play often come to mind. While most people think of a playground as a place for a child to run off energy.
However, did you know there’s actually a lot more going on that benefits a child?
Experts agree that outdoor free play shouldn’t be seen as an extracurricular activity meant to “run off” energy. Outdoor play should be seen as a vital (even essential) tool in a child’s development.
Aside from the obvious, that physical exercise is beneficial for children, did you ever stop to think about the mental and social benefits playgrounds provide?
Below are 3 benefits that playgrounds may be able to offer your child.
Playgrounds and Limiting Screentime
It’s amazing to see how smartphones and mobile devices have shaped out day-to-day activities. In fact, children as young as infants are exposed to “screen time.”
It’s shocking to see how much time an average child spends in front of a screen.
According to a study by PEW research, “teens spend an average of nine hours a day online, compared to about six hours for those aged eight to 12 and 50 minutes for kids between 0 and eight.”
That’s a LOT of time in front of a screen.
Rather than having your child sit in front of a mobile device’s screen, why not encourage healthy lifestyle choices?
According to the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), parents have a pivotal role when it comes to being involved in limiting their child’s screen time.
“Kids have access to so much technology today, and it can truly decrease the amount of time they spend engaged in physical play. Parents, as one of the best advocates for physical activity and play, limit your children’s screen time and set an example of a healthy, active lifestyle that includes plenty of play. It’s the first step toward putting your children on a path to good physical health.”
Activities like climbing and running can help facilitate gross motor skills and coordination, particularly in small children.
Playgrounds and the Emotional Needs of Children
Another benefit of outdoor free play is emotional and social interaction.
Life skills, such as social interaction, sharing, leadership, and conflict resolution can all be learned on a playground.
Additionally, some playground furnishings like a buddy bench can be a perfect way to encourage social interaction and empathy.
Another way to encourage inclusion is to make sure that playground equipment and surfacing is ADA compliant and accessible for all kids, with or without disabilities. This can help achieve critical peer status on equal ground.
Of course, this does not mean that parents should ignore their child when at a playground. In fact, the opposite is quite true.
On a playground, children can experience a wide range of emotions.
For example, children may experience joy and exhilaration when they master an obstacle. Or, they may experience fear if they climb too high for their own comfort.
In all of these instances, outdoor play provides children with an opportunity to experience and regulate those emotions in a relatively safe environment.
Playgrounds Support the Cognitive Needs of Children
In addition to the social element of outdoor play, children also develop vital cognitive skills.
Child psychologist Dr. Malie Coyne notes that:
“children of all ages develop their social skills in a playground is in their creation of “games”, like catch or make-believe play, where the equipment is turned into something else (e.g. obstacle course, prison, hospital, school, etc), where children give themselves roles and they work out the “rules of the game” in cooperation…” Click here to read the full article.
This type of imaginative development can improve brain function, spoken language skills, and encourage problem-solving in a fun environment.
While most children are encouraged to participate in group activities on a playground, independent outdoor play can have its benefits as well.
Playing alone can develop independence, self-awareness, and observing social cues from other children.
More Reasons to Love Playgrounds
As you can see, there are many benefits a child gets from outdoor free play. Whether you go to a neighborhood playground or indoor facility, let your child experience “rough and tumble” play.
- Immune function is improved by exposure to sunlight, and even half an hour on a playground triggers the body’s reaction.
- Research continually demonstrates that kids who are physically active in school are also likely to be physically active at home.
- Physical activity also stimulates brain activity and improves circulation to the blood vessels in the brain. This brings water, oxygen, and glucose to the brain at a higher rate than it does to the brain of the sedentary child.
- The playground is becoming the last refuge of healthy overall development (social, cognitive, and emotional).
- The decline of playgrounds has a known link to behavioral problems, ADHD, and to “stunted” cognitive, social, and creative development. (Hammond, 2012)
- Kids absorb knowledge through risk-taking, exploring, and the consequences of their choices. Playgrounds provide a nearly fail-proof location for this important part of development.
- Children must master self-control to enjoy success at a playground, and this is a significant life lesson.
- Playgrounds provide a break from the pace of modern, daily lives, even when we don’t realize we needed that break.
Interested in discovering more about how Go Play Playgrounds can help your community build a new playground? Contact us today.