Why It’s Important To Take Your Child To The Playground
Play is a fundamental part of early learning that contributes to many of the essential skills that children develop in life. Perhaps one of the most efficient learning environments of them all for young children is your local playground. And yet, the public playground is too often taken for granted. Reserved as a reward for good behaviour, or as somewhere to unleash your child so that they can spend their energy before coming home to peace and quiet (or at least you hope!). Parents often don’t realise the numerous benefits of playgrounds for children.
Of course, as parents, we know that playgrounds are good and promote healthy exercise, and mean that we have to do very little clear up after play. But beyond the obvious, there’s a treasure trove of developmental benefits which, if we make ourselves aware of them, we can use to further encourage our children to play in a way that challenges them.
Play is most enjoyable for children when it is spontaneous. Though you can encourage certain ways in which to play, as a parent you will struggle to dictate how your child plays.
You can structure the time in which to play, e.g. “Now it’s time to play with your toys”. But you can’t tell them how to play with their toys, e.g. “Now it’s time to play ‘families’ with your teddy bears”. Similarly, you can take your child to the playground but you can’t command in which order they must enjoy the playground (e.g. 5 minutes on the swing, followed by 10 minutes on the climbing frame), else it ultimately defeats the purpose of play.
According to the findings of a research paper by Imagination Playground:
“Playgrounds provide crucial and vital opportunities for children to play. There is substantial research showing the clear link between play and brain development, motor-skills, and social capabilities. All learning –emotional, social, motor and cognitive– is accelerated, facilitated, and fueled by the pleasure of play. Playgrounds that promote different types of play are vital for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development.”
Something as seemingly eventless as playing in the playground sandpit can provide endless entertainment, limited only by your child’s imagination. All the while, they are engaging in sensory play that will help them to develop and foster their senses and reflexes.
Many modern playgrounds now feature adventure play towers; play structures that combine all of the classic playground equipment into one big play tower for kids to enjoy. This physical combination of playground equipment means that children can quickly go from one playground activity to another, encouraging them to play for longer and keep the fabric of their imaginary world closely knitted together.
In addition to the improvement of your child’s fitness, playground equipment such as slides, swings and climbing frames can help to develop children’s hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Not to mention all of the Vitamin D from natural sunlight, which in the long run can prevent bone problems, heart disease and diabetes when they reach adulthood.
For young children who haven’t yet started attending school regularly, local playgrounds are the perfect place for them to spark new friendships and learn imperative social skills whilst doing so.
Young children are given the opportunity to communicate with their peers, rather than an adult who is immediately perceived by the child as an authority figure. Adult-guided play is a great way to bond with your children, incorporating life lessons into your play time, but there are some life lessons that you just have to let them learn for themselves. By engaging with other children on the playground, which children are naturally prone to do, they quickly learn that they have to share playground equipment with others but this playground collaboration can lend itself to shared adventures in make-believe lands. On the playground, children learn empathy and the social rules that govern our relationships with people, such as taking turns – you have to wait your turn to go down the slide or use the swing. Socialising with other children also helps with their conversation skills during the early years of language development as they learn to express themselves verbally, improving their self-confidence.
You’ll find that your child may develop preferences over who they want to befriend. Or maybe another child pushed in front of your child for the slide. It’s important to remember that your child isn’t going to automatically become best friends with everyone and, so long as it’s all still quite innocent play, you may be sitting on the edge of the playground bench just waiting to intervene. Children eventually learn conflict resolution themselves on the playground; how to peacefully play with their playground friends and how to handle the situation if they get into an innocent quarrel with another child. (e.g. “Hey! That’s mine!”)
The most undervalued benefit of them all is the intellectual and cognitive advantages. Just because they are playing doesn’t mean that they aren’t challenging themselves intellectually. Yes, they may fall and scrape their knee from time to time and you should be there to comfort them when they do. But falling down and making mistakes is how we learn. Children improve their understanding of the world around them and learn risk assessment skills with every misplaced foot. So that the next time they are confronted with what could potentially be a dangerous situation, they will approach with caution. “If I climb the jungle gym too fast, I might fall again. So I’ll be extra careful where I put my feet this time.” Similarly, they also develop their problem solving skills by figuring out for themselves, for example, the most fun way from A to B in the playground. Or even how to get from A to B without touching the “lava” floor, using the playground trim trail.
So let your children loose on the playground whenever you can! Let them run around and embrace all of the positive benefits available to them. Playgrounds are packed with learning experiences. And it’s free! (As the best things in life usually are.) See for yourself what taking your child to the playground regularly can do for their development and your shared relationship.
This has been a Guest Blog by Ria Sovereign
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