Believe it or not, parents in my neighborhood, including me, don’t share that perpetual worry about how much time their children spend on a smartphone. While we are aware that phones and tablets have their own educational benefits, we are blessed to live in an area loaded with playground equipment.
Each Sunday, we watch our kids over brunch in the park, while they are developing social skills through play. My best friend’s boy with autism may only be playing with my daughter, but thanks to the sensory-rich equipment, he is the happiest kid on the block, making his mom full of joy, too. It’s time spent well for all of us. When the weather is nice, a teacher from the nearby school takes the children out. They use the sandbox in the playground equipment to learn maths. I love that fun way to eliminate math jitters!
Playground activities develop an array of physical, emotional, and cognitive skills, some of which I haven’t been even aware of. Here are ten of the most common children’s playground skills important for the early childhood development:
All that running, walking, and skipping isn’t done in vain. Versatile playground activities gently push the child out of its comfort zone. Having to pull the body to climb a slide helps kids build good hand-eye coordination. While the small ones are having tons of fun on swings or crawling around on rubber surfaces, they are learning how to handle different in-born body functions they don’t yet know how to use intentionally and purposefully.
Playgrounds are excellent spaces to exercise those qualities.
As toddlers and younger children become more aware of their surroundings, sharing playground equipment has an extra spatial advantage.
Multifunctional playgrounds help me calm down my overprotective side. I know I have to let my girl occasionally bump into another kid. It’s a great way to help her gain insight into the perception of distances and develop body awareness. It’s also a great investment in spatial perception once she needs to apply all that on paper during school curricular activities.
Later in life, when we reminisce the excellent balance we used to have as youngsters, it’s a light bulb moment. When we manage to keep the same acumen as adults, we need to be grateful for practicing balance as kids.
If you wonder whatever happened to all that fearless standing on tree branches and climbing walls you used to do as a kid, welcome to the adult life. While it takes months, even years for a grown up to regain such balance, for kids doing safe playground activities, it comes naturally. It not only helps body suppleness, but it also contributes to better lung capacity and adequate brain development.
Can you imagine being able to crawl on a net crawler several times your size? From an adult perspective, such an endeavor looks like an exercise for a marine squad. But we underestimate kids’ strength. When children climb on vertical net crawlers in park amenities, they are motivated by the well of energy that comes with their age.
Developing muscle strength and endurance is an important playground skill. Most parents would agree that having a strong and healthy body with well-developed muscles is a prerequisite for long-lived happy years later in life.
Working on balance, coordination, and muscle strength has a common cumulative benefit – postural control.
Don’t you just love seeing a kid who sits well at a desk? Proper posture is vital for agility and flexibility during more demanding physical activities.
When children sit properly, their hand activities enhance, too. The variety of movements between skipping and jumping, sliding and swinging strengthens the body core. In turn, it helps children improve posture. Postural control is an essential playground skill that sets a good base for building advanced school capabilities, such as handwriting and drawing skills.
Fine motor movements may not be on the top of your mind when you let your toddler indulge in games with simple playground equipment.
As years go by, however, you’ll become increasingly aware of how its forearm rotation and wrist flexibility get better and better. Coordinating hands and fingers with eyes will help your child fine-tune those unrefined gestures into neat and precise hand skills for sophisticated activities.
Playground social skills are equally important as motor and cognitive skills.
I’d like to think of playgrounds as the first, if not the crucial, school of life. While I watch my daughter patiently wait her turn on the merry-go-round on busier weekends, I’m happy that she is becoming a well-adjusted person who knows how to respect other children, too.
Perhaps sensory perception is not as critical for my girl as it for my friend’s autistic son. But when I see them jump together into a pool of colorful balls, I’m happy, if not a tad bit envious because I’d love to be able to jump in there along with them. Of course, since I’m not allowed to do that, my task is to answer my daughter’s questions about her friend. And tough questions about inclusion and compassion are easier to answer during play.
Sharing playground equipment, children have their first take at how to behave when they can’t have their own way, for whatever reason. Admittedly, they do get too far of themselves when someone misbehaves on a slide or jumps in line for the limited number of swings. While we, as parents, do need to involve from time to time, when things get too feisty, I am, curious to see how children deal with conflicts themselves. On many occasions, they handle situations better than grown-ups!
Problem-solving is another playground skill that’s a natural outcome from the variety of playground activities children immerse in. They research, analyze, communicate, and make decisions, even when playing a simple game such as finding their way through a maze or explore a castle. If there is a theme-based surface or an imaginative way to mix maths, colors or animals, they become small problem-solving masters. Parents agree that it’s a true pleasure seeing their children build upon their playground social skills, as they mature through their school years, including complex skills such as problem-solving!
While children are engrossed in free play, I am delighted and at ease. Developing social skills through play is not the only benefit of spending time at playgrounds. The tiny ones are building an array of gross and fine motor skills that will help them in their early and later childhood development, as well as to become happy, fulfilled and accomplished adults. This outdoors or, occasionally, indoors quality time helps them develop a healthy body, grow in a safe way, and make an early investment in an active lifestyle.