You can’t have a playground without play. To put it simply, play is a spontaneous activity children engage in to have fun. Experts in a variety of fields including psychology, biology, health and education have conducted a multitude of studies on the concept of childhood play all proving the same critical fact — play is an essential aspect of learning.
When children play, they gain a huge variety of skills:
- Motor skills
- Cognitive abilities
- Social awareness
- And so much more
A child’s curiosity fuels play. As a child grows, their play becomes more complex. Without being able to play, children’s ability to develop and learn is stunted. Just as eating and sleeping are essential to a child’s health, so too is play.
Playgrounds are the perfect place for children to engage in free play. Structured play — including sports or organized activities — differs from free play. When children are on the playground, different structures and spaces give them the freedom to choose how they want to play. They can explore their own natural tendencies, interact with a broader range of age groups and awaken their creative instincts.
Physical Benefits of Play
Playgrounds are a vital aspect of healthy development, providing a place for children to get a full-body workout, including exercises that strengthen their arms, legs, torso and so on. From the cardiovascular system to the circulatory system, each is nurtured and benefited through vigorous play. Children see a vast variety of physical benefits through playground play:
- Improved flexibility and balance
- Development of overall motor skills, dexterity and hand-eye coordination
- Opportunities to learn how to control their movement
- Improved instincts
- Promotion of healthy heart and lung function
- Stronger muscles
- Improved immune function
- Lowered risk of obesity and diabetes
When children spend time on the playgrounds, they learn diverse skills and test their physical limits by trying out various playground equipment.
Playgrounds are not generally a solitary activity. Whenever you visit a playground, other kids are bound to be there. When children meet other kids on the playground, it teaches them important lessons about social norms and how to interact with others, all of which will come in handy in adult relationships and their future workplace. Learned social skills include:
- Getting along
- Agreeing on rules and cooperating
- Taking turns and patience
- Resolving conflict
- Overcoming shyness
- Sharing and friendship
- Accepting diversity as they meet children of all ages and backgrounds
The physical and social benefits of play are more obvious. However, there are also subtle emotional changes in your child’s wellbeing that may not be as recognizable, yet are still vitally important.
Physical activity and unstructured playtime on a playground serve as a healthy way to help children deal with their emotions and reduce stress levels. Not only can play serve as a distraction from their problems, but happiness is a natural byproduct of outdoor activities.
Children experience many other positive emotional impacts when they’re allowed the freedom to play on a playground. Playground play benefits children because it:
- Boosts self-confidence and self-esteem as they master challenging playground structures
- Allows them to retain a sense of control unavailable in many other parts of their lives
- Lowers tendencies to misbehave or bully, as kids’ attention is diverted with more positive activities
- Teaches them how to deal with challenges in a healthy way
Children do more than slide, swing and climb when on a playground. Just listen to the conversations, and you’ll realize a variety of other make-believe games are taking place. Imaginary play is a given whenever kids are on the playground.
When children use their imagination and play make-believe, it teaches them social roles. Creativity also fosters a child’s ability to problem-solve and develop their personality. By using their imagination, kids can try out different ideas and identities.
This helps them construct a strong sense of self, as they discover their likes, dislikes and beliefs. Although developing self-identity will continue throughout their young life, the foundation begins with these innocent make-believe activities on the playground.
Makes Education More Fun
When a child’s school has a playground, these short breaks allow kids freedom and fun, which, in turn, makes the educational experience more fun. In fact, researchers now understand the importance of playgrounds in schools and how they have an important impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop.
Opportunities for play also affect children’s attendance rate at the primary school level. When a child knows there will be opportunities to let loose, they often find it easier to listen and learn in the classroom environment.
Encouraging Your Children to Play
By encouraging your kids to play in unstructured free play, you’re helping them learn the skills they’ll one day need as adults. You’re helping them learn to think more critically and teaching them how to develop relationships with other people, solve problems, understand societal norms and develop leadership skills and independence.
In other words, you’re helping them grow up to be the person you’d always hoped they would be. We mentioned just a few of the benefits of encouraging your children to play outside above, but there are so many more. And perhaps the one we didn’t mention earlier may be among the most important: Playing outdoors is fun.
When you encourage your children to play outside, you remind them of that. All the other answers to the question,
“Why is free play important for child development?” link back to the same concept.
In the end, having fun is the key that opens the door to all the benefits mentioned above.