Play is an essential part of a happy, healthy childhood. Child development experts have long known that outdoor playgrounds foster physical, social, emotional and cognitive development in children. A slide, for instance, encourages the use of social skills such as patience and cooperation (as children may have to stand and wait in a line), as well as the development of loco motor skills such as balance and coordination (as children may have to climb stairs or a ladder).
Studies have shown that without play, essential life skills such as a problem solving, empathy and communication may be stunted. Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at the positive benefits different playground structures provide.
A playground staple, swings provide a myriad of developmental benefits to children of all ages. Swings encourage the development of gross motor skills such as balance, locomotion and body coordination as children jump on and off swing seats, pump their legs, and push others. Fine motor skills are developed on swings too, such as grip strength and finger/hand coordination. Socially, swinging often encourages cooperation and competition, as kids like to challenge each other to see who can swing higher. For babies and toddlers, swinging provides sensory stimulation, and can aid in the development of visual perception (the ability to interpret what they’re seeing while moving back and forth) and vestibular coordination (the ability to recognize speed and direction of movement).
Monkey bars are a classic but challenging playground toy. They require a certain level of upper body strength and agility, so they’re generally not recommended for children under the age of five. Monkey bars help develop upper and core body strength, grip strength and hand-eye coordination as a child swings from one bar to the next. Furthermore, whizzing from one end of the monkey bars to the other isn’t always easy (even some adults can’t do it) so practicing can help develop patience and perseverance.
Spring riders are typically animal- or car-shaped seats on top of heavy duty steel springs that rock back and forth. As little ones push the rider back and forth, they develop core muscle strength and arm and hand grip strength. The bouncing, rocking motion also helps develop awareness of motion in space and body balance. The unsteady movements of spring riders can be frightening to little ones at first, so climbing onto and riding the toy may require a degree of fear assessment. Because of their fun shapes and colors, spring riders often encourage imaginative play.
See saws are excellent at encouraging collaborative play and patience, as they require coordination and balance between two different children to work. Core upper body strength and lower body strength are developed as a child moves the see saw up and down. See saws help children understand motion through space, body balance, and even risk assessment because of its movement.
Climbing walls, in particular, offer several developmental benefits to children of all ages. Rock climbing fosters the development of gross motor skills such as total body coordination, core muscle strength and upper and lower body strength. Hand, finger and even toe grip (fine motor skills) are also developed, along with flexibility and balance as a child shifts his body weight and stretch his arms and legs. Rock climbing is difficult to master, so it’s an excellent test of perseverance, patience, and mental focus. Learning to climb to the top of a wall can be a major confidence boost and a lesson in teamwork, too.