Playgrounds play a very important in a child development! Here's why...
Author - Dr. Malie Coyne, Clinical Child Psychologist, Galway, Ireland.
Being a child prepares you to become an adult with all life’s joys and challenges, and what better way to learn as a child than to be given the chance to play freely? One of my best memories of being a child was of running around the fields outside our house in Cork with my siblings in tow, the real excitement at finding new treasure troves, making up games, and the palpable fear we felt, like when we had to climb a high fence or run away from a scary bull!
Because of my father’s job we travelled from country to country every few years, mostly living in cities, and I remember how liberated I felt being free to roam around without my parents watching us all the time, and how nature became my learning ground. The next best thing was being brought to a playground, where we would get stuck in exploring all the new possibilities there for fun, games and imagination.
If your kids are lucky enough to live in a rural setting where it’s possible for them to play freely then that’s great. However, I would imagine that this is not the case for most children because of the way society has changed and with many of us now living in cities. Today’s kids get so few opportunities to play freely, because we understandably fear for their safety, be it the road or dangerous people. It is a wonder we even let our kids out the door with all the bad things you hear on the news every day!
Children nowadays spend much of their time in the structured confines of school, and a lot of the rest of the time in extra-curricular activities and hobbies. Whilst these offer a lot of valuable learning for kids, much of their day is spent under the supervision of adults and as directed by adults.
My own interest in play and children’s development stems from my experience of working as a Clinical Psychologist with children over the past 15 years, where I meet lovely children and their parents everyday to help them with any issues, usually related to their development, emotions or behaviour. From my work, research and Play Therapy experience, I have gained a good sense of what kids need to develop their full potentials.
Not a lot has been written on the benefits of playgrounds, which is surprising given that we spend so much time in them. I know that with two young kiddies of my own, we are constantly looking for things to do, so we end up exploring new playgrounds and going back to the old favourites.
Below are 5 good reasons to bring your children to playgrounds, based on different aspects of children’s development:
Social, Brain and Language Development
Recently a young girl approached my 3 year old in a playground and simply asked “Do you want to be friends?”, to which my daughter replied “yes”. They then played at ease together for the next half an hour, following each other’s actions, taking turns going down the slides, and enjoying each other’s company... I also witnessed a brewing row between my daughter and an older boy because he was referring to the climbing frame as a “pirate ship” which she very much disapproved of, preferring to call it her “princess castle”!
Another example of how 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.
When navigating the social rules of playgrounds, there are the endless questions of who will go first, who will be the leader and the follower, and how will we make this work if we both want the same thing? These examples of creative problem solving improve their brain development, as neural pathways are laid down in the brain which they can use again in other situations.
Playgrounds provide an opportunity for children to practice their social skills, to come up with solutions to problems, and to learn self-control in working out their conflicts.
Play also encourages language development, as children often talk aloud during their play (e.g. “Look at me going down the big slide!”), and the interaction with their peers allows them to express their thoughts and feelings and to develop their understanding and spoken skills. I’ve noticed that kids who don’t even speak the same language can get on just fine during play!
Physical Development and Good Physical Exercise
As children develop, they are drawn to different forms of play which encourage their development, like rough and tumble play. From a physical point of view, kids naturally seek this form of play, which helps them to work out their physical space in the world, where their body begins and where it ends. This is crucial for the development of their motor skills and spatial awareness.
Playgrounds can provide different opportunities to stimulate physical development for children of all ages, for example slides and swings promote balance and coordination, climbing frames strengthen their muscles, and tactile panels help with hand-eye skills.
A child’s sense of physical strength and mastery can also be encouraged when they have achieved something very difficult. My own daughter marvels at being able to climb so high on the frame or venture on the zip wire alone for the first time (whilst my heart is in my mouth)!
As we all know the lack of physical fitness and obesity in Ireland among children is becoming more and more worrying as it can affect their health as adults. Bringing your child to a playground on a regular basis can help set up a good routine for them to bring into adulthood, which helps with their physical but also their emotional health.
Emotional Development and Positive Mental Health
Just as everyday life brings up lots of emotions for adults, playing does the same for kids, particularly in a playground where they are exposed to other children and to lots of physical challenges. Rough and tumble play activates the parts of the higher brain which regulate emotions, which helps children to manage their feelings better.
Playgrounds tend to be very exciting places for kids, where they are running around, shouting at the top of their voices, swinging, sliding, climbing, twirling. Physical play transports them into states of joy, which often results in a child busting into squeals of laughter and delight. There may be times where kids are faced with a challenge which makes them angry or scared like fighting over the same thing or climbing too high.
Hence, kids feel many emotions during play, which gives them repeated opportunities to learn to regulate and control both positive as well as negative emotions, which is important for their longer-term emotional health.
What better reason to encourage your kids to go to playgrounds? It’s so much fun and exhilarating for them! I am just thinking back now to spiralling down one of those tunnel slides recently with my daughter tucked in my lap and being so scared and excited all at the same time. How on earth did I let her convince me to do that?! Playing is your child’s most natural form of expression, regardless of their age, and when they are engaged in it they forget everything else and really enjoy the moment.
Handy for Parents too!
All the reasons above have been aimed at your precious little ones, but at the end of the day, happy kids make for happy parents and if you see them having fun and getting developmental benefits to top it all off, then surely it’s well worth it, not to mention being free! Meeting other parents can be a big social bonus too, as there is lots to share as you watch your kids happily run around together.
One word of caution... Whilst I strongly encourage parents to enable their children to engage in free play as much as possible, this does not take away from children needing to be supervised on play equipment and in their interactions with others, as bad things can happen unfortunately.
However, taking all this into account, kids today need as many “free play” experiences as possible to be able to develop into healthy and happy adults, to self-direct what they need to learn, to feel true excitement, to overcome their fears, and to learn to work out the rules of the world.
For me I felt most happy as a child when I was playing and being allowed to play in my own way, doing what I needed to be doing, learning what I needed to be learning, which is why I regularly recommend this to the parents I work with, and also why I am desperate at the end of the day to get out of work and enjoy the delights of the playground my two little ladies! Happy playing everyone!
Thanks to Playground GPSfor submiting this for our readers to enjoy.