Who doesn’t want to spend more time playing? I know I do! Today’s guest column by Marina Mironov underscores the benefits of play for our kids. We grown ups benefit from our relationships with happy, well adjusted children too!
We all know kids love playgrounds. Now, research shows that playing on the playground can boost brainpower too! Playing has been linked to emotional, social, motor and cognitive development. Playgrounds facilitate the benefits of pure, spontaneous and active free play. Some ways they do it are listed below.
Play and Free Play
While we take the playing done by children for granted, we seldom ponder the mechanics of it. There are many ways that children play and they have unique benefits to the child’s development. Physical play such as running, jumping, dancing promotes physical fitness. Fantasy play such as dressing up or pretend play expands the mind and imagination. Young children play in a very simple manner, their games and scenarios becoming more complex as they grow and develop.
Although structured, organized activity has its place in a child’s day; it is really through free, spontaneous play that a child is able to develop critical thinking, problem-solving and imagination. Since most children are naturally active, they often combine their natural tendency physical activity with playing. Playgrounds provide an optimal environment for a child to be active, explore his environment, interact with his peers and play in his own unique style.
Most of us are aware of recent findings that the most crucial period for brain development is under the age of five. We have all probably also heard that “play is important for children”. There is actual science behind that statement! The act of playing stimulates brain development and function. Vigorous gross motor activity is also critical for proper brain development, by creating and establishing vital neural pathways.
Playgrounds help to develop a child’s cognitive development, because they provide sensory-motor stimuli, which directly corresponds with the small child’s preferred method of learning. Through running, climbing and pretending, the child is building his brain while having fun!
There are reports which suggest that children which fail to properly develop motor skills by the age 5 will likely have a hard time developing the essential skills later on. The best place to gain those skills at an early age seems to be the playground. Toddlers have a chance to explore new surroundings and learn new skills, while older children enjoy the challenge of testing their strength and trying more difficult pieces of equipment. Playgrounds provide the space children need to freely run and expend their energy and advance to the next stage of development. Children who lack physical activity might face health consequences as adults, and playgrounds are a fun, cost-effective way of ensuring that children receive the recommended amount of daily physical activity.
There are various physical development opportunities which playgrounds present. Tactile panels promote manipulation and coordination; bridges and ramps promote loco motor skills; and slides and swings promote balance and coordination. Monkey bars and climbing ladders teach children fine motor control such as reaching, grasping and releasing. There are also ample opportunities for jumping, running, balancing and stretching.
Language Development, Intelligence, and Social SkillsThrough play children learn to develop their imagination, intelligence and language. The playground allows children to safely congregate with their peers and interact together. The children’s eagerness to create and join in games expands their social and communication skills.
Through the act of creating games and inviting each other to play, children learn societal rules and functioning in a group setting. Negotiation, cooperation and compromise are essential talents children must possess in order to feel comfortable and as if they belong in their group of friends.
The children’s way of spontaneously creating “games” illustrates how playing on a playground stimulates social and emotional development. Children, whether they know each other or not, will gravitate towards one another and start a game of “tag” or “hide and seek”. Or perhaps an elaborate fantasy game will be created, with the playground structure being transformed into a castle and the children being assigned roles of knights, kings and wizards. In order for the game to function smoothly, vital communication must take place, through discussion, agreements and the ability to resolve conflicts. A child who can not handle his frustrations, or abide by the invented “rules” will find himself out of the game.
There is more to a child’s play than meets the eye. Playing is crucial to the successful development of the brain, body and intellect. It helps to create neural pathways that will last the rest of the child’s life. Playing promotes motor development by exploring and expanding the limits of the child’s growing body. Finally, through playing with his peers the child learns social, emotional and oral skills.
Playground equipment and space provide a suitable environment for a young child to engage in appropriate developmental play. The fact that it is a fun activity that most children enjoy will have lasting positive effects on their overall development.
About the Author
Marina Mironov is the owner of DreamGYM Inc. As a mother of two active boys, she faced the problem of keeping her children physically active all year round. After creating the first jungle gym in her house, Marina envisioned the idea to make this product available to all children. Now she sells her indoor jungle gyms and swing set accessories through her online store KidsDreamGym.com.
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