Beyond the Playground: Why is the Act of Play So Important?
There is one four letter word that we all come to understand very early on in our lives: play. It’s what we do at recess, with our friends, family members, and outside for hours in the summer. A world of imagination opens up when we play and it turns out that the simple act of allowing children to play has a whole slew of positive benefits. Yes, there is more to running around on the playground! Ample time to play is necessary for children of all ages and abilities as it shapes, influences and hands down to them essential skills that they will use as they grow older.
So why is play so important and how can the open-endedness of it contribute positively to children’s lives? Well, let’s explore 3 main benefits that come from unguided play.
1.Play encourages healthy development
Children are learning new things every day so it’s important to surround them with stimulating activities in addition to what they’re mentally absorbing in the classroom. Play can be exactly that for children as it is both “an invitation to explore, learn and grow” and an opportunity to “shape children’s cognitive, motor and social skills” . As they interact with others as well as the play structures before them, children are receiving physical exercise needed to remain healthy and conjuring up imaginative scenarios that allow their minds to grow in an unrestrained way.
These “socially and linguistically complex pretend scenarios” can be created with friends, classmates or by oneself and help children utilize existing knowledge about the world to have fun and let loose . While it may not be traditional learning, it is learning all the same and teaches those playing key skills that will help them as they develop further.
2. Play provides an opportunity to learn
While on a playground, children are bound to meet others their age from school or the neighborhood. Being in this type of environment and having them engage with one another is positive as it “teaches kids how to not only exist together, but accept people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds” . Learning to interact with others at a young age is crucial and the skills gained on the playground will only further aid individuals in their future interpersonal efforts.
This “organic form of learning” is not one to be overlooked as children are also able to learn about “persistence, leadership, competition, bravery, support and empathy” . And to think that all of these concepts can be learned through simply playing with one another!
3. Play equipment or structures invite all ages to explore
The actual structures present on a playground such as monkey bars, slides, climbing towers and more give any play-scape a variety that appeals to all ages. It should be the intent of anyone tasked with designing a playground to provide for children of varying needs, ability and age. The entire space should allow any child from toddlers learning to walk who “find a physical challenge in climbing a few stairs” to “skillful 10-year-olds” who can “find an equally exciting challenge in clambering to the top of a play structure” .
A play structure that serves as a unique addition to most playgrounds is Sky Tykes®. This kid-friendly attraction utilizes the same specially engineered technology as the larger Sky Trail® but tailors each part down to accommodate smaller participants. Like other playground equipment, Sky Tykes® allows children to build a new sense of confidence and explore on their own or with a parent nearby for support. Children can even pass by one another and share their experience!
For more information on Sky Tykes® and how it could positively enhance a playground near you, click on the link below!
 McConkey, J. (n.d.). Play Will Always Shape Us. Retrieved from http://recmanagement.com/featured-content/201903FC01.