There’s no doubt about it. Multiple studies have uncovered a correlation between play and academic achievement. Increased physical activity during the school day can help children’s attention, classroom behavior, and achievement test scores. In fact, children in Finland’s elementary schools — who get an average of 75 minutes of recess a day — consistently rank higher than U.S. children (who get 27 minutes of recess) in International Student Assessment Scores.
In an article in Playground Professionals, writer Mary Whitman asserted that children who learn through play are better at learning in the classroom, that play prevents obesity and diabetes, and that playgrounds teach children important lessons about social interactions.
It’s clear that playgrounds aren’t just places for horseplay. Here at No Fault Surfaces, we believe play is serious business! Here are a few of the often-overlooked benefits that come from playtime:
Children develop behaviors based upon their senses. Through play, they discover their surroundings and how to navigate it. Sensory-rich playgrounds allow children of all abilities to integrate and develop perception. The more they play, the more they develop skills necessary to engage, change and impact the world around them. Narrow spaces, plus tactile, auditory, and visual experiences give children an understanding of the world around them through self-led exploration. So, encourage them with appropriate play equipment and activities.
Developing Motor Skills
Gross motor skills refer to skills that involve large muscle groups and the whole body. Climbing, walking, and jumping are all gross motor skills developed on the playground. Fine motor skills include smaller, controlled use of smaller muscles, such as gripping a ball or pulling a chain. Games, like kickball and four-square are great for developing motor coordination. They also help with critical thinking and problem-solving as children decide where to throw the ball or when it is time to run.
Flexible thinking benefits children on the playground and in the classroom. Climbing equipment (such as ropes, monkey bars, and ladders) can help them build confidence and awareness as they learn how to use their bodies while thinking spatially. Climbing helps children think about the area around them as it encourages problem-solving and thinking ahead to “next steps.”
Working with Others
Free play is an essential part of playtime. As opposed to group participation in playground games, it gives children an opportunity to explore and make believe without structure. Free play builds communication skills and teamwork. Often, children invent games with ever-changing rules and objectives; these creative exercises also give them practice reading social cues from others. Sure, these skills are learned in group activities in the classroom, but on the playground, free play is driven by the children themselves, and that counts for a lot!
Overcoming challenges helps children develop a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Self-confidence comes from classroom achievement, but it also comes from the achievements made outdoors during playtime. These playground achievements range from resolving conflicts to reaching the top of a daunting play structure. As long as it’s safe (and surrounded with the appropriate safety surfacing), playground equipment challenges children and encourages them to take risks.
Playgrounds provide a place for children to work off energy, have fun, and interact with peers. It also gives them a safer learning environment to develop physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills. At No Fault, we believe playgrounds should be places where children can safely take risks. We recommend that both indoor and outdoor play areas meet or exceed recommended national safety standards, and that the appropriate surfacing products are used to further promote safety.