Elements of Play & How They Help Awesome Kids Become Awesome Adults!

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Children need playgrounds that challenge with a healthy level of risk to develop young muscles. They need to have fun and enjoy play in a way that will help them to succeed in the classroom.

There are several common playground features that do all this and more!  Documented in Seven Elements of PLAY and How They Impact Learning in the Classroom (by Deborah Stevens, University of Clemson), here is a quick look at each of these elements and why they help kids in the classroom—and throughout their lives.

Oh … And it wouldn’t be a No Fault article without mentioning that all of these play features can be made safer with our safety surfacing  (No Fault Safety Surface, No Fault Bonded or Loose-fill Rubber Mulch, No Fault Safety Tiles, No Fault Synthetic Turf), which lets kids enjoy the playground while lowering the risk of critical injury.

Hand-Eye Coordination: Climbing

Before playground equipment and even sometimes today, children climbed trees. We can’t put our safety surfacing around every tree in the forest. That’s why we encourage climbing features on playgrounds so that the trees can be left for the birds and squirrels.

While using climbing features, children use their eyes to control, guide, and direct their hands. This hand-eye coordination helps in the classroom, too. We use it when reading (visually tracking the words on a page) and when writing (tracking the position of a pencil and controlling its movement as we write).

Climbing enhances spatial awareness, develops the vestibular system (more on that later), and sharpens visual perception as well, which helps in many other ways.  Those little climbers aren’t just monkeying around; they are developing skills needed for life!


Body Awareness: Swinging 

Ah, the swing set. You no doubt remember one from your childhood, but you probably didn’t know (way back then) swinging was developing balance and equilibrium.

Being coordinated means knowing where your fingers are in relation to your arms and how your arms can work together to keep the fun going. Coordinated movements improve the brain’s ability to process sensory information.

So keep swinging, kids! You’re developing coordination, strengthening your arms and legs, and developing problem-solving skills at the same time!

The swing set also develops the vestibular system. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s the sensory system that gives our brain information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation. Without it, we would not develop the motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture.

Spatial Understanding: Brachiating

Personal space is a concept that, let’s face it, many children don’t “get.”

Brachiating leads to a better understanding of personal space, improved endurance, and better hand-eye coordination.  Brachiating is another term that isn’t common. It’s swinging from one arm to another on overhead equipment. Think monkey bars.

Doing this strengthens a child’s upper body and is another way to develop depth perception. Understanding the world around us starts with an understanding of “personal space,” and sometimes just “hanging around” on the playground does exactly that!


Kinesthetic Awareness: Spinning

Some equipment we used to see in the good old days weren’t all that safe for kids on public playgrounds. That’s why you won’t see the big, metal old-school merry-go-rounds much—too many injuries were resulting from them.

But newer, safer versions of the “roundabout” (or “spinner”) are making a comeback, and it’s a good thing. These round carousel features hold several kids at once. They have bars to hold onto and to lean against while riding.

These help children establish strong balance systems and improve posture. They give kids a sense of “center,” which develops something called kinesthetic awareness.

Kinesthetic learners (children who require movement to learn) often find traditional classroom environments challenging, because they need to always be moving. If you encourage this need and provide an outlet, you will be helping a child learn the skills that show up in many things later on—physical activities like running, swimming and dancing.

Cooperation and Leg Flexibility: Sliding

Think about it. The slide may be the most popular feature on the typical playground, but it’s not safe for more than one child to go down at a time.

That means children must line up to keep things fair. They have to cooperate (interact socially) to agree on whose turn it is.  They have to climb the ladder one at a time. All of which builds their social skills when interacting with others.

Sliding also promotes leg-hip flexibility and can help prevent a condition known as “W-sitting.” This is when a child is seated on the floor with one leg on each side of their body in the shape of a “W.”

W-sitting can be a precursor to development delays. W-sitting can aggravate poor flexibility in the legs and hips because it doesn’t allow a child to rotate their trunk. It can even discourage kids from hand preference.

Sliding forces a child’s legs in front of them, which encourages kids to use their limbs in ways that will help with walking, sitting and body awareness.


Sensory Awareness: Touching, Hearing (etc.)

Children rely on sensory input to learn about the world around them. This means all of these are important parts of the playground experience: stimulating sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste, balance, and movement.

All playground activities come into play here … Not just one feature or another. Sensory stimulation is anything that strengthens the eye muscles, calms an anxious or frustrated child, or aids in developing and enhancing memory.

Early Childhood educator, Jami Murdock, writing in the ABcreative blog, described how sensory play helps children of all abilities experience the world. She writes about how visual processing helps children understand the things they see while they play, as well as how noise and music help develop a child’s auditory system. Murdock also writes about the tactile system, the largest sensory system in the body, and how it helps the brain organize information.

If you’re designing a playground, make sure there are bright colors, interesting textures and musical features. Because sensory development is brain development, and it all takes place at playtime!


Balance: Balance Beams

When kids are standing high above the ground, balanced on a bar, they can’t help themselves. Their imaginations catch on fire! This is a scenario where pretend play kicks into high gear. They see themselves crossing a wide chasm on a rickety bridge. Or they see themselves “walking the plank” on a pirate ship.

These balance features also teach kids to take turns. They encourage body awareness and coordination, both of which result in better concentration back in the classroom.

Balancing also introduces mechanical principles and an understanding of physical forces such as gravity, equilibrium and counterbalances.

These elements of play help children develop physically. They also help in the areas of cognitive, adaptive, social, and emotional development. While we’ve always been proud of the work we do to help keep children safe, we at No Fault are proud to also play a role in child development and helping awesome kids grow up to be awesome adults! Contact us today for more information on the right rubber safety surfacing to help keep your children safe on the playground.

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