Children learn through play, making playground activities an extremely important part of their day. On the playground, there are seven elements of play that help children not only develop physically, but also help in the areas of cognitive, adaptive, social, and emotional development as well. You can use this checklist to ensure your playground helps children have lots of fun as well as be more successful in the classroom.
Kids love that sensation of flying on a swing, developing coordinated movements and strengthening their arms, legs, and trunk. Plus, swinging:
- Relaxes and soothes
- Helps develop problem-solving skills
- Improves the brain’s ability to process sensory information
Swinging is a great activity to help develop a child’s vestibular system. Children who have an underdeveloped vestibular system may not have a sense of balance or don’t feel grounded. Often, their equilibrium is off and they may need activities like swinging to help develop this system.
Swinging helps promote whole body awareness and body coordination such as knowing where your fingers are in relation to your body. Activities such as writing, coloring, and cutting require whole body awareness.
Sliding teaches cooperative play and encourages social interaction. Plus, sliding:
- Promotes leg-hip flexibility, preventing W-sitting in kids
- Encourages cooperation and following directions
- Develops critical thinking skills
Have you ever seen a child W-sit? 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. For a child who has poor flexibility in the legs and hips, W-sitting will aggravate it. W-sitting doesn’t allow a child to rotate their trunk and discourages them from hand preference.
Sliding promotes the flexibility of the leg and hip. For those W-sitters, it forces a child’s legs in front of them.
It also promotes spatial awareness. A child with spatial awareness problems may struggle with following directions. They might struggle with spacing between letters, putting the first letter at the top of the page and the next at the bottom.
Children need play environments that challenge, and even pose a degree of perceived risk, allowing them to build muscle tone and strength and test their abilities. Plus, climbing:
- Enhances spatial awareness: Knowing where to put things on paper when they do a project
- Helps develop the vestibular system: Coordinating eye movements with the head, which helps when copying from a blackboard and reading across a page.
Children who slouch oftentimes have poor muscle tone in their arms, legs, and trunks. Climbing helps strengthen these muscles and increase endurance.
Visual perception skills are sharpened through climbing, too. Skills such as sorting items, putting puzzles together, building with blocks, memory games and matching games require visual perception skills.
Brachiating, using a rhythmic, body movement to swing from one rung to the next, improves children’s endurance as well as hand-eye coordination. Plus, brachiating:
- Strengthens the upper body enabling children to sit comfortably at a table
- Develops kinesthetic awareness, or awareness of our own movement, giving children a better understanding of personal space
Do you see children who always seem to be tired or have a hard time making it through the school day? Get them out doing some overhead climbing to build their endurance.
It also translates to the classroom helping children develop critical thinking and conflict resolution skills.
For instance, a child has to figure out the best way to get from point A to point B. Is that going to be by moving hand-over-hand across the bars or by grabbing the bar with the left hand, then with the right hand?
Spinning provides children with rich sensory stimulation, postural control, and social interaction. Plus, spinning:
- Develops kinesthetic awareness, helping children know where they are in line
- Improves cognitive development
- Enables better muscle tone and endurance
What a great way for children to understand speed, force, and direction. Put a group of children on a spinner and let them feel the motion together. You might hear screams of joy as they spin faster and faster!
Spinning is another activity for those “sloucher” children, helping to build better muscle tone and endurance.
Balancing: Encourages pretend play and learning to take turns.
Children who learn good balance and stability at a young age have a better understanding of body awareness and coordination, resulting in better concentration. Plus, balancing:
- Improves cognitive development, introducing mechanical principles
- Encourages pretend play and learning to take turns
- Strengthens muscles and improves endurance
Balancing activities help children understand concepts such as gravity, equilibrium, and counterbalances, skills essential for many sports.
Watch as children walk on a balance beam. They figure out how to move forward without falling off, holding their arms out, moving one foot in front of the other or just scooting along.
Balancing activities promote social interaction and pretend play. Listen and you might hear the children pretending to be pirates making each other “walk the plank.”
Sensory: Stimulates imaginations and helps children of all abilities experience the world.
7. Sensory System
A sensory-rich playground stimulates children’s imaginations and encourages social interaction, helping children of all abilities experience the world. Plus, sensory:
- Develops the senses: Determining whether something is cold, wet, hot, sharp
- Helps develop a child’s auditory system. Children with sensory processing disorder often like deep tones, rather than high.
Play activities help strengthen the eye muscles, giving children the ability to see differences between objects that are similar.
Translating Play to the Classroom
Play activities in general help children develop gross and fine motor skills, both necessary for the classroom. What you may not realize is that play also helps children:
- Learn how to work in a group, developing social skills
- Learn how to take care of themselves
- Gain a sense of achievement and pride
- Increase their self-confidence
- Learn how to problem-solve without someone telling them how to do it and increase their own decision-making skills.
If you are interested in learning more about how the different elements of play contribute to a child’s success in the classroom, contact ABcreative. Jami Murdock, an early childhood educator for the past 26 years, works with us giving a presentation on “How Important Are Playground Activities to a Child’s Success
in the Classroom.”