Due to the recent coronavirus epidemic, states have been forced to shut down playgrounds for the growing safety concerns of transferring germs and viruses via playground equipment and the necessity of social distancing. The decision is totally justified as our health is the number one concern; however, our children are losing valuable skills gained through outdoor play and equipment.
The playground satisfies a child’s basic need for social interaction with their peers, fresh air, play, and exercise. It’s a learning place where exploration, imagination, fun, excitement and laughter abound.
Playgrounds let children try new things, feel fear, get a bruise or scrape, experience winning and losing, and prepare for taking risks. On the playground, children can develop the skills to manage conflict, anger, and aggression and apply those skills to relevant situations.
The Physical Benefits of Playgrounds
Playground equipment is also so important for a child’s motor skill development as they play. Kids develop strength and coordination as they climb jungle gyms and maneuver themselves through tunnels.
These activities give children much-needed exercise, helping them to avoid weight problems, both now and later in adulthood. Active play during childhood will help foster an active lifestyle into their teenage and adult years.
Children benefit greatly from the physical play involved with climbing, jumping, and swinging, as well as the open spaces that encourage active play such as running, jumping, skipping, and kicking balls.
Swinging and climbing encourage balance, coordination, and helps the child know where their body is in space. These activities develop the child’s brain to make sense of direction, height, and speed.
As children dig, shovel, and pour sand into various buckets or scoop and grab at the ground cover, they develop dexterity and fine motor skills, as well. Some playgrounds have additional features, including sensory areas with equipment like nets, colorful gears, and spinning elements. Using these tools will help them to focus their attention on an activity and use the small muscles of their hands.
The Cognitive Benefits of Playgrounds
Climbing also encourages problem solving and motor planning, as well as develops their awareness of cause and effect. Practical thinking, such as “how will I get to the other end” and “which foot do I need to use” help them to exercise their creativity and decision making.
Even the free play on the playground can help children learn to communicate with their peers, pick up on social cues, and practice regular conversation. They learn the need to share, take turns, respect boundaries, follow rules, and stay safe.
Self-esteem is also built on the playground as children learn to resolve their own conflicts and practice achieving a challenge that they didn’t know they could.
These Skills Carry Over to Real Life
All of these skills, when practiced and encouraged, will be used in the classroom and in real life situations.
There is a direct correlation between play and academic achievement as an active child develops the necessary skills to learn better in a classroom environment. At such a critical age, the months spent off the playground and out of the classroom can give our children a large disadvantage to their growth and development.
There are families and households that don’t have access to a backyard, neighborhood cul-de-sac, or home play equipment. I’m aware of the safety concerns of our nation and know that our lawmakers are doing their best to keep us healthy. However, keeping these playgrounds closed will have detrimental effects on the cognitive and motor development of children across the nation.
When things do return to normal, make sure your kids get to run, jump, and play all they can. They’ll never take another trip to the playground for granted.