We may be adults, but most of us remember how to play these iconic playground games. When I was a kid, recess was the time where I could show off my four-square skills, or challenge my best friends to see who could jump farthest from the swings. Was I knowledgeable about the physical benefits of play? No. Did I understand the social benefits to play? Nope. Was I cognitive about the mental and self-confidence benefits? Absolutely not. What did I know? I knew how to play and that I liked to do it.
The truth is – recess is so much more than just a simple play time. There are true benefits to the holistic development of children. Research by the Shasta Children and Family First Commission, Office of the Surgeon General, and numerous articles on the news cite the importance of play.
In 2010, the Surgeon General reported that almost one in every three U.S. children is overweight and/or obese. (Department of Health & Human Services, 2010) There are obvious connections to the play – especially within the context of a playground. The equipment on a playground allows for kids to have their whole body in motion, whether climbing or running or sliding – equipment allows for exercise for the legs, arms, shoulders and more. Kids have the opportunity not only to physically strengthen specific parts of the body, but to also have cardiovascular exercises as they run from station to station.
As children physically develop, so does their mental capacity. In fact, playing on a playground helps kids to create more neural connections as they refine both their sensory and motor skills. (Duerr Evaluation Resources, 1999) The first few years of a child’s life is critical to their success – gripping, sliding, and climbing are all tasks that allow kids to raise awareness of their physical capabilities and wholly develop refine their skills.
Socially, kids learn how to take their turn and exercise certain self-control as they wait for the slide or their turn on the monkey bars. They learn how to share items as they lend their peers a ball or a jump rope. Children learn a basic form of good “citizenship and neighborliness.” (Anderson, 2007) They learn how to communicate with their peers as they climb the stairs to the slide or play on the jungle gym. As they complete new tasks, there is a development in their self-confidence. (Just think of how great it felt the first time you made it across the monkey bars without letting go? Or conquered your fears of that “really tall” slide?) There is a certain sense of accomplishment that one feels as they tackle the obstacles of the playground and experience play.
You may see it as mindless play, but the truth is that through play our children are benefiting physically, mentally, socially and self-empowering themselves like never before! Play is a critical part of development as we look to create productive young citizens!
Seek out these local gems in the community where safe, positive play can take place:
Anderson, Linnea M. (2006) '“The playground of today is the republic of tomorrow”: Social reform and
organized recreation in the USA, 1890-1930’s' the encyclopaedia of informal education. www.infed.org/playwork/organized_recreation_and_playwork_1890-1930s.htm.
Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Hhs secretary and surgeon general join first lady to announce plans to combat overweight and obesity and support healthy choices. Washington, D.C.
Duerr Evaluation Resources. (1999). The benefits of playgrounds for children aged 0-5. Retrieved from http://www.first5shasta.org/PDFs/Playgrounds0102.pdf