The Benefits of Play at Your Local Playground
School holidays and weekends, for many people, are a time of relaxation; schools are closed and families spend time together. While the adults might be more inclined to enjoy a lazy day or two, children seem to be able to recharge their batteries quickly and are looking out for adventure, activity and fun! Fortunately, you don’t always have to go far to find places that will offer children this stimulation – and they are free. Your local playground!
Every local playground and park offers different opportunities for various types of play including climbing equipment, swings, slides and tunnels, spaces to run, room for ball games, bike riding, sand and water play.
Finding a playground near you
Your local council’s website will list all your local playgrounds and tell you which features it has, such as fully fenced areas, barbecues, toilets, toddler friendly, bike paths and more. Every local council area has ‘destination’ playgrounds – these are the large parks with the biggest range of equipment and facilities, built for community events – and neighbourhood parks in walking distance of your home.
Benefits of play at your local playground
Playgrounds provide many benefits for children through opportunities for active, imaginative and social play. These benefits include
Being outdoors and physically active.
Participating in physical activity every day is essential for children’s growth and development. Where possible, encourage walking or riding a bike to the local playground. Playgrounds inspire energetic play which supports children’s physical development, helping to strengthen their muscles and bones, improve posture, balance and coordination, and build stamina.
The Australian Government Department of Health has the following recommendations for children’s daily physically activity:
- Toddlers (aged 1–2 years): At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities including energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better
- Pre-schoolers (aged 3–5 years): At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better
- Children and young people (aged 5-17 years) should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day involving mainly aerobic activities; more is better.
Find more information about the Australian Government movement guidelines here.
Trying out new ideas and skills
The various skill levels of playground equipment and different ground and play surfaces require children to continuously make judgements about their movements and calculate risks. How far down can I jump? What will I hold for balance? Children develop their capacity to assess and manage reasonable risks and learn about safe ways to play. Their ability to maintain focus and adapt their actions helps them to move effectively through the space. Children relish opportunities to test out their abilities and strengths and grow in their achievements. ‘Watch me!’ they call out to the people around them to celebrate their success. Over time and with practice they master many skills, building their self-esteem and the confidence to try new challenges.
Learning through the senses and connecting with nature
Natural environments can have a soothing effect and reduce stress. Being outdoors increases children’s sensory awareness, as they process information about what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
Developing social skills
Local playgrounds connect families from around the community. Children develop knowledge about social rules and learn important skills through negotiating with siblings and friends, as well as with children they don’t know. This includes taking turns, following another child’s lead and the self-confidence to share their own ideas. These skills support children to cope with the unexpected and regulate their emotions.
Playgrounds provide endless possibilities for free play and creativity. Stroll past any playground to hear the excited voices of children as they invent games, make up the rules and, in their minds, transform their space into another world. A climbing platform becomes superhero headquarters, sticks and leaves are used to decorate spaces or as props in play.
‘The playground, instead of telling the child what to do, becomes a place for endless exploration, of endless opportunity for changing play.’ (Isamu Noguchi)
Getting the most out of your local playground
Young children in playgrounds should always be well supervised by adults. Take into account the type of equipment, the numbers of children using the playground equipment, other people using the space, people on bikes and walking dogs. Vigilance around any water is especially important.
Before you journey out with your children for some playground play remember to pack the essentials such as sun screen, water bottles and hats. Children are hungry after active play so prepare some healthy snacks and take a picnic blanket for a place for children to rest and recover.
And the children will be ready to do it all again tomorrow, so make some time in the days ahead for some fun visits to your local playgrounds!
Read our playground reviews!
Read the Families Magazine playground reviews to find new adventures! If you know of a great one we haven’t reviewed yet, let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out!
This editorial appeared in print issue 43 – December 2020/January 2021, and was supplied by Sabina Klepp, Education Practice Partner, Story House Early Learning. www.shel.edu.au