I am an avid fan of playgrounds; not just because it’s great for children and the tremendous benefit it brings but it also brings out the “kid” in me! Back when we lived in South Island, New Zealand, most suburbs have their own playground. Luckily, we lived close to Botanic Gardens in Dunedin and they have a fantastic space for children.
When my children were younger (3 and 5 years), it was our routine to take them to nearby playgrounds after school or on weekends. Sometimes, we feel a bit adventurous and drive around to search for spaces where they can play. One time we ended up in Roxburgh which is 1 1/2 hour from Dunedin! I know, crazy right?
Playgrounds are fantastic as children can do so many things! They can use the swing, climb the monkey bars, trees or climbing structures, kick or throw balls in an open field, and of course the flying fox! However, the beauty of natural playgrounds offers something entirely different. They can climb on the trees, use sticks, stones or leaves or whatever they find on the ground and use it in all manners of pretend play! The opportunities for open ended play are endless.
They can spend hours navigating the wonders of the space. Such a great way to spend an afternoon or morning and I always find them needing a nap after an active play.
What stood out from me back then were the natural playgrounds. I remember the school where my children used to go, they have this adventure playground. Such a fantastic area! My children will often tell me they spent a good amount of time playing there during recess. What’s important is these playgrounds offer lots of challenges and lots of risk taking for children.
Playgrounds provide crucial and vital opportunities for children to play. There is substantial research showing the clear link between play and brain development, motor-skills, and social capabilities. All learning—emotional, social, motor and cognitive—is accelerated, facilitated, and fueled by the pleasure of play. Playgrounds that promote different types of play are vital for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development. (http://www.imaginationplayground.com/images/content/2/9/2999/the-benefits-of-playgrounds-for-children-aged-0-5.pdf)
At a Montessori school where I work part-time, their playground doesn’t have any fixed equipment. They have only natural ones such as rocks and trees. Every day, children climb on trees or rocks, run around, pick up mulch, sticks and dried leaves and so forth.
Natural playgrounds also provide greater opportunities for children to engage in interactive play. As the environment is constantly changing, play becomes more interactive, there are fewer restrictions, more freedom to run around and explore and for children to truly immerse themselves in play. Static play equipment can only be used in a finite number of ways, and therefore children’s activities can end up becoming repetitive if they visit the playground over and over again. In a playground where more natural materials are used, and areas which are allowed to change or be manipulated by little hands and also grow are incorporated into the playground, the activities and opportunities for exploration, creativity and imagination will be practically endless.
Maybe you’re thinking, “oh, that’s boring.” It might not be appealing to adults, but for children that is all they need. They use their imagination; there is lots of pretend play happening and lots of talking and negotiations amongst children. And yes, this is every single day. Do we offer toys for them to play with? No. Is there a need for that? However, they can use the natural resources they can find on the ground.
An unstructured outdoor play is essential to children’s development. Just provide the environment and you will be surprised how your child takes the wonder of it.
Would be great if you can share photos of your child’s favorite playground!