Play Will Always Shape Us

By John McConkey, Market Insights Manager, Landscape Structures Inc.

Play has an invaluable role in encouraging child development. But play isn't just one thing. It's an invitation to explore, learn and grow. Play opens up a world of possibilities. Play—on a playground, in a soccer game or at an art studio—teaches kids how to not only exist together, but accept people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. In other words, play helps shape kids into thinkers, dreamers and leaders.

Above and beyond these life lessons, it's on the playground that children learn persistence, leadership, competition, bravery, support and empathy. Play is fun, and physically beneficial, of course. But play is also an organic form of learning.

For years, the campaign for more play has revolved around battling the childhood obesity epidemic. However, play is important for more than just physical development. Play helps shape children's cognitive, motor and social skills, in addition to supporting leadership development, teaching tolerance, spurring creativity, promoting problem-solving and diligence, and regulating emotions. Play is a learning opportunity. And that's why it's important to offer free play time to children of all ages and abilities.

To date, playgrounds have been largely overlooked as settings for development—perhaps because it is easy to assume that play is "just for fun" or playgrounds are just for exercise. However, research suggests children's early experiences and the settings they inhabit play a powerful role in helping children become healthy and effective thinkers, leaders and collaborators.

Playgrounds can be deliberately designed to encourage children's engagement in developmentally significant forms of play. They provide space for children to blend pretense and social play with physical activity; children can run around while "fighting dragons" or swing from the play equipment like monkeys, exercising their social, cognitive and physical skills all at once.

Even more, well-designed playgrounds provide for children with diverse needs and levels of ability. Toddlers who are learning to walk can find a physical challenge in climbing a few stairs, while skillful 10-year-olds can find an equally exciting challenge in clambering to the top of a playstructure. Children can take advantage of open spaces to engage in socially and linguistically complex pretend scenarios, but also find a quiet nook in which to privately create elaborate stories.

In order to create a playground design that ensures kids will make time for free play, it's important to remember that play is a trial run of adulthood. A way for kids to discover and practice all the skills they'll need in the future. Collaborate with your designer to create playgrounds so that kids of all abilities can practice their leadership skills, and learn to accept people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Learn more about Landscape Structures' commitment to shaping the lives of children through play by watching their newest video, Play Will Always Shape Us, at While there, you can download a video discussion guide as well as copies of research whitepapers.

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