Provide Play to Encourage Child Development
Play is important for children's physical and mental development. The skills learned when we play as children build a foundation of lifelong skills that we build on as we grow. Before you begin any new playground project, it's important to take the time to think about the power of play, and how best to create a positive play experience that maximizes child development for kids in your community.
Q: What should we know about play and child development?
A: First, you should come to your play project with knowledge of where play stands today. Play has been challenged by recent societal shifts, from a growing focus on academic achievement that has led schools to reduce playtime to a lack of safe play spaces, especially in disadvantaged areas, which make it difficult for caregivers to provide playtime. Screen time and videogames also compete with time spent in free play.
With all of these challenges, promoting quality play spaces has become more important than ever.
Q: How does play contribute to child development?
A: Play that takes place on the playground, whether at school or in a local park, helps facilitate interaction among children from diverse backgrounds and ages, and provides kids with the opportunity to explore and develop new relationships. On top of that, playgrounds provide the opportunity to get physically active while engaging in other forms of play, such as imaginative or social play.
At the playground, kids are given unique opportunities and freedom to explore and grow their physical, mental, social and creative abilities. Well-designed playgrounds support the health and development of the whole child, from physical and emotional health to social and cognitive skills.
Play can be social, imaginative or physical—or it can be all of these at the same time. Children can cooperate and play together, growing their ability to communicate and interact with others. They can pretend, together or alone, growing their creative skills. And, they can get physically active in unique ways on the playground, improving strength, coordination and balance as well as confidence.
Q: How can we encourage play that contributes to child development?
A: The playgrounds you provide will play a powerful role in child development, so it's important to consider all of the ways play can contribute.
Playgrounds provide a key context for children to try out their social, cognitive and physical skills. Certain playground features are particularly valuable in helping encourage this development.
Be sure to provide a variety of equipment that lends itself to diverse activities. Modifiable materials that allow children to alter their environment contribute to cooperation and cognitive growth. Enclosed spaces encourage independence and self-regulation.
Don't forget to include equipment that inspires children of all ages and abilities to play, alone and together.
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