Playgrounds are more than just fun places where your child can spend free time. They can help all kids develop important skills. Here’s how.
Swinging is a classic playground activity. It can boost your child’s development in a few ways. It helps with balance and teaches kids to know where their body is in space. It also gives practice with fine motor skills (gripping the chain), gross motor skills (pumping the legs to swing higher), and coordination (putting it all together). Swinging also helps the brain learn to make sense of speed and direction.
Climbing playground equipment or trees also helps kids build body awareness. They have to know where their body parts are and what to do with them. It can help kids learn directions like up, down, left, and right, too.
Climbing also encourages problem solving and predicting what’s going to happen. “Where should my right foot go next? How will I get down from the top?” Practicing this kind of flexible thinking can help on the playground and in the classroom.
3. Playing on Overhead Equipment
Playing on overhead equipment helps kids build fine and gross motor skills. Kids practice little movements (gripping the bar) as well as big movements (swinging from one bar to the next). It's great for kids who have trouble with motor planning, too. Learning to move one hand at a time from bar to bar helps kids practice coordination and balance. They also learn how to judge where the next bar is in relation to their body.
4. Free Play
Free play can mean anything from organized games to just running around with other kids. But it’s not just goofing around. Free play helps kids learn to communicate with other kids and practice conversation and vocabulary. Kids also have to follow rules, share, and take turns on the playground. These kinds of social interactions help kids practice picking up on social cues like body language and tone of voice.
5. Playing Ball Games
Games like kickball, basketball, and four square all help with kids’ development. As they play, kids figure out how to hold on to, manipulate, and throw or kick a ball. This builds coordination. They also have to make decisions and come up with strategies on the fly, like whether to run to the next base. This helps with critical thinking and problem-solving.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.