Unstructured, outdoor play is one of those forms of exercise that doesn’t take much effort for kids. It not only promotes their well-being, but also aides their overall physical development. Being outside allows children to explore their environment, learn about nature, foster fine and gross motor skills and develop strength and coordination. When many adults think back to their childhood, they remember the good old days of playing at a local playground for hours on end.
At Playworld, we understand that play is essential for learning. We want children to grow up with the same nostalgia and have fond memories of playing outdoors with their friends, seeing who can swing the highest or hang on to the monkey bars the longest. Through play, children learn valuable life lessons including problem-solving, sportsmanship and getting along with others. They can develop leadership skills and enhance their creativity. Language development is also strengthened as children interact and play with others. This is especially important for young children as they develop their skills to climb, balance, run, reach, crawl and grasp.
How Outdoor Playground Games Benefit Young Children
In today’s society, playing outdoors is as essential as learning new technologies. Parents and educators must find a balance so one doesn’t overshadow the other. The playground is the last sacred space where kids can play and parents can feel comfortable.
We want your children to have as many opportunities to play as possible in our high-tech society, where it sometimes seems easier to turn on a computer than put on a pair of tennis shoes and play at a playground. While unstructured play is vital to a child’s development, preschool-aged children can also benefit from having a little guidance on occasion while being outdoors.
Besides providing exercise and fresh air, play — both structured and unstructured play — can also:
- Builds on basic social and academic skills
- Allows children to gain a sense of self as they conquer new skills such as climbing a rock wall or navigating through a log tube
- Is critical to the successful development of the body, brain and intellect
- Promotes brain development and physical success
- Gives children a chance to test, explore and expand the boundaries of a growing body
In fact, early childhood playground games are one of the best ways to develop executive function skills — including the ability to handle multiple streams of information simultaneously, revise tasks when needed and control impulses. Hop Scotch, Red Rover and Red Light-Green Light are classic early childhood games that help kids develop the skills they need to succeed in school and life.
Playground Fun for Kids: Examples of Playground Games
Playground and outdoor games for kids include activities for a small group of children as well as games meant for an entire class. Some games don’t require any equipment at all, while others can be played on playground structures.
To play hopscotch, kids need access to a hopscotch grid, which can be permanently painted on the ground or drawn with sidewalk chalk. They also need a small rock or object to act as a marker. The first child tosses the rock onto the first square of the grid, then jumps on the remaining squares until they get to the end. They turn around and hop back, jumping over the first square again. The game repeats with each player.
Red Rover is a group game fitting for a single class or two classes playing against each other. To play, you need a large area, such as a sports field. Team one lines up on one side of the field with team two on the opposite side. Everyone holds hands while in the line. The first team yells, “Red Rover, Red Rover send (child’s name) over!” The named child needs to get across the field and attempt to break through the line of the other team. If they break through, they can return to their team. If not, they are now part of the other team.
Red Light-Green Light
During the group game Red Light-Green Light, one person is the “traffic light.” They stand at one end of a field and everyone else lines up across from them. When their back is to the group, they yell “Green light!” and the team begins to cross the field toward the traffic light. The person can then turn around quickly and yell “Red light!” When they do that, the players need to freeze. If anyone moves, they have to go back to the beginning. The first person to reach the traffic light wins the round and gets to be the next traffic light.
During a game of Tag, someone is “it” and everyone else has to avoid them. If the person who’s “it” taps another player, that person then becomes “it.” Everyone will then attempt to avoid them.
There are several variations of Tag, such as Freeze Tag and Shadow Tag. During Freeze Tag, if a person gets tagged by the one who’s “it,” they have to freeze. Other players can unfreeze them by tapping on their shoulder. During Shadow Tag, the person who’s “it” tags other players by stepping on their shadows.
To play Parachute, kids will need a large, nylon parachute. It’s another great game for a large group, such as a full class. The parachute lies on the ground or floor, fully spread out. The kids stand around the edge of the parachute. On cue, they all pick up the fabric’s edges, lifting the parachute off the ground.
There are many ways to play with the parachute. The kids can work on lifting the fabric up so that it forms a bubble. Some can dive underneath the parachute while it’s up in the air. Another option is to toss items, such as tennis balls or beanbags, into the center of the parachute, then try to see how high they can get tossed into the air.
To play Four Square, kids will need a grid painted or drawn on the ground. The grid should be divided into four equal squares. Four children can play at once, each one standing in one of the squares. To play, the first person bounces a kickball into the square of the second player. The ball needs to bounce once before the player catches it. They then bounce the ball to the third player, who catches it and bounces it to the fourth. The game continues until the ball goes out of the grid or a player doesn’t catch it after one bounce.
Developing Language Skills Through Reading and Writing Games
Play is the primary conduit for the development of language, intelligence and imagination. Playgrounds maximize opportunities for a child to engage in all forms of play with a peer, which in turn allows them to express ideas and feelings, as well as develop communication and social skills. Playground games for kids at school or home that focus on reading and writing help with different aspects of letter recognition and language development. They include:
- Rhyming games: Jump rope songs and other classic playground ditties such as “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” help children learn about word families, the concept of phonemic awareness and the ability to break words into smaller recognizable parts. Rhyming helps children who are learning to read understand about the structure and patterns of written and spoken words.
- Games promoting fine motor skills: Coloring with sidewalk chalk helps with fine motor skills such as grasping. It can also be used to create sidewalk games for recess such as follow the leader and hopscotch. Using a squirt bottle to erase the chalk from the cement also helps promote this same type of development.
- Vocabulary games: Introducing new words during play, such as jump, flip, up, down, etc., is a great way to increase a young child’s vocabulary. This can be done while climbing rock structures, swinging or even playing hopscotch. Adding expressive words is a bonus, especially during snack time when children can describe what they are eating.
Promoting Social Interaction and Group Play
Encouraging cooperative play involves the efforts of all children playing. Since play helps little kids learn, it’s interesting to see them go through the six stages of play in order to understand how to interact socially with others. Those stages include:
- Unoccupied: Random exploration of a child’s surroundings
- Onlooker: Watching other children play but do not interact with them
- Solitary: Bringing one’s own toys near where another group is playing but not interacting with them
- Parallel: Playing with the same toys as another child, but there is very little interaction
- Associative: Participating in a mutual activity together that invites social interaction
- Cooperative: Focusing on working together toward a common goal
Social interaction and group cooperative play also involve learning and following the rules of a game, which is a little harder for some preschoolers. Some great home and school playground games that encourage cooperative play by taking turns and following directions are:
- Hide and Seek in and around the playground equipment
- Four Square
- Duck, Duck, Goose
- Tag around the playground
- Follow the leader going through tunnels and down dual slides
Understanding That Solo Play Is OK
Encouraging children to play alone on a playground is acceptable, especially for young ones with longer attention spans. A great way to promote this is to first involve your child in a playground activity that he or she loves. Once fully engaged, it’s OK to step a few feet away. A child will let you know when they are bored or uncomfortable. Increase your mental and physical distance over a few days or weeks. Some great solo outside playground games for kids to play are:
- Going down the slide
- Swinging on swings
- Climbing and grasping bridges, monkey bars, rock holds and climbing walls
- Jumping activities like hopscotch and jump rope
- Drawing with sidewalk chalk or blowing bubbles
- Riding a bicycle or tricycle on the walking path
- Making music and sounds on a rhythm wall
Introducing and Honing Math Skills
Kids are natural mathematicians. They push, pull, stack, knock down, fill and empty their toys all the time. These activities allow children to experience the math concepts of spatial awareness, measurement and problem-solving. Some fun yet educational math playground games for kids include:
A playground is a great place for children to learn shapes. They can:
- Look for specific shapes in the equipment itself — squares, circles, rectangles, etc.
- Use sidewalk chalk to create different shapes on the cement
- Have a contest to see who can find specific shapes
- Lie on the ground and look for shapes in the clouds
There are several playground games for elementary students and preschoolers to help with counting, including:
- Jump rope
- Seeing how many items in nature are on the playground such as trees, dandelions, clouds in the sky, birds flying by
- Number of items collected while cleaning up
Measuring is an excellent skill for older preschoolers who can already identify their numbers. They can use rulers or tape measures to measure a piece of playground equipment, the size of a plant or leaf or the sidewalk’s length. Young children can also measure:
- Different amounts of sand, water or dirt using measuring cups
- The size of the squares and rectangles on a hopscotch
- The distance between different pieces of equipment
While this may not be the easiest of math playground games for preschool children to grasp, older ones can learn the concept of how long it takes for something to happen. On a playground, they can do this by:
- Counting how long a classmate hangs from the monkey bars or takes to go down a slide
- Being timed by a parent or teacher to reach the top of a climber
- Keeping track on a watch or clock how long children engage in certain playground activities
- Timing how long it takes them to get from one piece of equipment to another
- Timing how long classmates are using a piece of equipment so that each person gets to spend equal time playing on it
Sorting and Categorizing
Sorting and categorizing give young children the opportunity to learn about putting items into groups that are the same. The children can:
- Find a certain number of the same leaves or flowers
- Categorize playground equipment by size, color or shape
- Sort sandbox toys or pieces of sidewalk chalk by size, color and shape
- Use their imagination and find groups of three or four similar objects
Exploring a Child’s Environment
Even on snowy and rainy days, playgrounds are still open. Children can take part in various environmentally related activities while on a playground, such as:
- Learning about the weather
- Collecting and measuring rain water or snow
- Grouping certain types of insects and plants together
- Using items from nature for arts and crafts — sticks, leaves, etc.
Finding the Best Outdoor Playgrounds
If you want to create a great playground that offers children a variety of things to do, consider these options:
- Hill: Most playgrounds are on flat surfaces, but if you can find one with a hill, that is a bonus. What child doesn’t love running up and rolling down hills?
- Tree: Besides offering shade, a good climbing tree helps build self-confidence and physical strength
- Challenges: A playground with challenging modules can create exciting experiences. Having smaller module play elements such as hoops, cones, blocks and beams can change up the normal daily play
- Monkey bars: These help develop balance, spatial sense, upper body strength and the grasping motor skills
- Swings: Besides creating the sensation of flying, swings also help children with their balance and sense of rhythm
- Planks and beams: This can bring hours of innovative movement through creative playground games and activities
- Tunnels: Tunnels provide spatial awareness development and allow the imagination to take off
- Slides: Besides offering a thrill, slides encourage children to keep moving
How Playworld Helps Young Children
Children need a safe and welcoming place to play, whether it’s at school, the local community center or in their own backyard. Finding the right play equipment doesn’t need to be difficult. At Playworld, we design creative and collaborative play equipment that helps kids thrive, no matter their level of development. With a commitment to provide play for children of all abilities and the environment in mind, our play equipment offers many advantages:
- Support: To help you build an outdoor play space that kids of all abilities can enjoy, we developed the Inclusive Play Design Guide. This step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know, including who should be on your committee and how you can raise funds, as well as the type of equipment you should consider installing
- Strive to be green: Committed to sustainable manufacturing processes by recycling 95 percent of the waste we generate. We are also 99.99 percent PVC free, and we track and reduce our entire carbon footprint. Also, more than 70 percent of our manufacturing supplies are sourced locally
- ADA compliant: Products are ADA certified and exceed the federal guidelines regarding accessibility
- Involve kids in the process: Children test our products by playing with them. We watch, consult and listen to what they have to say
How Playworld Can Help Get Your Community on the Playground
Spending time on the playground is key to developing sensory, emotional and physical skills and no child should be left out. When you partner with Playworld, we’ll provide the expert guidance needed to plan and raise funds for your inclusive outdoor play space. We’ll help you design a playground capable of providing hours of fun and challenge for children of all ages and abilities. With resources like our Inclusive Play Design Guide, blog and grant guide, we help make the dream of building a playground for your community a reality.