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 run around on 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.
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:
- Learning shapes: 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
- Counting: There are several playground games for elementary students and preschoolers to help with counting, including:
- Jump rope
- Pushes on a swing
- 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: This is a great 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 plant or leaf or the length of the sidewalk. 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
- Time: 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 as they run from one end of the playground to the other
- Keeping track on a watch or clock how long children engage in certain playground activities
- Sorting and Categorizing: This is a fun way for young children 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.