The Importance of School Playgrounds

the importance of school playgrounds

School playgrounds are essential for fostering play and collaboration. They provide kids with a designated area to play and learn. Playing on a playground also allows kids to build developmental skills and explore new things. Plus, playgrounds allow students to get exercise during the school day. Keep reading to learn about the history of school playgrounds and discover their importance.

The History of School Playgrounds

Playgrounds for schools have a rich history in the United States. Parks have long had a place in public spaces as foundational spaces for socializing and community building. In the past, people even had picnics and visited with each other in the neighborhood cemeteries. Plus, before Industrialization, humans lived a more pastoral life on the whole, with many people living on plots of land where their children would play.

Industrialization changed many things about human existence, including outdoor socialization. With the beginning of larger farms, families who relied on their small farms lost business and had to move to the cities. This move happened so quickly, and so many people moved to the cities that the quality of living conditions decreased rapidly. As a result, welfare organizations decided to begin a movement to provide spaces for children to play and enjoy the outdoors outside of their cramped and often unsanitary living quarters.

The playground movement gained traction beginning in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1800s. The motivations behind this movement were to provide areas where children could practice becoming responsible citizens. These early playground designers took inspiration from German outdoor gymnasiums, which aimed to promote fitness and lower diseases in children by placing play equipment near schools.

Outdoor gymnasiums and sand gardens later developed into more dynamic apparatuses that swung and spun. This early playground equipment featured steel pipes, chains and ladders, many of which would be considered extremely dangerous by today’s standards.

In the later 20th century, child psychologists, doctors and other health specialists began to think about how playgrounds could assist in children’s social, emotional and physical development. They found that certain playground elements were able to excite the fascination and imagination of children, such as fantasy elements and interesting features. Additionally, there began to be a larger focus on safety, so equipment began to have more rounded edges and soft ground cover to prevent injuries.

Types of Playgrounds

There are hundreds of different types of playground configurations, so narrowing playgrounds into a few types can be tricky. However, there are a few specific playground categories to recognize when considering different types of school playgrounds. Here are two main playground categories:

Age Group Playgrounds

height and other components help make sure kids are safe

The first relevant category refers to the age range. While most people think of playgrounds as intergenerational spaces, specific safety concerns exist for children of different ages. As a result, most safety considerations take a few other age groups into account:

  • Early childhood 5 and under: Children under 5 have unique needs regarding playground equipment. These children are still developing their abilities to run, jump and play, so this playground equipment has special considerations. Factors like height and other components help make sure kids are safe while allowing them to participate in fun and engaging activities.
  • School-age 5 to 12: Kids in the 5 to 12 range have developed most of their physical capacities, so they’re able to run and jump with relative ease without assistance. These playgrounds may have more daring climbing elements and heights to present fun challenges for these children. These playgrounds may pose certain risks for children under 5 years old, so having a separate play space for younger children is crucial.
  • School-age 9 and up: Since some older kids may not want to play on the playground anymore, they can play on fitness equipment. Manufacturers design fitness equipment to provide spaces for guided stretches and bodyweight activities that build strength and can encourage collaboration.

Themed Playgrounds

Another essential consideration when it comes to playgrounds is the designated theme. Some of the best playgrounds for kids have a unique theme that can inspire creativity and imagination. There are a variety of exciting and fun themes you can organize your playground around:

  • Natural: A natural theme plays on elements from the natural world, using trees, rocks and even dinosaur bones as inspiration for playground equipment. These nature-themed playgrounds often feature rope courses and boulders to climb on. Kids can pretend they’re exploring a magical forest or discovering dinosaurs on a digging expedition.
  • Nautical: Preparing for a long sea voyage? Children will love playing on nautical-themed playground equipment and pretending to travel the seas with components like steering wheels, portholes and even a whole ship.
  • Modern: A modern playground features more geometric patterns and shapes, with play cubes and netting. These playgrounds offer dynamic and unique climbing elements and spinning structures to engage and excite children.

Why Are Playgrounds Important in School?

There are many reasons a school or daycare playground is a great idea. School playgrounds can help students grow into healthy young adults, from building valuable social skills to strengthening foundational muscle groups. Here are some benefits of playgrounds for school-aged kids and reasons why schools need playgrounds:

Promotes Creativity and Imagination

Playtime is the perfect opportunity for kids to stretch their imaginations and show creativity. School playgrounds can enhance kids’ creativity and give them a new world to explore. Playground equipment has multiple elements that can stimulate imaginative and creative play, like slides, climbing equipment and swings. Kids can play everyday playground favorites — like king of the castle and hide-and-seek — or invent their own games to play.

Creative, unstructured playground play allows kids to have fun without someone else’s rules.

Develops Motor Skills

While kids think they’re just playing and having fun on a playground, they’re developing a wide range of essential motor skills, like coordination and balance. Certain school playground equipment pieces help kids build their balance, coordination, muscle movements and more.

For example, some playgrounds may feature climbing elements, which help children build their arm and leg strength, balance and coordination. Swings can help children fine-tune motor skills as they grip the ropes or chains and hang on while swinging in the air. Here’s how kids can develop essential motor skills while playing on a playground:

  • Gross motor skills: Gross motor skills involve moving the arms, legs and torso muscle groups. These muscle groups allow kids to walk, run, jump, throw, kick and lift. Playground equipment like climbing walls, slides and swings help kids develop strength in their upper body, legs and abdomen. Developing these skills allows kids to build muscle and increase their body awareness.
  • Coordination: Many pieces of playground equipment encourage the development of coordination because kids have to coordinate movements between multiple parts of their bodies. For example, swinging requires coordination of the hands, arms and legs. A child must learn to grip the chains with their hands while simultaneously pumping their legs to generate the swinging movement. Playgrounds help children build coordination skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Develops Cognitive Abilities

Playing on a playground helps stimulate nerve cells in the brain, which allows more connections to develop. The brain is continually evolving into adulthood, and play early in childhood can enable kids to make connections that aid in developing gross and fine motor skills. As kids grow and play, they’ll continue developing real-life skills like decision-making and problem-solving.

School playgrounds are great for kids to learn new vocabulary and language skills. Kids can learn new language skills from other kids by playing with and around them. They’ll learn to have conversations, listen when others talk and verbalize thoughts and feelings. Kids can also apply learned language skills through modeling and repetition on the playground. Narrating their actions on the playground is an excellent way for kids to put words into their activities. For example, saying aloud, “I’m sliding down the green slide,” can help kids conceptualize their actions.

Promotes Sensory Development

In school, teachers work hard to engage students. However, being outside can engage senses that are not practical in a classroom setting. Playing outside can build children’s connection to their senses — new sights, smells, textures and sounds can help make nerve connections in the brain. These connections will help develop children’s sensory awareness in addition to assisting them to explore and grow in their curiosity.

Playgrounds for schools help children engage all their senses, which extends their learning outside the classroom. Playing outside allows them to explore leaves, grass, flowers and even insects if they’re adventurous.

Develops Social and Emotional Skills

School playgrounds are also ideal play areas for building emotional and social skills. Kids learn to get along with their peers and play together through unstructured social interactions.

For example, kids may engage in conversation while swinging or playing games. In other instances, they’ll have to work together to accomplish something, like rotating the merry-go-round. They’ll also have to communicate to avoid conflict. For example, they will have to communicate who gets to go first down the slide or determine who gets the first turn on the seesaw.

As kids learn, disagreements and conflicts may arise. If emotions get high, a responsible adult can step in and coach them to find a solution to the issue. Kids may disagree, argue and challenge each other on the playground. While some arguments may need adult mediation, kids will begin resolving these issues independently. When given the opportunity, kids will develop the necessary skills to work through their differences with each other and resolve their conflicts.

At the playground, kids engage with different children and can learn about others’ experiences. These skills will help build empathy and encourage them to relate to others as they grow. As children engage in various social situations on the playground, they learn valuable lessons about frustration, empathy, sharing, communicating and helping others.

Learning to accept others’ differences and be empathetic toward everyone in the playground community prepares kids for working with various people throughout their life and in the workplace. Here are some social and emotional skills that kids can learn on playgrounds:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Cooperation
  • Teamwork
  • Compromise
  • Sharing
  • Empathy
  • Respecting boundaries
  • Patience

Promotes Community Awareness

Playgrounds promote community awareness by helping children build bonds with each other. While there may be students from a variety of different backgrounds and of various abilities, there may be limited opportunities for kids to interact with others who may differ from them. The playground is where the students become a community and get first-hand experiences learning about others’ differences and how to interact with them. Children of all ethnicities, types of families, ability levels and ages can play together on the playground.

Additionally, while cooperating with other children at a playground, kids can build their leadership and communication skills, which are essential to participating in the community as responsible citizens.

Increases Physical and Immune Health

Many studies have documented the numerous benefits of exercise for children’s health. Playgrounds incorporate many different physical activities that stimulate children’s imagination in a way that gets them moving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that physical exercise has a host of benefits for children, including:

  • Improving cardiorespiratory health.
  • Building strong bones.
  • Increasing muscle development.
  • Reducing anxiety and stress.

Playing on a playground can also help strengthen children’s immune systems because it promotes physical activity and health. According to studies, playgrounds with natural elements and diverse greenery can improve children’s immune systems in a month. Children with stronger immune systems can fight off infections and bacteria more easily. While it may seem counter-intuitive that an outdoor playground can help children avoid getting sick, exposure to various germs in the outdoors teaches their immune systems how to fight off sickness more quickly.

Encourages Outdoor Learning and Play

The outdoors is host to enormous opportunities for children to play and grow. Many different school curricula incorporate the outdoors in their lesson plans. This is especially common for science classes. The benefits of outdoor play are many, including building a connection to the environment and stimulating the senses in a brand-new way.

Using the playground during class can help reinforce science lessons, such as studying the different animals and plants native to the area. Teachers can set up a scavenger hunt outside to find various species of plants or encourage students to create their own “habitats” in a glass jar.

If there’s space, the playground can also host a small outdoor garden where children can learn about growing food and the benefits of a healthy diet. Furthermore, subjects like math, art and even music can host lessons in the playground to provide a refreshing and stimulating environment for learning. Outdoor play can also help children discover their place in the natural world and form a foundation for critical academic concepts such as biology, geology and physics.

Gives Kids a Break From Electronics

Modern kids live in a world in which electronics surround them. While being tech-savvy can be positive, many kids lack time away from their screens. The beauty of an outdoor playground is the ability to get away from technology and the distractions of screens. Here are some benefits of getting children away from their screens, tablets and televisions:

  • Better sleep: Children’s activities on screens, such as playing games and watching shows, stimulate the brain. While some games or shows may have educational content, this kind of brain stimulation can impact sleep. Getting children outdoors and reducing this screen time can result in better sleep.
  • Improved behavior: Researchers have also found that kids who spend less time on screens show improved behavior outcomes. Having an outlet like physical activity can help kids behave better.
  • Healthier habits: Another study found that children who spend less time on screens tended to have a lower unhealthy weight gain.
  • Better interaction: Kids can interact with others face-to-face on the playground and experience real-life scenarios that electronics can’t give them.

Builds Self-Esteem and Confidence

One of the most positive school playground benefits is that it can build self-esteem and confidence. Many elements of a playground challenge children, both physically and mentally. While it’s important to have age-appropriate playground equipment so it’s as safe as possible, incorporating challenging elements is also essential. When kids can overcome these challenges, it builds their confidence and self-esteem.

Activities like climbing up a wall or hanging from a swinging bar can be challenging for kids, but they can also help to build their tolerance for trying new things they may find scary. It can also build relationships with others through taking risks together. Trying new things on the playground can make them more willing to learn and persist in their schoolwork, even when it’s challenging.

How Playgrounds Help Kids in the Classroom

In addition to making school more fun, playgrounds can benefit kids in the classroom. You can use playgrounds to help improve students’ performance and behavior. The CDC supports the correlation between play and school and focuses on demonstrating how recess benefits students in the following ways:

Improves Memory and Concentration

The increased blood flow during physical activity helps send more oxygen to the brain. With increased blood flow and oxygen in the brain, the memory and learning areas of the brain can grow more and see a boost in nerve connectivity, leading to increased memory retention and improved attention span. Recess and concentration in the classroom directly connect, which means a recess break can help kids absorb the information they’re learning more effectively.

Helps Kids Stay on Task

Kids naturally have shorter attention spans than adults, so getting distracted from a task is easy. A good rule of thumb is that kids can focus on a task for about two to five minutes every year they are old. For example, a 10-year-old might be able to concentrate on something for 20-50 minutes. Playground time can give children’s brains a break and help them stay on task. Playgrounds allow kids to lean into their body’s natural energy levels to stay on task in the classroom and let loose outside.

Reduces Disruptive Behavior

Sitting in class for long periods allows energy to build up inside students, increasing the likelihood that kids will act out during a class. Disruptive behavior can affect the educational experience for everyone in the classroom, including the teacher. Playgrounds allow kids to burn off their energy in the middle of the day rather than letting it continue to build up. Releasing this pent-up energy reduces disruptions and distractions in the classroom so everyone can focus.

Increases Academic Performance

Another benefit of outdoor play for children includes increasing academic performance. Playgrounds have challenging elements that build skill and confidence, which can then translate to school performance. When kids are familiar with trying new things and challenging themselves, they become more willing to exert themselves in school.

Adventures on a playground can build children’s tolerance for difficulty and failure while promoting endurance and persistence in facing challenges. These skills are invaluable when learning new concepts in school. Studies show outdoor playground play can help build cognitive skills, especially in STEM subjects.

Design Your Playground With Help From Playworld

The importance of playgrounds resides in their ability to generate creative and authentic play. We want our optimism for the future and our passion for enriching children’s lives through play in every structure we create. That’s why five core beliefs guide us:

  • Inclusive design: We want every child to enjoy the magic and wonder of playgrounds, so our core mission is to create inclusive features that promote safety and fun for all.
  • Craftsmanship: We take pride in the structures we create. Our playgrounds are built with passion and pride based on our history of high-quality manufacturing.
  • Innovative leadership: Playworld is an industry leader with a legacy of innovative design and solutions that reinvent play.
  • Communities of the future: Our goal to enrich children’s lives through outdoor play comes from our deep investment and care for communities and how we can continue to build up communities for the future.
  • Unity: We strongly believe that one of the best ways to unite humans is through play. By fostering a space that promotes play, we strive to create a positive environment.

Contact Us to Learn More

At Playworld, we aim to help you create an inclusive playground that reaches every child. Because playgrounds play an essential role in children’s development and learning, finding the right playground equipment is crucial. The types of playground equipment can vary significantly depending on factors like age and ability level. Because of this, playground equipment shouldn’t be thought of as a one-size-fits-all decision.

We can help you create a quality, inclusive playground that will benefit your students inside and outside the classroom. We offer a wide variety of playground equipment designed with kids in mind. From preschool through grade school, you’ll find something for your students.

We have the knowledge and expertise to help you build a playground that meets your school’s needs and budget. Rather than cut corners, we can help you account for all the standard expenses and find ways to fund the project. At Playworld, we’ve dedicated ourselves to creating fun and safe playgrounds for children of all abilities. For more information, reach out to us today!

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