When you're at a loss about what to do to keep your children happy and healthy, go to a playground. Children of all ages can spend hours swinging, climbing, balancing, digging, running and interacting with each other in these indispensable arenas. A report prepared for the Shasta Children and Families First Commission concluded that playgrounds are “vital for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development.”
The Surgeon General reported in January 2010 that almost one in every three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Playground equipment gets children moving and having fun at the same time. Slides provide climbing exercise for the legs; bars exercise arms and shoulders; jungle gyms strengthen arms, legs and shoulders; and all the equipment together encourages children to run from one piece to another, giving them a healthy dose of cardiovascular, heart-healthy exercise.
Part of the appeal of playgrounds and playground equipment is that children get to be around one another. The Voice of Play website reports that both group interaction and social development take place on playground equipment in a number of ways: Children learn how to take turns and exercise self-control waiting for a swing to open up; they can observe each other on all the equipment; and they can strike up conversations with peers on the platforms, bridges and ramps of playground structures.
Linnea Anderson, writing about the history of playgrounds in the U.S. for the infed website, explains that early playground advocates believed that social interaction in playgrounds benefits the country as a whole, building “citizenship and neighborliness” when children from different races and economic levels have a chance to play together.
Parents who have seen their 4- or 5-year-old navigate a climbing wall or walk up a rope ladder or their 3-year-old venture out on a wiggling rope bridge have also seen the wide smiles once the children conquer their fears of these playground structures and gain success in mastering them. Voice of Play says that the sense of accomplish children gain leads to self-confidence and an increase in self-esteem.
The website adds that some equipment, such as tunnels and enclosed spaces, encourage imaginative play, where children can experiment with expressing different emotions and learning about life possibilities. The site quotes Albert Einstein: “Play is the highest form of research.”
Playground equipment helps toddlers' brains develop, as they learn about the world through motor activities and sensory experiences, according to the Shasta report. It goes on to explain that brain development in the first six years of life is especially important, and that the more children exercise both their sensory and motor skills by using playground equipment, the more brain-neural connections they create.