Essential Play Elements for Active Fun(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)
Do you remember the thrill of crossing the monkey bars as a kid? Can you recall the exhilarating feeling of swinging high into the air? While you probably didn’t think about it at the time, you were developing lifelong skills when you played at the playground.
Kids need to play and be physically active every day, and playgrounds give them the chance to move their bodies. Regular exercise also helps kids perform better in school. Exercise provides several benefits, including improved memory, learning, thinking skills and overall brain health. It also reduces stress and improves sleep, which can make it easier to learn.
What Are the Elements of Play?
The elements of playground play include climbing, spinning, sliding, swinging and balancing. Many of the benefits related to these forms of play depend on the type of equipment available. In this guide, we’ll discuss the five elements of play and how each is beneficial to your child’s development.
Climbing comes naturally to kids, and they love to reach the highest points possible. There’s also a level of risk to climbing, which makes it even more exciting and fun. Kids need risky play to overcome challenges and develop resiliency, confidence and perseverance. All of these qualities can make a positive impact on a child’s wellbeing and help them succeed in life and school.
The Benefits of Climbing
Before playgrounds existed in communities all over the world, kids would satisfy their craving to climb by crawling up trees and aiming for the highest branch. Today, kids have access to innovative playground structures, which allow them to reap the following benefits:
- Improves decision-making and problem-solving skills: As kids climb, they need to make decisions and solve problems. They must figure out how they’ll reach the top and consider the moves they need to make. They also have to decide if it’s worth taking action, or if they should climb back to the ground. All of these questions help kids develop their decision-making and problem-solving abilities.
- Builds confidence: Kids who climb get to practice overcoming their fears. After a child reaches the top of a climbing structure, they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Overall, climbing allows kids to experience the rewards of perseverance and believing in oneself.
- Increases strength and flexibility: When kids climb, they use various movements, such as pulling, pushing and swinging — all of which build muscle strength. Climbing also involves stretching the limbs, which helps kids increase and maintain their flexibility.
- Develops spatial awareness: Spatial awareness is the ability to understand where your body is in relation to the objects around you, and it’s an essential component of depth perception. When kids climb, they have to figure out where to put their hands and feet to continue moving forward. These movements help them develop an awareness of their bodies and how it relates to space.
- Assists motor skill development: Climbing requires the use of fine and gross motor skills. For example, kids develop fine motor skills when they use the small muscles in their hands to grab onto a bar. Fine motor skills are needed to complete tasks like writing, drawing and using tools. Large movements, such as using the whole body to climb from one bar to the next, lets kids practice gross motor skills. Kids use gross motor skills every day to stay balanced and coordinate their moments.
- Improves hand-eye coordination: Hand-eye coordination is how the hands and eyes work together to achieve a goal. Kids practice hand-eye coordination when they reach for and grab onto a climbing structure. Hand-eye coordination helps with countless tasks like writing, reading, tying shoelaces, stacking blocks and more.
Types of Climbers
Designers can choose from an array of climbing options when building a new playground at a school or park. Here are a few examples of climbers that get kids moving:
- Dome climbers: Dome-shaped climbers feature an eye-catching geometric design. With this type of climber, kids can use their muscles and coordination skills to climb to the top of the dome or build their upper body strength and swing from the inside.
- Vertical climbers: Vertical climbing equipment comes in all kinds of exciting shapes and sizes, from uniquely designed nets to irresistible rock walls.
- Overhead climbers: Today’s overhead climbers go beyond traditional monkey bars. You’ll find everything from structures that curve like a snake to octagon-shaped climbers that multiple kids can use at once.
Adults may be hesitant to spin around and make themselves dizzy. But to kids, it’s a blast — that’s because spinning stimulates the vestibular system, which sends messages about a motion to the brain. Kids naturally crave this type of movement so they can develop a good sense of balance and spatial awareness.
The Benefits of Spinning
Kids can get their spinning needs met at the playground by using equipment that goes round and round. As a result, they’ll enjoy the following benefits:
- Strengthens the vestibular system: The vestibular system helps with gaze stabilization, balance and stability. When kids use spinning equipment at the playground, they get to exercise their vestibular system and develop it further.
- Promotes cooperation: When kids play on spinning equipment together, they learn to cooperate with each other to get the spinner to move. They also learn that by working together, great things can happen — like spinning, laughing and having fun.
- Enhances motor skills: Kids build strength and develop motor skills when they use spinners. For example, they must use their small muscles to get a grip on the handhold and their large muscles to keep their bodies stable as they spin.
- Encourages bonding: When kids spin together at the playground, they get to share the same experiences and feelings — this helps them form a bond that can build friendships and create a sense of belonging.
Types of Spinners
- Maypole®: The Maypole features a pole in the center with a wheel at the top. Kids hang from the wheel, which tilts and spins, allowing them to build upper body strength as they giggle their way around.
- Saddle spinner: A saddle spinner is a freestanding piece of equipment that a child uses independently. To play on this type of spinner, a child takes a seat on the saddle and then uses their body weight to whirl around.
- Cone spinner: A cone spinner invites kids to climb and spin at the same time, creating a complete workout that’s a ton of fun.
It’s hard to resist a slide and the adrenaline rush it brings. Kids quickly learn the reward of climbing to the top of a slide and have no problem using their muscles to get there. For this reason, slides will never go out of style.
The Benefits of Sliding
Besides being a joy-filled experience, sliding offers plenty of other benefits, such as:
- Develops spatial awareness: When kids climb to the top of a slide, they must judge the space between each rung and decide where to place their feet and hands. They must also think about where they’ll put their feet when they land. These thought processes carry over into the classroom and can help kids learn math and follow directions.
- Strengthens their sense of balance: As kids zip down a slide, they have to maintain balance in their torsos and stay upright, despite the pull of gravity. This helps kids develop a sense of balance and build core strength.
- Teaches kids how to take turns: Sliding teaches kids to take turns and get along with others. They get to practice patience as they wait for the fun ahead, which can help them stay calm in many situations.
- Promotes critical thinking: Before a kid speeds down a slide, they have to analyze the situation and weigh the pros and cons of the action they might take. For example, they may consider riding backward or on their stomach, but before they do, they must think about the risks associated with the action.
Types of Slides
Playground slides are available in many styles to increase the fun and get kids excited. Here are a few types of slides to consider:
- Open slides: Open slides don’t have any kind of cover and let kids feel the wind and sunshine as they ride. Open slides are available in different shapes and vibrant colors. They may be curvy, spiral-shaped or straight and smooth.
- Tube slides: Tube slides are enclosed and may be curved, spiral or straight. Tube slides provide an extra level of excitement as kids speed to the bottom through a mysterious tunnel.
- Side-by-side slides: Side-by-side slides are extra wide and allow kids to ride next to their friends.
Gliding up and down on a swing is a fun and freeing feeling for kids and adults. Swings have been around for a very long time and have even been found in ancient cave drawings. Swings became popular playground pieces during the early 1900s. Today, swings continue to be playground staples and encourage kids to build muscles and burn calories.
The Benefits of Swinging
Swinging is a great way to unwind and get a workout at the same time, either independently or next to a friend. Here are more benefits of swinging:
- Improves coordination: When kids swing, they have to coordinate a lot of different actions simultaneously. For example, they must pump their legs as they grip the chains, maintain balance, and decide whether or not to keep going higher. Swinging takes practice, and once kids get the hang of it, they have a better understanding of how their bodies move and how speed works.
- Strengthens muscles: Swinging strengthens leg and core muscles. These muscles are important because they make other physical activities easier. Swinging is also a fun way to burn calories and can help kids get in shape.
- Eliminates stress: Swinging is a relaxing, repetitive motion that helps kids relieve stress and feel more calm and happy.
- Encourages social interaction and imaginative play: A swing set can be the ideal setting for playing make-believe or sharing stories with a friend. Kids must also practice taking turns on playground swings and treating each other respectfully until it’s their time to glide.
Types of Swings
Today’s playgrounds offer new ways to enjoy classic swinging motions. They also focus on inclusivity, so all kids can benefit. Here are some swing variations:
- Accelerator Swing®: An Accelerator Swing features a large disc that multiple kids can sit on at once. This swing allows kids to interact and work together as they enjoy gliding through the sky.
- Generation Swing®: A Generation Swing is a type of glider that allows an adult to sit on one end and a child on the other. Parents enjoy riding face-to-face with their little one on this unique piece of playground equipment.
- Viper Swing®: The Viper Swing features a giant rope that supports several kids at once. Riders must work together to rock the swing back and forth, which encourages cooperation, interaction and big smiles.
- Inclusive swing: An inclusive swing features a supportive seat and the option to include a three-point harness. This type of swing allows kids of all abilities to develop balance and coordination skills while they have fun.
Kids need to be able to balance so they can control their body position, whether they’re standing, sitting, walking, riding a bike or playing a sport. Many pieces of playground equipment teach kids to balance to an extent, but some pieces, like balance beams, focus on developing this important life skill.
The Benefits of Balancing
We all need to balance to perform physical tasks, so it’s essential kids start developing this skill from an early age. Here are more reasons to bring balancing equipment to your playground:
- Improves concentration: Walking on a balance beam requires concentration. Kids can improve their concentration using the playground balance beam, which can then help them pay attention in school.
- Builds muscle strength: Balancing requires strong leg and core muscles. Kids can walk on balance beams to develop critical muscles, which will allow them to maintain stability as they perform other tasks.
- Teaches endurance: When kids step onto a balancing beam, they naturally want to make it to the other end without falling. It’s a challenge they’re willing to face and overcome, even if it’s difficult. Once they reach the end of the balance beam, they feel a sense of accomplishment and realize how endurance pays off.
- Promotes social interaction: Kids can enjoy playing games on a balance beam with others at the playground. For example, they might see who can walk backward or hop along the beam on one foot the longest. This helps kids interact and build relationships.
Types of Balancing Equipment
While a piece of balancing equipment is pretty straightforward, it still may feature a creative and exciting design. Here are some fun and stimulating pieces of balancing equipment to add to a playground:
- Balance beam: A balance beam is generally straight, close to the ground and meant to be placed near the main playground structure. This allows kids to use the balance beam without being separate from the other playground pieces. You might also choose a curved balance beam, which is even more enticing and slightly increases the challenge of making it from one end to the next.
- Balance rope or chain: A balance chain stretches between two posts and features vertical chains for gripping, so kids can get across. With balance chains, kids can make-believe they are walking a tightrope while they strengthen their muscles and concentration.
- Lily Pad Stepper®: The Lily Pad Stepper consists of flat pads that stretch from one platform to the next. This brings a touch of nature to the playground and a chance to perform a balancing act.
Contact Miracle® Recreation Today
Kids are wired to climb, swing, slide and spin. When they have access to colorful and inspiring playgrounds, they can get the exercise and stimulation they need. At Miracle Recreation, we are proud to get kids excited to play with innovative designs and adventurous equipment.
If you’re ready to put the thrill back into your playground, speak to your local Miracle Recreation representative today!