Updated: Aug 15, 2021
Outdoor play grounds are essential for child development. Due to the pandemic, many children have not been able to access playgrounds either as much as they used to, or at all. Urban children, who already faced decreased green space and access to play ground equipment have shown an even greater risk to their emotional and physical growth due to lack of outdoor play. Outdoor active free play is shown to be associated with children’s physical and emotional support, and while we must remain safe above all during this pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that contact transmission is not a primary mode of transmission. Medical analysts have stated outdoor playgrounds are actually very safe (and beneficial to children), and that the risks of catching Covid can be minimized with mask wearing and hand sanitizing.
Outdoor play has been shown to be superior to indoor play structures for many reasons:
a reduced risk of myopia, or nearsightedness
greater exposure to bright light, which enhances health and mental performance
increased activity levels, and greater freedom to run, jump, and climb
opportunities for hands-on learning about physical forces and concepts
reduced stress levels, better moods, and improved concentration
more naturally-attuned sleep rhythms
enhanced opportunities to learn social skills, overcome fears, and develop a lifelong connection with nature
It is not just having an outdoor space, but the structures that help promote play and engagement. Playgrounds support physical activity, better health and greater social involvement for children, families and the community. In an urban setting it becomes even more important for city governments and developers to maintain, create, and promote the use of green spaces with supportive play structures as it has been shown to be associated with numerous psychological and social benefits to adults and children and healthy body mass index in children .
Here are 10 benefits of an outdoor play structure for children:
1) Increases physical activity: When children are provided with a safe play space, there is a relative increase in their physical activity. Increased physical activity not only promotes mental but physical health.
2) Increases strength: Pulling, pushing, sliding, climbing and hanging all provide amazing opportunities for overall cardiovascular, bone and muscle health.
3) Develops our vestibular system: Slides, swings and climbing structures allow children to develop our vestibular system which is responsible for balance. The vestibular system also plays a role in visual tracking, important for reading, for example; as well as helps develop and maintain normal muscle tone.
4) Develops our proprioceptive: The proprioceptive system essentially tells us where our body is in space. It plays a big role in self-regulation, coordination, posture, body awareness, the ability to attend and focus, and even speech development.
5) Enhances sensory stimulation: Outdoor play offers special opportunities for children to enjoy a variety of senses not replicated indoors. From touch (squishy mud, crunchy leaves, wet slide, hot metal bars), smell (grass, dirt, sand), sight (near and far distance more often) to sound (loud screams, quiet breeze); outdoor play on a playground provides more opportunities for kids to widen their sensory experiences and gain a more intuitive understanding of their surroundings.
6) Increases self-esteem: With increased physical development comes increased self-esteem. Children feel competent and autonomous when learning skills such as swinging, or crossing monkey bars, for example.
7) Increases mood: When children play on a playground, they are sending oxygen to their muscles while at the same time producing endorphins that have positive effects on their mood and activity level.
8) Increases social skills: While on play structures, children actually learn to develop their social skills and figure out how to introduce themselves to new people. A playground teaches a child how to approach other children, and it also teaches children about the boundaries that other people have. The skills we learn on a playground become the necessary foundation for establishing interpersonal relationships for the rest of our lives.
9) Increases communication development: The playground is a place where children must learn verbal and non-verbal communication in order to be able to participate in play. The playground often consists of children of varying ages, which means that some of the older children will have more advanced communication skills that the younger ones. In order for the younger children to be able to benefit from the activities that take place on the playground, they must learn to communicate at many different levels. While the benefits of this enhanced development are not immediately seen, they can become evident over time when the child grows and has to deal with a wide variety of people in a work environment.
10) Better vision: Scores of studies show links between outdoor time and the development of myopia. Kids who spend more time outside are less likely to become nearsighted. Did you know that nearsightedness has increased three times in 2020 compared to the previous 5 years? Mostly due to lack of outdoor play, our children’s eyes have not been able to reap the benefits of the sunshine, resulting in a physical change in their eyes. Than can cause long term vision deficits. However, we can actually prevent or delay nearsightedness by spending time outdoors playing. In one randomized study, 6-year-olds assigned to get an extra 40 minutes of outdoor time each day were less likely to develop myopia over the following three years. Unfortunately, though, outdoor time was not effective in reversing eyes that are already myopic, so get that outdoor play in for prevention!