When you drive by a park and you see the playground equipment full of kids clamoring to explore, you know they are having fun. It’s healthy for children to play outdoors, but what few people realize is that children are not only enjoying recreation, but they are actively learning (and having fun doing it). There are a number of tangible and important benefits that a well-designed playground offers children. We will take a brief look at them here.
The Cognitive Benefit of Active Play
In an NPR article titled ‘Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain’(August 6, 2014) researchers discussed the important cognitive development that occurs during physical play for children. In the past, science had believed that the purpose of physical play was a natural mechanism to enhance coordination and hunter-gatherer skills. It is common for all primates and other animal infants and adolescents to play, not just humans.
Now researchers have discovered that the human brain requires play to develop the physical and biological structures in the brain. Active play stimulates the development of the prefrontal cortex in childhood, which is the executive control center for the brain (according to the article), and allows other important functions of the brain to develop including the ability to regulate emotions, create strategies and plans and solve academic or social problems. It also develops the part of the brain that learns to build meaningful relationships with others.
Washington State University researcher Jaak Panksepp has engaged in studies that prove the importance of play to social development, he says “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”
What Happens When Play is Restricted for Children?
The average adult enjoyed at least an hour of outdoor play as part of their educational curriculum, and as much as two hours in some states in the past. However, budgetary cuts to playground supervisors, as well as increasing curriculum demands has meant a shift in the daily schedule for children, resulting in a reduction in ‘free play’ outdoors.
Peter Gray, a Psychologist for the University of Boston, and author of “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” (March 2013), shares his study of the correlation between the decline of ‘free play’ opportunities for children and the sharp rise in emotional distress and mental disorders for children. He defines ‘free play’ as children being permitted to explore, play and engage with other peers in a fun way that is not governed by rules or restrictions for adults. Where children are simply permitted to play and learn independently.
The result of recent research indicates an increase in stress level and a delayed development when children are not provided with adequate opportunities to play. Community parks and playgrounds are essential to the emotional, cognitive and physical development of healthy children. All of the commercial playground equipment American Parks Company has to offer has undergone rigorous product testing to ensure maximum value with regard to child engagement. Our play structures offer physical, mental, and social benefits in a wide array of price points.