What if I told you that you could teach your children just as much on the playground as you could with flashcards, books, or learning pads? Surely you’d call me crazy. I promise I’m not! The value of play is undeniable; it teaches our children crucial life lessons. They learn to play with others, to use their imaginations, and to keep trying when learning a new task seems impossible.
Lucky for me, my little one’s favorite activities are playing and reading. If she insists she’s bored, it’s never difficult to find something new to entertain her: dress-up, dinosaur play, or science experiments! She’s eager to play at all times–whether alone or with others. I love it because I know that play is vital for her development!
Speaking of development, I am so excited to share that Landscape Structures, a global playground manufacturer, has partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Childhood Development to research how play helps children develop. They set out to show that playgrounds are not just for play–they’re also for learning! Furthermore, playgrounds aren’t just for kids – they help people of all ages and abilities develop five crucial skills.
Join us as we explore how play helps our children grow!
Life Lessons on the Playground
Children learn how to lead when they play. This comes in many forms: a simple game of follow the leader, playing teacher to her students or taking turns choosing which game to play next. Our children are able to learn about new roles when they play, especially when it involves their friends.
I’d like to say that my stepdaughter K is a natural leader, but it’s probably a result of the hours she’s spent playing. When we visited our local Landscape Structures playground this weekend, (Seriously, SUCH a cool playground!) K led Daddy and I all around the place. She told us what we were going to do and which roles we’d each play in the game.
She chose which part of the playground she was going to play on, and in which order. Our little one made her own decisions and wasn’t reliant on her parents’ direction.
2. Collaboration and Teamwork
My little one is definitely an extrovert (more on that here!); she loves being around others. She has learned how to collaborate with others from all of her time playing with friends. They solve problems together, form teams and alliances, and they teach each other.
Each day when K gets picked up from school, one of the first questions I ask her after “What did you learn today?” is always “What did you play at recess today?”. If you’ve never asked your little ones this question, you should! My goodness, the imaginations they have! From dragon training to twin sisters and Pokémon, there’s no limit to what they can come up with. Each day brings a new adventure, but the commonality that remains is she’s never alone. She is always playing with others and strengthening her friendships.
There was a period of time when it was really difficult for K to play with children older than her. When she plays with her younger friends, she gets to lead and make most of the choices and decisions, but when it comes time to playing with her older cousins and friends, she is the one following directions. I’m so thankful for this time because it’s really taught her the art of collaboration, compromise, and teamwork.
Life is so much sweeter when we play together.
3. Perseverance and Persistence
One of my very favorite things about playing is that it teaches K perseverance and persistence. In our house, we don’t allow the word “can’t.” Never say that you cannot do something; it’s simply something you haven’t learned how to do yet.
When I first met K, she really struggled with the monkey bars. She was terrified of falling and would tell us she couldn’t do it. With a bit of practice, and a lot of support, she ultimately mastered those tricky monkey bars. It taught her that not all skills come to us easily and that it’s important to work for what we want.
Can’t you just see the determination in her face here?!
4. Problem Solving
Children also learn how to problem solve when they play! Don’t you love when they move past the “Mommy, fix it!” stage to the “I think I know what to do!” stage? When children begin to learn how to strategize and problem solve on their own, they become more independent and critical thinkers. It’s a beautiful progression.
Sometimes the problem solving is more apparent than others. When she wants to play dragons but doesn’t have a dragon costume, she uses problem solving skills and decides to use her imagination to create invisible dragon wings instead. When children want to get from one side of the playground to the other, they have to problem solve and identify the tubes or ropes that connect one side to another.
It’s clear that these skills have started to translate into her everyday life. A few mornings ago she told me, “I went ahead and turned on the fish tank light. I’m going to brush my teeth while they wake up and then I can feed them when I’m done!”. She had analyzed that she spent time just staring at the fish tank while the fish grew accustomed to the light in the mornings, so she found a way to optimize her morning routine.
5. Relationship Building
This perk of play is obvious but its importance is often understated. When children play, they build stronger relationships with their playmates. I mentioned K’s recess adventures, and it’s obvious to me which of her friendships are strongest based on which friends she plays with at recess.
When the three of us went to play this weekend, it was incomparable bonding time. We laughed, smiled, and played together. We took turns being the leader, made silly faces, used our imaginations, and most importantly, created memories.
No matter how good play is for her, I know it’s just as good for me. I haven’t been able to wipe the smile off my face since we returned home. Our hearts are happy, our minds have grown, and our bond is strengthened.
Why Landscape Structures?
Honestly, I’ve never paid attention to which playground manufacturer created the local playground we frequented, but I’m so glad Landscape Structures contacted Kandy Apple Mama about their work on life lessons at the playground. (Check their website out shapedbyplay.com.)
I was so overwhelmed with the playground structure and the intentional education included in the design. The design was so creative; it connected slides with ramps via a rock structure. One entire playground structure was designed to mirror the city (complete with bank, jail, and general store). There was even an entire musical section to create beautiful play melodies.
As if being inspired by the playground wasn’t enough, I was completely awe-struck when I learned the company’s holistic commitment to educational play. To learn more, check out this heartwarming video, which celebrates the promise of our future as kids learn vital life lessons on the playground.
For a better tomorrow, we play today.
When you are with your kids on a playground, think about the important role these play structures have in childhood development and the life lessons you’re teaching about leadership, collaboration, perseverance, problem solving, and relationship building.
We have a responsibility to educate our children. What better way than through play?
Make a mark. Play with your child today.
Share some of your favorite games or activities to play with your children in the comments below!
And if you need further inspiration, check out our list of Mommy Daughter Dates here!