Benefits of Play
There is an extensive amount of evidence that children with physical limitations and developmental delays are largely excluded from participation in outdoor activity areas, including playgrounds.
In the United States, play has transitioned from outdoor activities to indoor settings in front of televisions and computers. Screen time likely contributes to the overweight/obesity epidemic because it displaces other activities requiring greater energy expenditure. Screen time has also been associated with snacking, as well as with increased exposure to advertisements that promote foods with limited nutritional value.
Often, schools sacrifice outdoor play to commit more time to other educational activities. Administrators might not be aware that play can have positive impacts not only on child development, but also on academic development and performance.
Importance and Benefits of Play
Children learn while playing. Good, quality play opportunities have a significant impact on child development. When children play, they engage in relationships, use of their senses, and feelings. They learn and engage in healthy behaviors. Inclusive playgrounds represent an opportunity for enjoyable, safe, and supportive learning environment in the outdoors.
Play is beneficial to overall child development. The benefits of play include cardiovascular, gross motor, cognitive, emotional, and social development. For example, physical activity promotes increased blood flow to the brain, leading to cognitive development. Another benefit of play relates to perceptual-motor development, which is an outcome of the interaction between sensory perception and motor actions. Visual, auditory, and tactile sensory abilities are combined with emerging motor skills to develop perceptual-motor abilities.
In addition to this, outdoor play allows children to engage in risk-taking behaviors that would be impossible indoors, challenging themselves in ways that lead to improved self-esteem and self-confidence. Finally, additional health-related benefits, such as aerobic and muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, and improvement in the function of vital organs have also been associated with play.
Free play is a social event because children often prefer to play in groups. Even when they play alone, they take on the roles of the people they see around them (e.g., parents, siblings, caregivers). Normally, infants’ first play partners are parents who teach them simple games like “peek-a-boo!” Next in line are siblings who engage in active play roles. Without social play, children run the risk of not learning these important skills during childhood. Excluding children from free play may lead to difficulties in relating to others throughout adulthood.
Children also gain numerous physical benefits from outdoor free play (see Table 1). Physical education (PE) classes should not substitute free play, as research has shown that PE classes do not deliver the same benefits as recess and other free play activities. This may be explained by the rigid design of PE classes, which may be too structured and include adult-imposed rules.
|walk, run, skip, gallop, jump, hop, climb, hang||strengthen large muscle groups and learn about locomtion|
|throw, catch, roll, kick balls, swing from rung to rung on overhead ladders and bars, climb up or down ladders and stairs, stand up at the bottom of a slide, walk along landscape timbers or balance beams||hand-to-eye and foot-to-eye coordination|
|walk on sand, pea gravel, or mulch; slide down straight and twisting slides, swing on seats or barrels||refine various balancing skills and increase control overmuscles by resisting gravity|
|dig in and build with sand, play with toy trucks, animals, and action figures and dolls, and other outdoor toy objects; pour water between containers, gently handle non-harmful smaller insects and animals||cultivate fine motor skills|