When you take your children to the park this summer, in a matter of seconds it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be running to get on that swing or slide spotted in the near distance.
Of course while venturing through an outdoor playground is a blast for your child, you’ll notice as well that this activity provides more than just countless hours of entertainment; children are using their bodies in an extremely healthy manner. This type of play actually rejuvenates their physical and mental health, transforming their moods and activity levels. Running around, climbing up obstacles, climbing through tunnels, and going down slides all have one thing in common; each of these activities exercises core muscles. When muscles are active, deep breathing brings oxygen to these muscles, which ultimately contributes to the production of endorphins, thus enhancing overall moods.
What Physical Development Occurs?
Though we can only see our children “playing”, there is much more going on in their overall physical growth.
A great advantage that comes with active play on climbers and other outdoor playground equipment such as slides is it occurs naturally. Open or “free” play, allows your children the ability to be active in an organic state; there’s no standing around and waiting for turns involved. Children experiment and use their muscles to experience play that is independent and free flowing. Essentially if safe, playground equipment offers children the chance to try self-directed play.
Climbing provides children the ability to grow several skills, and to exercise many areas of the body. For instance, when a child reaches above their shoulder to use the monkey bars, the arms are elevated; this automatically increases the cardiovascular flow.
- Stretching leads to an increase in flexibility and the ability to maintain it
- Pulling up with hands and arms while climbing a ladder or a climbing wall requires pulling up with both hands and arms. This movement contributes to upper body strength and builds muscles in the upper body, as well as contributes to improved grip and arm strength.
- Legs grow stronger when children climb steps and ladders on a regular basis. Coordination and balance is also learned through various climbing activities.
Swinging allows children to develop coordinated movements. They practice those movements as they propel themselves on the swings. We have all watched as young children struggle with the difficult task of coordinating all the different motions needed to make a swing move. No amount of verbal explanation “teaches” children how to swing. It is the repetitive process of “feeling what works” that gets children swinging. If you want to try to help a child learn to swing, you can stand in front of the swing after a child is in motion and encourage them to touch your hand with their feet. As they stretch out to touch your hand, they begin to experience the sensation of the “pump” part of the swing motion.
Sliding contributes to vestibular stimulation, which simply means that it stimulates the ear canal and the fluids in it. This stimulation helps develop a sense of balance. Through sliding, children learn to keep their torsos balanced as gravity pulls them down the slide. Time is a critical element in supporting play that is designed to help children develop physically. At the very least, children need 30 minutes of active play twice a day. As a parent or caregiver dedicated to the well-being of children, you can take them outdoors, step back as they explore the equipment, and observe their physical growth and development!