Amazing Ways Playgrounds Help Children’s Social Development
Playsets are a great way to entertain your tots for hours on end, but are your kids really accomplishing anything while they play? You’d be surprised how much social development happens at the playground. At Nature of Early Play, we know that preschool age is a critical time for kids to learn to understand their place in the world and how to interact with those around them. What better way to do this than through play? While our equipment is stimulating enough that your children could play solo, there are many opportunities for children to engage in group play as well. These peer interactions are key to developing the skills that make for socially competent adolescents and adults down the road.
We can easily observe how rapidly children grow on the outside, but even more growth is taking place in the unseen world of their little minds. While it is important that our children learn their ABCs and 123s, it is equally as critical that they develop their social and emotional skills. Experts say that a child’s social and emotional competence consists of 5 key areas:
- Self-awareness — your children’s recognition of their own emotions and behavior
- Social-awareness — your children’s understanding of other people’s emotions and the ability to empathize
- Relationship skills — the ability of your children to develop healthy relationships
- Self-control — your children’s ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors
- Decision making — the ability for your children to make rational and considerate decisions involving themselves and others
These components are all practiced when children play with one another on the playground and beyond. The group play that you observe on the playground can be divided into 4 major categories:
- Role Play
Fantasy and role play take place when your kids play “make-believe” or pretend. Most pretend play involves children interacting with one another to create imaginary scenarios. This requires children to cooperate with one another and communicate their ideas. When children engage in pretend play, they also learn to listen to others and empathize with their different roles. Most of this type of play occurs when children are of preschool age and declines as the children grow older. Nature of Early Play equipment is especially well-suited to spark the imagination of your little ones. Our Play Stages, for instance, offer an infinite realm of possibilities as children dream up characters, settings and situations to act out in front of an audience. On our Transportation equipment, like the Canoe, Tractor, or Galaxy Express, children can go anywhere their minds will take them in the world of make-believe.
Exercise and Rough-and-Tumble are physical types of play. Exercise occurs naturally as children play on the playground when they run, climb, jump and swing. Nature of Early Play offers many playsets that engage the mental as well as the physical and allow children to get healthy exercise while they play. For instance, children might challenge each other to climb the rock wall in Grasshopper or ride their trikes across the Arch Bridge. Rough-and-Tumble play occurs when children engage in physical play with one another. Some examples would be chasing or play-fighting. This is why all of Nature of Early Play’s products come with safety surfacing to prevent injury while your kids roughhouse. The physical play that takes place on the playground also teaches children to learn empathy and self-control. Children learn that other people have feelings and they need to control themselves in order to avoid hurting their friends, physically and emotionally.
Structured vs Unstructured
Play can also be divided into structured and unstructured play. Structured play is exactly as it sounds—it involves rules and guidelines that the participants must recognize. Structured play is a great way for children to learn to obey rules, which circles back to self-control. While playing a game on one of Nature of Early Play’s Stepping Stools, for example, your children may be asked to follow the rule of only stepping in certain places. Some types of structured play involve a winner and loser, and it is these situations where children learn to win and lose with grace (and anyone who works with children knows this is quite the learning curve)!
Most play on the playground, however, is unstructured. This means that children play naturally with one another in a kind of “go-with-the-flow” manner. The playsets we offer at Nature of Early Play each offer a variety of entertaining components where your children will transition naturally from one to the next. Not only will your children be able to experience multiple types of sensory stimulation, but they will have the opportunity to transition between peer groups as well. The more playmates a child interacts with, the wider their worldview becomes. It is important that children learn to socialize with a diverse population of peers in the early years so they can carry these skills into elementary school and beyond.
Age and Ability Differences
You know that each of your youngsters are unique individuals, and so do we. Your children’s social play changes as they grow older. The way infants engage with their peers is much different than the way older preschoolers play together. At Nature of Early Play, we recognize the significance of these differences. This is why we offer equipment that is specifically targeted to infant play (see Butterfly Hill or Fantasia, for example) or preschool play (such as Bongo House). We know that children have differing abilities, and our designs are mindful of this as well. Zion (preschool) and Tractor (infant) are two of our popular ADA accessible playsets that are great places for inclusive group play.
They say that the world is the best classroom, and that rings especially true when we talk about your children and social skills. You cannot place a child at a desk and tell them how to be a good friend and playmate. They must learn by doing! Nature of Early Play playsets are the optimal environment for your tots to socialize in a fun and safe way. You work hard to educate your children, but when it comes to social skills, sit back and let the playground do the work!
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