Different play structures on the playground engage children in different ways, whether it engages their imagination or their intellect. Well-arranged play environments should enhance children’s development by integrating learning and play in a way that’s fun but also boosts development. Here is a rundown of a few types of play and play structures and how they contribute to different experiences for children.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) categorizes play into five different types: creative play, games with rules, language, physical play and pretend play. For the most part, physical play structures, like playground equipment, contribute to children’s physical development by providing places to jump, climb, run and move around in general. Strength in gross motor development, as a result, improves in children who regularly partake in physical play.
Outdoor play structures can also include activities that allow children to engage the other types of play, such as games with rules, pretend play and creative play. Creative play is characterized by activities that let children express their feelings, ideas and thoughts by using their imaginations. Playing pretend on various play structures often features make-believe, role-playing, drama and fantasy games.
Elevated Play Components
Elevated play components are equipment that can be approached or exited from above or below grade. For example, a climber that a child could ascend or descend is considered an elevated play component. These play structures, as you may guess, build balance and strength: two abilities that children use during play on these particular types of playground equipment. Other elevated play components, such as slides, use gravity to produce a sense of rapid descent.
Many elevated play items can be roped into fantasy and creative play as well. If an entire play structure is imagined to be a castle, pirate ship, spaceship or something similar, children are bringing in elements of drama, make-believe, role-playing and ultimately pretend play. This sort of play develops imaginations and steers young minds to think in creative, abstract ways.
Ground-level Play Components
Ground-level components are, as the name suggests, items that can be approached and exited at ground level. Swings, spring riders and panels are all different types of ground-level play components, all contributing to different learning experiences. Rocking back and forth on spring riders and swings develops balance and strength; same goes for the items children climb and crawl around on.
What’s more, many panels that are part of play structures feature games, like tic-tac-toe, many with a rigid set of rules. Sports-themed equipment, such as tetherball sets, fall in to this category. Games with rules help children develop language skills as they explain, question and negotiate the rules. Even pretending comes in to play in this setting, as children may imagine what can and can’t be done as part of the rules.
Panels that have music or word components also develop language skills. Some panels may have musical instruments like chimes or drums, with which children can explore patterns, sounds and nonsense words.
Both elevated play components and ground-level play components can accommodate varying numbers of individuals, so it is inevitable that, at some point, collaborative play and socializing take place. Anytime children play alongside each other and communication takes place, they develop skills such as language and cooperation, among others.
Different types of play structures can affect many aspects of the playing experience and can shape the way children learn. From the most obvious area, physical growth, to creativity, make-believe and language skills, play structures foster the atmosphere and situations to make play both fun and vital to childhood development.
About the author:
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc., a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers.