Unstructured, outdoor play is a form of exercise that doesn’t take much effort for kids. Play is second-nature and often children’s favorite activity. Playing outside allows children to explore their environment, learn about nature, foster fine and gross motor skills, and develop strength and coordination. Not only does it promote their well-being, but it also aides in children’s overall physical and social development.
However, as the world becomes increasingly more “connected” digitally and screens sit perfectly in even the smallest of hands, getting children outside and engaged in physical, outdoor free play has become an uphill battle for many parents, teachers and caregivers.
Although today’s children still love to play, they spend more time indoors, passing the time with the help of technology, and less time outdoors playing and interacting with their peers. Playing games together online does not unite children in the same, meaningful ways. Social media and role-playing games often encourage kids to create false personas, and they eliminate the critical thinking and problem-solving opportunities that happen naturally in the real world. Outdoor, interactive play, however, can help children develop social, cognitive, motor and behavioral skills that will last them a lifetime. And playground equipment plays an important role in evoking those valuable learning experiences.
The Power of Playground Equipment
While playing on a playground, a child can experience everything from social and kinetic play to imaginative play. Thoughtfully-designed play equipment allows kids to socialize with others, engage in active, physical play and tap into their imaginations. Playgrounds, which are often thought of as a foundation of play, serve as a starting point for a variety of beneficial activities.
Play spaces encourage socialization, physical activity and risk management exploration, alongside many others. They provide children with the opportunity to work together, interact with one another and explore boundaries. Kids might communicate how to take turns when going down the slide, helping to develop their problem-solving skills. They might also pretend the playground is a rocket ship, house or car, sparking their imaginative minds. Playgrounds and the type of playground equipment used can provide children with endless opportunities for exploration and development.
Social play is one of the most important forms of play learned on the playground, as it allows children to practice communication skills of sharing, collaborating and interacting with others. Social play is an activity in which everyone is playing together, but not necessarily relying on one another. During social play, children are often learning from their peers as they play. Kids also learn how to communicate with others in effective and meaningful ways.
A web climber is a wonderful example of a piece of playground equipment that encourages social play. Since many different children are climbing at once, children have the opportunity to interact with one another and look to each other for guidance. Younger children can watch older children to learn how to get higher on the web. Additionally, the dynamic nature of the rope — the way it moves in reaction to kids playing—creates an awareness for others, fostering collaboration and camaraderie.
Playing on your own terms is powerful, as is allowing yourself to be influenced by wonder. We know outdoor play has tremendous positive impact on child development. We also know that children have more self-esteem and more ability to solve problems when they control the direction, the duration and the number of players involved in their play. It’s important for outdoor playspaces to leave some room for children’s imagination and wonder. Playgrounds should serve as a blank canvas for children to paint with their playful imaginations.
Unlike traditional slide and swing playgrounds, innovative play equipment can allow children to engage in imaginative, free play. With less rigid paths and structured activities, kids are free to explore and create their own play experiences. They are curious and eager to explore these new and unusual structures, presenting children with a perfect platform for self-directed, social play.
How Playground Equipment Can Change the Way We Play
To entice children away from the myriad of technological activities available today, outdoor playspaces need to be new and exciting. Playground equipment must continually evolve to stay relevant and fresh for today’s children. Modern, innovative equipment can capture kids’ attention and bring them back to the playground.
Play is a uniting factor and creating spaces where individuals can gather, play, discover and enjoy being together on their own terms is something all children deserve. Playground equipment designers must continue rethinking play design to make it challenging and encourage kids to get outdoors and play.
Over the past two decades, many children, and especially older children, have become disinterested in playgrounds. While in part this is due to a technological revolution, it’s also a result of outdated, unchallenging, linear playground equipment. But if we take the time to rethink playspaces and choose new equipment that meets the needs and interests of this generation, we can get kids outdoors again to reconnect with unstructured play and each other.
Playworld’s newest product aims to do just that. Unity® Connect is a modular play system that invites older kids to put down technology, get out of the house and engage in face-to-face interactions and physical activity. This towering 14-foot high structure captures young minds with its sheer size and features modern new materials like rope, steel and flex treads that prompt kids to invent new ways to play.
Created for ages 5 to 12, Connect focuses on bringing children together by providing areas for them to meet, move and define their own paths of play. Various play components of this system feature networks of rope, providing children with dynamic movement, unpredictable challenge and open-ended play opportunities. Hoops and baskets give kids a place to just hang out and be together—away from the grownups. With both traditional and brand new play events, Connect offers kids a wealth of physical, sensory and social benefits.
Connect is a hub of the larger Unity® Collection, which includes classic freestanding products that have been reimagined to promote even more interaction and cooperation. Swings for more than one person, slides you can climb and spinners for kids of all abilities are just some of the new and innovative equipment invented to coax kids back to the playground.