Oh the joys of summer: warm weather, daylight lasting for hours, time off from school and work. Look no further than your local playgrounds for summer fun.
You can be two or ninety-two and still enjoy playgrounds. Swinging on the swings is still one of my favorite activities at the playground. Make a list of ten playgrounds in your community that have swings and make a date with a family member, friend, or neighbor to go visit each playground and go for a ride.
Families that have young children may decide to search for a playground that has The Expression Swing. The Expression Swing has a seat for an adult and one for a young child allowing them to sit face-to-face and swing together. The swing was created out of an understanding of attunement – that attunement happens with face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact. In other words, “Their brain rhythms are getting in tune, performing a kind of mind-union that is very pure form of intimacy.” says Dr. Stuart Brown, who influenced that design.
Dr. Brown is the President and Founder of the National Institute for Play. The playground equipment company PlayCore asked Dr. Brown to write a treatise of articles on the Science of Play. In The Science of Play he explained the phenomenon of attunement, its connection to play, and its effect on the brain. Tom Norquist is a board member of the National Institute for Play and a PlayCore play innovator. Upon learning of the power of attunement, Mr. Norquist designed and patented The Expression Swing. Folks if you don’t have The Expression Swing in your community, I suggest you contact playcore.com. You may want to start with the folks that maintain and run the public playgrounds in your community. I am personally on the hunt to find The Expression Swing and try it out with a family member, friend or, who knows, someone new I might meet at the playground.
The good old-fashioned merry-go-round, sometimes called a roundabout, is also one of my favorites. There was a decline in playground merry-go-rounds for a while, as they were deemed too unsafe. Luckily the design has improved as spinning play is so important in a child’s development and kids love it. “The Genius of Play” sums it up this way: Spinning actions “positively enhance the vestibular system. Spinning allows children to experience shifts in their weight, develop depth perception, balance, and the cause and effects of motion. Spinning is the most potent form of sensory input that the brain takes in and processes.” I am so glad there is a merry-go-round in one of our local playgrounds. The next time I stop at that playground you can bet I will be going for a ride.
Slides come in all shapes and sizes these days. Some are curvy and some are straight. There are slides for super young children and larger slides for older children and adults. What kind of slide is your child ready for? By letting them explore their physical capabilities on their own as much as possible, they not only strengthen their bodies, they learn to do their own assessment of what they can handle safely and independently. What about climbing up a slide? Why not? Climbing up not only builds strength and agility and helps them assess the steepness of the slide; it also requires them to develop social and negotiating skills. If I want to climb up and there is someone ready to slide down, mutual awareness and negotiation are required for both children to get what they want safely.
Recently I was at a playground and I saw parents and grandparents with two young children. I enjoyed watching the children slide and next thing I knew Grandma was going down the slide with the children, now that’s my kind of Grandma!
My good friend Jane has three grandchildren and she tells me how much fun she and her grandchildren have when they go to playgrounds. Sometimes they play tag, bring jump ropes along and enjoy jump roping. All three of her grandchildren love to climb. Climbing is so good for your body; it builds strength, develops planning skills, helps with coordination and one feels more confident when one climbs.
Lets not forget about playing checkers and chess at the playground and/or park. There is a big park in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. One day my friend, Dr. Debora Wisneski, was visiting. It was a beautiful spring day and we had just had lunch. We were walking through Dupont Circle when two men challenged us to checkers. Debora said, “You are on.” I thought, OK let's see where this goes. When they got started one of the men said, “Loser buys the winner a six-pack.” Debora said, “Sure.” I thought, oh what the heck, a six-pack doesn’t cost that much. Well guess what? Debora won! So I said, “Loser buys a six-pack.” One of the guys responded, “We were just kidding.” It sure was fun watching Debora play checkers in the park.
Remember that play does not always require materials or equipment. Look for bugs, watch the clouds, feel the grass, roll down a hill, play tag or hide-n-go-seek. Play a game of “I Spy With My Little Eye” while sitting in the sun.
As many of you readers know I am the Executive Director of the nonprofit Let’s Play America. Over the years we have held several play events at playgrounds. When I founded a play committee in Takoma Park, Maryland back in 2009 we held our first Play Day at a playground. If you love to play and wish to encourage more folks to play in your community I suggest you hold a play event at a playground. If you need help visit our website www.letsplayamerica.org. We would be glad to assist you.
Let’s Play America’s mission is to encourage people of all ages to play by helping them create playful events in their own communities.
Was there an activity you loved as a child? Is there an activity you miss and would like to start playing it again? One of the great things about playing at a playground and/or park is that others will want to join you and you may be reminded of play activities you had forgotten about. Dust off that hula-hoop, bring out those double-dutch ropes, go ahead and bring a playground ball and sidewalk chalk to the playground to create a game of foursquare. I bet children and adults will join you. How about marbles, jacks or balls for juggling?
This winter I was taking a table tennis class and I discovered one of the attendees loves to play marbles. This man is a crossing guard in our town. I am going to ask Jonah if he will teach others and me how to play marbles. What game can you teach others? Can you make up a new game?
Summertime is the best time to let your hair down and feel like a kid again. I encourage you to go outside on a nice day and go play at the playground. Everyone deserves to play!