There is so much evidence of the value of play equipment for children that it’s hard to know where to start!
But let’s get one point clarified right up front… As a manufacturer of play equipment, we are very aware of the movement out there that says…
Play equipment is not sufficient for the needs of our children
And we totally agree! It’s only a part of the solution. Then we hear some saying…
Children need natural play environments where they can interact with the elements and make up their own play
…and we totally agree with that too! But that doesn’t mean they won’t use what some may call traditional play equipment for healthy and engaging activities.
So if we accept that children need more for their play needs than play equipment can give them and we also agree that natural play environments are great (we create them too), we can look more into the specific benefits of traditional play equipment as a great help toward the needs of growing children.
We’ve been working with schools, helping them to build new play areas since 1989. When we started we had the idea that the children needed fun at school and a chance to unwind between classes. Good quality play equipment seemed to be a great way to provide that… You could say, at that time, that was our Mission Statement!
Then we were talking to the principal of a school where we had installed new play equipment and he said…
Since we installed the new play equipment our absenteeism has gone down dramatically and it’s not just because school is now a more fun place to come… The children are not getting sick like they used to, the number of reported cases of children with common colds has gone down, they’re generally fitter, have more energy and teachers are saying the kids are better in the classroom. I can only put it down to the new equipment and the enthusiasm of the kids at recess and lunch time to use it!
And to this day we get repeated claims from teachers that they actually witness children getting physically stronger over a relatively short period of time as they tackle greater challenges on the new play equipment, and they finally master the skill or strength test they have given themselves.
As an example, a scaling wall is a simple activity included in many of the playgrounds we build for schools. A length of covered chain suspended down the side of a sloping wall. The challenge is to grab the rope and scramble or “walk” up the wall to the top. You’d think every school aged child could do that? No way! Many children simply have not developed the physique to pull their own weight up the scramble wall.
This is a classic activity where teachers report they witness the increasing strength of the children over several weeks as they gradually overcome the challenge, and get to the top, with their increased strength!
Of course, that’s only one aspect of strength building activity that becomes evident. We had another School Principal tell us recently of the way children at her school went from being weaklings to monkeys in 4 weeks! This was mainly a result of stamina building overhead activities.
Along with strength building benefits, we see children learning gross motor skills (hand-eye, foot-eye co-ordination), social and behavioural skills as they co-operate and interact in an outside classroom setting, leadership skills and problem-solving skills, to name a few.
In fact, when included as part of a fitness routine schools can include the use of well designed play equipment into the new Fundamental Movement Skills curriculum. Educators have seen the critical need for children to master certain fundamental movement skills if they are to enjoy the wide range of physical activities, sports and recreational pursuits offered in our communities.
So, whilst children will always need more than traditional play equipment to cater to their need of play, we can definitely vouch for the real and tangible benefits thousands of children get every week and every day around the world from using it.
In our increasingly play-starved world, it is a good thing for our children.
Accessible community play equipment forms a vital part of the mix of providing for an active childhood for many of the junior members of our communities.