"Play is a child's first claim on the community. Play is nature's training for life. No community can infringe that right without doing deep and enduring harm to the minds and bodies of its citizens." - David Lloyd George
Children giggling, running, jumping, sliding and swinging - these are some of the things we think about when we talk about a playground. It's a happy and carefree environment, where a child plays and mingles with his friends.
But, a playground can also be a learning ground for the child. Apart from the development of gross motor skills, research has also shown how visiting a playground can help in the development of a child's brain and enhance his life skills or socio-emotional capabilities. All kinds of learning - be it social, emotional or cognitive - is accelerated, facilitated and fuelled by the pleasure of play. The way the child relates to other children in the playground also reflects how the child relates with people in general.
In his book, 'The Power of Play', renowned psychologist David Elkind, states, "...over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoors activities... (even) television programmes rarely depict children as simply playing and having a good time." This cultural change has cost our children their health. More children are obese, lethargic, have low immunity or underdeveloped social skills. It is, therefore, our responsibility, as parents, to bring spontaneous, self-initiated play back into our children's lives.
The benefits of playground for your child
Motor skills - Spontaneous play in the playground encourages your child to explore her physical limits, and subsequently challenge and improve them through regular practice.
Social skills - Your child learns to approach other children through a process of trial and error. He learns the rules of social conduct such as respecting other people's boundaries, establishing meaningful friendships and responding positively to peers.
Communication skills - Most play is governed by a number of verbal and non-verbal communication cues that help children participate in play. Children learn from each other, the younger ones emulating the older children, to communicate at many different levels.
Cognitive skills - The overall cognitive or brain development is greatly enhanced through free play in the playground. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 years learn about their environment through different senses like touch, smell, sight, sound and even taste. Playgrounds provide maximum opportunities to the child to heighten his senses.
How your child learns life skills in the playground
In the words of child psychologist Marc H. Bornstein, " 'Play' does not mean simply running around. It is an activity that demands the acquisition of a complex set of skills... making agreements with others as equals, stepping into an imagined structure, and accepting that structure even when things don't go your way. These are key life skills."
It is our primary job, as parents, to help facilitate our children's learning of these important life skills. To be of help to our children in the playground, we first need to ask ourselves the following two questions -
What life skills will my child benefit from?
How will I help my child develop these skills so that she feels equipped to handle difficult situations?
Some of the life skills children can learn in a playground are how to play in a group, how to include others in group play, how to win or lose with grace and how to cope with mistakes. Life skills such as the ability to stand up for oneself, resolving conflicts, and having confidence in oneself are also learnt in the playground.
How to help your child learn in the playground
Keep your child safe - Your child will not feel free to explore or be able to indulge in spontaneous play if she feels physically unsafe. You need to be constantly vigilant while allowing your child to play freely. Keep a watch on where she is going and what she is planning to do. Don't put her on a platform from which she cannot descend without assistance. Also, allow her to take calculated risks. The best way to do this is to encourage her to go as far as she can. Children can often surprise you by their eagerness to take up and conquer seemingly difficult challenges.
Enjoy playing with your child - One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to give your child your undivided attention in the playground. Often children want to show off their achievements at the monkey bars or the high slide, to their parents. Pay attention to him and join him in play if he so desires.
Help your child solve problems on his own - Instead of jumping to your child's defence every time he complains that a child is being mean to him or not including him in play, listen to him and encourage him to stand up for himself. The message we want to give our children is that we trust them, and that they are capable of handling their problems on their own.
Teach your child the difference between healthy and unhealthy friendships - A playground can often be a minefield of behavioural issues. Children learn through emulating adults and friends, and unfortunately, not all behaviour they encounter will be positive. Your child may encounter bullies in the playground. Your job, as a parent, is to look for signs of disinterest in play or sudden unexplained bursts of anger, that might indicate a problem she is facing in the playground. To keep the channels of communication open, parents need to tell their child stories of their own experiences as children in the playground. This often gives her a reference point to acknowledge and speak about her own social or emotional difficulties and figure out a solution for herself.
Be a good role model - It is important for us to be careful about how we interact with other people as our children will copy the same behaviour. If we don't want our children to shout at or dominate another individual, we need to be good role models for them.
Once your children master these skills, they will be able to easily navigate their way through in the playground near home as well as the playground of life.
Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.
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