The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds – Part 3

The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds – Part 3

by Urszula Semerda with Dr. Lucy Jane Miller

In the first 2 parts of this 3 part series you learned about self- regulation strategies and self-esteem & self-confidence benefits from playing on a playground.  In this article I will discuss social participation benefits.

Social Participation

Children playing on tire

One of the most exciting benefits of children playing on the playground is the possibility of learning new skills. Skills that allow the child to become a ‘good friend’ and develop meaningful relationships with his or her peers.

The Sand and Water Circle Story

One of the most popular activities was playing in the STAR Center sand and water circle, which has a manually activated water feature. Children instantly gravitate to it.  Initially the play was not always successful due to children’s decreased awareness of their peers. They were self-aware and knew exactly what they wanted to do. This however, led to sand being thrown in all directions, water being unexpectedly splashed onto children and tears when there was not enough turn taking.

We knew that getting all the children to play together was a huge opportunity to increase their abilities to relate and engage… but how could we do that?

We decided to target each individual situation, one at a time. First came the water feature, then the sand play, and then turn taking. After some discussion with the children and some prompting from the camp leader we came up with a plan for Friday, the last day of camp.

Friday finally arrived. Now most children were playing in the sand area.

Water! Ready for water?” asked Ben as he carefully looked around at his friends while raising his thumb up acknowledging that he was ready to push the button to activate the water. One by one all the other children raised their thumbs and Adrian slowly moved away so the water could not reach him.

Waatttterrrrr START NOW!!!” Ben pressed the button with excitement.

As the water flowed down the rock into the sand Jack and Jamie jumped up and down with excitement.  Their aluminum boats were sliding down the rock pushed by the flow of water from the water feature.

We need more sand!” shouted Adrian as he started to pick up more sand.

Liam and Emma joined him and the three of them started building more dams around the water feature as Jack and Jamie collected all the boats to get them ready for another ride.

As the positive interactions increased camp leaders were able to scale back the support and step in only at the times of need. Working in this wonderful natural setting provided numerous opportunities for children to grasp learned strategies and develop meaningful friendships. Another success at the Sensational Camp. We all couldn’t be happier!

Playing in a sandpit


Jacob’s Story

Positive friendships are very powerful and can affect or change children’s regulation.

This was very clear with a boy named Jacob who also participated in the summer camp. He was a sweet young boy who was very eager to participate in the camp. He did however struggle with regulating his body and was unable to stay on any task for longer then a minute.  The therapists tried numerous regulating strategies to help him slow down and participate in an activity for longer. Unfortunately Jacob continued to struggle.

During the free play on the third day of our Moovin’ and Groovin’ camp, Liam, another group participant was surrounded with few friends including Jacob who was quickly running from one play structure to the next.

Guys, guys!! Come on!” said Liam as he picked up a soft noodle and a foam ball “Let’s play!

He walked over to the open area between the structures.

What a perfect opportunity to see if Liam and Jacob could engage and play with one another. I walked over to Jacob and gave him some slow but deep pressure on his shoulders. This allowed him to slow down and look at me.

Jacob … Liam wants to play with you.”

Jacob looked up at Liam who was all set up to play baseball.  I guided Jacob towards Liam.

Liam wants to play some baseball. Would you like to play with him?” … “Sure” said Jacob.

Jacob was a ‘yes’ boy, always willing to do everything . . . but would he stay engaged? We were all eager to see what happened.

Liam… Jacob will play with you” I said.

Great!”  Liam walked over and started directing Jacob about what he could do and where he should stay. Jacob followed all of Liam’s instructions to the tee.

They played and played… I was overjoyed. I kept taking pictures to make sure I captured these wonderful moments for their parents. I looked down at my watch… 15 minutes had passed and they kept playing together, even when another friend came to join them.

As the days passed it was clear that their friendship grew and Jacob was able to stay regulated for most of the activities while playing with Liam.

He is my best friend!” Jacob kept telling everyone.

After the camp the boys were very clear with their parents about their friendship. The two mothers decided to support this wonderful friendship with play dates after camp was over.

Playgrounds have amazing benefits! It is rewarding to watch children be happy, having a good time, learning new skills, experiencing meaningful interactions with peers, and improving their ability to handle feelings and negotiate conflicts.

What could be more fun . . . than having fun?

❮ Part 2
The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds – Part 2

The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds – Part 2

by Urszula Semerda with  Dr. Lucy Jane Miller

In part 1 of this 3 part series I discussed different self- regulation strategies that can be used on playgrounds.  In this article I will discuss self-esteem and self-confidence benefits.

Self-Esteem & Confidence

Jumping from a dome

Playgrounds consist of a myriad of levels of challenges for children. Playing on the playground provides an opportunity for children to build up their confidence and increase their self-esteem. By participating and completing many of the activities, children start feeling good about themself as they experience success. The magic ingredient that motivates children is . . . other children! Without realizing it, children who are navigating through activities that represent their strengths act as role models for their peers who might see the same activities as challenging.

During our groups we saw many children overcoming their challenges and participating in activities that otherwise they may not normally do.

Amy’s Story

Amy was a young girl who was diagnosed with tactile defensiveness. Her family thought it would be a great idea for her to participate in our Ooey Gooey camp, which focused on exploring a variety of textures in a fun way.

During the first day, Amy was very cautious of any tactile experience. She preferred to stay far away, usually so the textures were out of her sight. With some encouragement, on the second day she was able to move closer to the textures. On the third day however, something magic happened… As she was exploring the land of Ancient Egypt she was laughing and having fun with her friends. Then… we reached the desert.

She stopped just outside of the sandbox and watched her friends jump in and play with the sand. We all watched to see if Amy would go in…but she wasn’t moving.  As the group was playing she came closer to investigate what they were playing.  Adam and Zoe were building a trench.

I think you should add more sand on that side” Amy said to her friends while pointing.

Her friends didn’t respond.

I think you are too far and they can’t hear you” I said, waiting in anticipation to see her reaction.

After few moments she started to slowly move forwards onto the sand. When she reached her friends she repeated her suggestion.

I think you should add more sand on this side”.

Adam turned around and asked “Which side?

This side,” said Amy pointing to the left side of the trench. “It can hold more water if you build it up.”

Adam started adding more sand. I could tell from the look on Amy’s face it wasn’t what she had in her mind. Then slowly Amy squatted down and moved her right hand toward the sand. Then, with just her fingertips she picked up a small amount of sand “Like this” she said as she transferred the small amount of sand towards the trench.

What a wonderful sight! Her need to participate and play with her friends was so strong that it gave her the confidence to try something new.

As I visit the local playgrounds I frequently see many examples of just that. Children that play on equipment that represent their strength quickly become role models for others. As they play they motivate their friends to push themselves.

To learn more read the final Part 3 of Developmental Playground Benefits discussing social participation.

❮ Part 1 Part 3