The best things in life are free, or so the saying goes. In this case, if you live in a community with accessible playgrounds, the saying rings true.
A day at the playground is more than just a way for children to spend some energy. It's even more than a time for you to catch up with a girlfriend while the kids play. A day at the playground gives children an opportunity to build peer relationships, develop gross motor skills, engage in creative thinking, and appreciate the outdoors all at once. The main difference between a community playground and a jungle gym is the backyard is the word "community". A community playground is a great way for your child to learn social skills in a safe and fun setting.
The social aspect of the playground: Kids attract other kids. It doesn't matter if they know each other or not. Teach your child to introduce himself, and let him practice it on the playground. A simple, "My name is Joey. What's yours? Do you want to play with me?" is adequate. Practicing this within sight of a parent will make applying it on the school bus, in the classroom and at sports practice much easier. Once your child has found a playmate, the two of them work out what they are doing. Children learn cooperation and compromise, as well as how to politely hold their ground. There is an art to being agreeable but not being a pushover. You must encourage sharing on the playground, afterall, only one person can fit on the swing at time. But that doesn't mean your child must hop off the minute someone else wants a turn. Pointing out that someone is waiting, and announcing that they have 5 more pushes left (or whatever arbitrary term you choose, depending on the activity) is a great way to show your child how to do this gracefully.
The physical aspect of the playground: Building gross motor skills is something that every trip to the playground yields. Simply climbing on the play structure builds muscles and coordination. Monkey bars build hand-eye coordination as well as work the upper extremities. Look hard for a park with a see saw like toy, for see saws promote coordination, sequencing and cooperation. Tunnels also promote coordination through crawling. Swings and slides are great sources of vestibular input (the body's sense of movement and balance).
The creative thinking aspect of the playground: There's more than one way to do just about anything, and that includes playing on the playground. If your child is looking for something to do once you're there, challenge him to get from one side of the playground to the other by using all of the slides, climbing all of the stairs, or getting through the play structure without using his hands. Ask him if there's a different way to climb the structure or cross the monkey bars. Left to their own devices, groups of children will decide that the ground is hot lava and no one can touch it, or that the playground is really a boat and they need to steer it across the ocean. Let them dream and develop their own way to play.
Things to bring: You don't need much. Sneakers, a water bottle, a simple snack, and sunscreen are all it takes to make the trip a success. Scout out the restrooms before your child needs it. If the playground also has open grassy spaces, consider bringing balls, frisbees, or other outdoor toys. Have an older child who thinks he's outgrown playing in the park? Put him in charge of playing a few games with the young ones and give him this book- he may change his mind!
Did your day at the playground get rained out? Read these books until the sun comes out!
Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli
King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds Nayler
Maisy Goes to the Playground by Lucy Cousins
The Playground by Debbie Bailey
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