Helping kids of all ages to live a more active life through FUNctional movement.
Teagan Strachan, Physiotherapist (Resident)
The playground is any physiotherapists’ dream. When used safely, it can be a huge part of a child’s development. There are so many benefits to playgrounds and it works on all systems of a child’s development including gross motor skill development, fine motor skill development, sensory integration, primitive reflex integration, vestibular integration amongst many other things.
This blog will focus on the 5 main gross motor benefits of a playground.
Coordination is a huge part in the success of a child on the play structure. They need to use both sides of their body to climb up ladders, crawl through tunnels, walk across beams etc. When they ride a seesaw they have to time their movements to push off the ground at the right time, a second layer of coordination also comes in on the seesaw when they have to work together with another child who’s on the other side.
The success on the playground does not come naturally to all children, lots of kids need to work really hard to be able to move all of their body structures in a smooth, controlled manner. As children continue to climb and play on
the structure, they are building maps from their brain to their extremities to problem solve and learn the most efficient ways to move.
2. Builds Strength
Playing on the structure develops strength in all areas of the body. Thinking about monkey bars – our arms go above our head needing shoulder strength; we hold on to the bars with our hands needing grip and forearm strength; we propel ourselves forwards while suspended in the air needing core strength and finally we need leg strength to gain momentum in the forward direction. All this strength building with one structure!!
This doesn’t mean that only the monkey bars develop strength, each element of a play structure involves strength building. A slide develops core and postural muscle strength to maintain a seated position; a simple step develops glute and quad strength, or in the toddler population- assists with pulling to stand and full body workout to get up the step.
At playgrounds there are plenty of pieces that swing, spin and move around. All of these pieces help develop a child’s vestibular system. A swing that moves back and forth rhythmically provides valuable stimulation to a child’s nervous system. As their nervous system learns to integrate this information, they learn how to control their bodies in space and learn how and when to increase or decrease their speed. A spinning seat toy in the sand helps children develop their head control and postural control as they receive wealth of vestibular information.
Playing at the play structure is hard work and kids don’t always get where they want to go on their first try. When a child is persistent and continues to try new things at the playground they are building confidence in their movements and learning how to move their bodies in new ways. When a child reaches a goal on the play yard, they feel a huge sense of accomplishment and self-fulfillment. These skills directly translate to other areas of their lives as they are more confident in themselves and they have gained valuable life skills on the play yard.
Play structures are full of ladders, beams and unstable surfaces. Each of these offer challenges to balance. As all of the above systems develop- vestibular, coordination, strength and confidence- a child also develops their balance. They learn to move across unsteady surfaces and use their dynamic postural control to stay upright.
Playgrounds are a fantastic way to develop many of our gross motor skills in a fun and inexpensive manner. They provide children with a wealth of information for all parts of their developing brain and they provide parents with an opportunity to identify areas of strength and challenges in their children. If you’re watching (or playing with) your child at the playground
and you’re noticing they are having troubles with some of their skills, consider bringing them to a physiotherapist (like me) to see if they may need extra support to succeed on the play yard. As a bonus, lots of the exercises physios give out can be done on the playground so that your child doesn’t have to stop doing what they love. You can call to book in with us here in Barrhaven at Play On Pediatric – 613-699-0787.