Go Out and Play!

By Nancy Rahimi and Rebecca Fewkes

It’s a beautiful summer morning. What should you do with the children today? There is an easy and free option close to you: your local park. An outing to the park holds more benefits than you can imagine. What can your children learn when they play at the park? Surely they are just coasting on a swing… or just throwing a ball… or just planting twigs in the sand? It is just play—and it is just perfect for them! Here are a few ways in which play at the park enriches your little one….

Balls…are a classic toy that teaches children about the scientific concepts of gravity and momentum. The use of balls develops balance, hand-eye coordination, depth perception, brain growth, body awareness and motor planning. They can be a social icebreaker for children who want to make a friend: throw a ball to me! They also help children feel a sense of power and control in a world where they are constantly being told what to do.

Chalk…drawing with chalk strengthens children’s hand muscles in preparation for writing and allows them to experiment with how much pressure to use on the chalk stick. Unlike markers, with chalk children get immediate feedback if they push too hard or too soft. The chalk can be held in many ways, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and is light, which makes it easy for a child to find a comfortable grip.

Flying discs…throwing a flying disc demands great strength and gross motor coordination, requiring that both sides of the brain work together so both sides of the body balance while doing different things. Throwing the disc also encourages using social skills to find a partner, communicating your readiness to catch or alerting your partner so that they are ready to receive. It also gives children the opportunity to negotiate rules and to follow them once agreed upon. Children gain a sense of efficacy and confidence as they see how far they can make an object move.

Hula hoops…young children enjoy seeing the shapes they are learning about, and the hula hoop is an embraceable giant circle to enjoy. This simple toy encourages divergent thinking; it can do or be so many things; it relieves stress since there is no right way to do it; and it stimulates movement which calms the body. Rolling the hoop gives more touchable information about a circle, and trying to hula the hoop helps with balance and coordination.

Planting…gardening connects us to the earth, life cycles and the nurturer inside us all. When planting, children receive tactile stimulation while using visual discrimination and fine motor skills. This lays the foundation for reading and writing. The scientific method can be introduced as the children notice details, predict changes and observe outcomes.

Sand…is a messy, tactile, social play that encourages communication between children who are building sand castles and digging holes, and gives them information about physical qualities like texture, density, gravity and balance. Gross motor skills are needed to move sand toys about and dig, shape and pile the sand. These same movements, in a smaller form, are the basics of penmanship. The nerves in the fingers and toes are the last to mature. The sensory stimulation which sand provides strengthens dexterity while helping brain waves to become more organized and open for learning.

Slides…provide the opportunity for children to gain mastery in their environment. Self esteem grows as they climb very high and slide safely back down. Sitting up on a slide develops core strength and moving down on a slide teaches them about momentum and speed. From slides children learn to control a motion that feels uncontrolled at first, making them feel confident. Changing one’s body position in gravity stimulates brain growth, increases the ability to know where one’s body begins and ends, and develops the visual motor skills necessary for reading.

Swings…develop courage, core strength, balance and brain growth. Children’s vestibular (the balance center) is stimulated as they control their bodies to stay on the swing and move through space. Swinging on one’s tummy calms the body after too much spinning. Swinging is the safe way to go up high, which gives children a new visual experience. Swinging develops an inner sense of rhythm as children feel how predictable the arc of the swing is, creating anticipation and satisfaction. As children learn how to pump their own swing, they exercise balance, core muscles and motor planning while they develop the self confidence that comes from a challenge mastered.

Water play…what a super way to balance your emotions, learn about physics, regulate your body temperature, stimulate your senses and express your creativity all at the same time!

Unstructured activities, such as outdoor free play, encourage children to develop many life skills including planning, reasoning, critical thinking, risk taking, perseverance, self control, decision making and physical fitness. The next time you are enjoying a park day with your children you will know that you are supporting their development, mind, body and soul. Get out and play!

Nancy Rahimi is director and teacher at Carlmont Parents Nursery School in Belmont. Rebecca Fewkes is a proud parent alumna of CPNS.