When you take your children to look around a new school, you might be tempted to spend most of your time looking to see the kinds of classroom displays, the sports facilities, science equipment, musical instruments, computer labs and things like that. Yet the truth is that children don’t just learn in the classroom, and that time spent in the playground is just as important, if not more so. These four experiences and lessons that your child will take on board in the breaks and lunchtime playtimes will make you think hard about the play designs and equipment you see out there, and maybe factor that further into your school choice equations.
Exercise is increasingly becoming a precious commodity in children’s lives. More and more electronic entertainment forms are creating ever increasingly sedentary generations. The opportunity and encouragement to go and play outdoors provide children with the kinds of positive memories that they need to learn to enjoy the wider world, and discover the strengths and abilities of their own bodies. Co-ordination and dexterity will come naturally as children try through trial and error the best ways to play on things like climbing frames, obstacle courses, and monkey bars. If they learn that this can be enjoyed now, they can take that positivity forward into the rest of their life, and exercise need not become a chore.
When children play together in large groups, rules and games and patterns of behaviour emerge naturally. Yet these are all just ultimately creations of one child’s mind, spread out and merged with other people so that they can all come together and enjoy one game together. The collaboration involved here is the kind of initial skill that will be vital in so many different stages of life. So much about success in life is about the ability to get everyone imagining the same thing at the same time. If you can do that with an imaginary game, or the rules of an entirely invented new and original sport, you can do that with adults in the future who have to share a grand vision, or all get behind one specific policy or project platform.
When children play games, there are naturally winners and losers in so many different types of games. Children can sort these out among themselves more often than you might naturally think, and with rules and systems of fairness arising naturally, children learn about both the value in, and limits of, a good and healthily competitive environment. The emotions that naturally emerge out of defeat can be processed safely and healthily, while the elation that follows on from victory is channelled safely and effectively into a fun-filled hour or so. The lessons these experiences teach can become the bedrock for understanding all kinds of competition in the future. Everything from sports to exams to the workplace. Essential preparation for the wider world.
As a child learns to play, they learn how to interact with their peers in an environment where supervision is far more indirect and distant than in a classroom or at home with parents. Because of that, there is an expectation that smaller scale problems or difficulties that might have been under an adult’s purview elsewhere, will in this case need to get sorted out with their own skill set. This is very much a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario. A child will only develop the confidence to confront and resolve their own problems and difficulties surrounding interactions if you present them with an environment where they are required to do so. As they find more and more inter-peer difficulties can be dealt with their own thinking processes, they learn to trust themselves and their abilities more. What better definition is there of confidence than trust and confidence in one’s own abilities?
Playgrounds are more than just a place to break up the monotony of school work, or a way to give structure to the day. They are another type of classroom, with lessons and practical exercises that will lead a child though so many different and difficult life situations to come.