Playgrounds & playdates

5 Playground Activities That Can Help Your Child’s Development

By Amanda Morin

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Playgrounds are more than just fun places for your child to spend free time. They can help all kids—especially those with learning and attention issues—develop important skills. Here’s how.

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Young girl swinging on a tire swing on the playground
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Swinging is a basic playground activity that can aid your child’s development in many areas. It helps with balance and teaches him to know where his body is in space. And it also gives him practice with fine motor skills (gripping the chain), gross motor skills (pumping his legs to swing higher) and coordination (putting it all together). What’s more, swinging helps the brain learn to make sense of speed and direction, which may be beneficial for kids with visual-perception issues.

Boy climbing on a rope on the playground
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Climbing playground equipment can help your child’s development. The same is true for climbing trees. Here’s why: In order to climb, your child needs to build an awareness of where his body parts are and what he can do with them. Climbing helps make him aware of directions (like up, down, left and right). Climbing also encourages problem solving and predicting what’s going to happen. For example, your child may wonder, “Where should my right foot go next? How will I get down from the top?” This kind of flexible thinking can help on the playground and in the classroom.

Girl hanging upside down on monkey bars at the playground
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Playing on Overhead Equipment

Playing on overhead equipment, like monkey bars, helps your child develop both fine and gross motor skills. He’s practicing little movements (gripping the bar) as well as big movements (swinging from one bar to the next). Equipment like this is great for kids who have trouble with motor planning. Learning to move one hand at a time from bar to bar can help your child practice coordination and balance. He’ll also learn how to judge where the next bar is in relation to his body.

A group of kids sitting on the asphalt talking and playing
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Having Free Play

Free play can mean anything from organized games to just running around with other kids. But it’s not just goofing around. Free play helps your child learn to communicate with other kids and practice conversation and vocabulary. Playgrounds can help him learn how to follow and change rules, share, and take turns as he makes up games with the other kids. These kinds of social interactions can also help your child practice picking up on social cues like body language and tone of voice.

2 boys playing soccer on the playground
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Playing Ball Games

Games like kickball, tetherball, Whiffle ball and four square all help with kids’ development. As your child figures out how to hold on to, manipulate and throw or kick a ball, he’s practicing motor coordination skills. And as he develops strategies about where he should throw the ball or whether it’s time to run to the next base, he’s working on critical thinking and problem solving.

To help your child have a positive experience, get tips on how to solve common playground problems.

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8 Types of Summer Camps That Can Be Good for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues

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4 Fun Sports for Kids With Attention Issues

Team sports aren’t always the best for kids with attention issues. Especially sports with lots of rules and strategies to remember. But kids’ interests matter, too. See what these sports have to offer.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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