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Freedom to Play Instills Lifelong Skills


Play has an invaluable role in encouraging whole-child development. Playgrounds are a microcosm of adult-life where roles are defined and rules are adhered to or broken.

But above and beyond learning life lessons—such as trial and error, sharing and competing—it’s on the playground that children learn persistence, leadership, competition, bravery, support and empathy. It’s these experiences that help shape kids into thinkers, dreamers and leaders.

There are only a few things in most kids’ lives that are universal learning opportunities, and play, which could take place in a back alley or at a playground, is one of them.

Landscape Structures Inc., a Delano, Minnesota-based commercial playground equipment manufacturer, understands this powerful reality. Play is fun, and physically beneficial, of course. But play is also an organic form of learning.

In the eyes of a child, playgrounds are more than just a well-designed assembly of metal and plastic pieces. Their imaginations transform playgrounds into countless fantasy worlds. Children turn into kings and queens holding court in their castles, into inquisitive jungle adventurers and more. Looking back on our own childhoods, we can appreciate the effect playground experiences had on who we ultimately became. In other words, play shapes us.

For years, the campaign for more play has revolved around battling the childhood obesity epidemic. However, play is important for more than just physical development.

Play helps shape children’s cognitive, motor and social skills, in addition to supporting leadership development, teaching tolerance, spurring creativity, promoting problem-solving and diligence, and regulating emotions. Play is a learning opportunity. And that’s why it’s important to offer free play time to children of all ages.

In a recent poll conducted by Landscape Structures, however, more than half of parents responded that they think children today have fewer opportunities for play than children 20 years ago.

Parents reported that their children get one hour or less of unstructured play time each day:

* 55 percent of parents with children ages 10 to 12
* 42 percent of parents with children ages 3 to 9
* 34 percent of parents with children up to age 3

Almost two-thirds of those polled think the ideal amount of daily play time is between one and two hours.

Parents advocate for play time, too. Even in today’s 24/7 world, more than three quarters of parents polled agreed that children with adequate free play time grow up to be better contributors to society. Educators and child development experts agree that play is vital to children’s cognitive, social/emotional and physical development and growth.

While they may be stressed and over-scheduled themselves, today’s parents recognize the value of free, unstructured time for their children’s overall health and well-being.

“Modern life takes a toll on children too,” said Lynn Pinoniemi, director of marketing at Landscape Structures. “More kids are being diagnosed with anxiety, depression and obesity—and many live with disabilities,” she said. “But giving kids the freedom to play—to gain confidence through mastery and self-discovery—can really nurture small psyches and instill lifelong skills.”

Landscape Structures surveyed parents of children 12 years and younger to understand their attitudes on the value of unstructured play. Topics ranged from opportunities for free play to important life skills gained on the playground.

When asked about important life skills, parents surveyed considered play and creativity of similar importance to academics and critical thinking. Most mothers (92 percent) rated play and creativity as moderately or very important, compared to 84 percent of fathers.

Persistence was considered a top skill for children of all ages to learn. Creativity was more likely to be chosen for younger children, while leadership was likeliest for older children. Parents reported that sharing, imagination and creativity were the skills most often exhibited by their own children on the playground.

A recent meta-study conducted by the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development and commissioned by Landscape Structures, titled "Shaped by Play: The Formative Role of Play and Playgrounds," confirms our culture’s growing infringement on children’s play opportunities.

According to the study, a long list of daily distractions competes for children’s free time: hectic family lifestyles, organized activities, T.V. and electronic devices, and academically packed school schedules that cut into recess. Request a copy of the full research whitepaper at shapedbyplay.com.

In order to create a playground design that ensures kids will make time for free play, it’s important to remember that play is much more than a way to pass the time or let off some steam. Play is a trial run of adulthood. A way for kids to discover and practice all the skills they’ll need in the future.

It’s important to design playgrounds so that kids can practice their leadership skills, and learn about persistence, empathy and courage. Landscape Structures and its local playground consultants will help create playgrounds to do just that.

It’s possible to create unique playground designs at an affordable price tag. One option is to look for preconfigured playground equipment like the Smart Play playstructures. The newest additions to this product line—Fire Station and Market Cafe—are perfect to develop problem-solving skills, and encourage cooperation and language-rich conversations. Create a design with one or pair the Fire Station or Market Cafe with Loft to double the fun. Even better, playground planners can combine all three with elevated crawl tunnels to create the Centre.

Playgrounds come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The new Alpha Tower and Alpha Link Towers deliver a distinctive geometric design that’s perfect for any environment. An overall height of 20 feet make this playground a destination, and various levels of decks teach kids ages 5 to 12 about persistence, courage and boost socialization.

Bring children and families of all ages and abilities together for play with an inclusive playground design. Keeping the needs of all users in mind during the design process helps create a play environment that increases access, safety, comfort and social participation.

 The Friendship Swing is easy to access for individuals of varying abilities. Plus, this new face-to-face swing provides a great way for friends, siblings, parents and grandparents to all enjoy swinging time together.

The great outdoors is the number one spot where kids can play naturally—making up their own games while freely exploring the world around them. Encourage kids to connect with the natural surroundings as they navigate through nature-inspired play equipment like the new Facet Forms. This collection of modular forms was inspired by the natural geometries of geodes, minerals and other elements found in nature, and helps develop kids’ leadership and problem-solving skills.

Learn more about Landscape Structures’ new playground products for 2018 and the company’s design philosophy at www.playlsi.com





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