Building Motor Skills on the Playground
Most children enjoy exploring a playground and climbing around on the equipment. While kids engage in these activities, they receive beneficial physical exercise, which helps them stay healthy and strong. This type of physical play also helps develop important motor skills. Motor skills refer to physical abilities. Motor skills fall into two categories: gross and fine motor skills. These motor skills develop according to youngsters’ ages and with ongoing opportunities for play.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills involve large body movements and the skills necessary to perform these movements. Examples of gross motor skills include walking, running, jumping, climbing, and skipping. Whenever large movements involve moving arms, legs, or the entire body, the movements fall into the category of gross motor skills. The majority of gross motor skills develop during the first few years of childhood as youngsters grow. Children generally require large amounts of energy to learn and practice gross motor skills.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills involve small body movements and the abilities necessary to perform them. Examples of fine motor skills include grasping small objects with the thumb and index finger, pushing buttons, turning the pages of a book, and using a pen or pencil to write. A child’s central nervous system is an integral part of the development of fine motor skills. As the central nervous system matures, a youngster develops the ability to perform these small and delicate tasks as detailed messages move from the brain to tiny fingers. Little ones need patience to learn and master fine motor skills.
Common Playground Equipment
Playgrounds typically offer a variety of different types of equipment for children to use. Common objects include swings, slides, merry-go-rounds, see-saws, sandboxes, jungle gyms, climbing apparatuses, and obstacle courses. Some playgrounds offer alternative options for different types of play. For example, barrier-free playgrounds have different designs from traditional playgrounds. A barrier-free playground might have ramps and special pathways to enable access to all parts of the play area for children of all ages and abilities. Other equipment designs can include elevated sand tables, swings with added back support, and activities designed to engage youngsters in sensory play, such as moving gears.
Motor Skills Developed by Specific Equipment
Playground equipment can foster motor skill development for children as they play. The type of motor skills developed by youngsters depend on the type of equipment. After children develop initial gross motor skills of crawling, walking, and then running, they are ready to begin working on other gross motor skills while they explore playgrounds. Children can develop strength and coordination as they climb jungle gyms, maneuver themselves through tunnels and chutes, and navigate swinging rings. Open spaces encourage more active play such as running, jumping, skipping, and kicking balls. Playing with riding toys enables youngsters to learn how to propel themselves forward and backward on the equipment.
Playgrounds can also offer opportunities for fine motor skill development. As children dig, shovel, and pour sand into various buckets, they develop the dexterity necessary for accomplishing these tasks. A water table also provides additional opportunities for the development of fine motor skills as little ones fill containers and pour water. Some playgrounds have additional features such as sensory areas with equipment like nets, colorful gears, and spinning elements. As youngsters engage in this quieter play, they can develop and refine their fine motor skills.
Additional Playground Benefits
Playgrounds offer another important benefit for children’s health. Because children usually enjoy the physical play involved with climbing, jumping, swinging, and running, they are often happy to spend time playing at a playground. As children spend this time in active play, they are getting beneficial exercise. Children who regularly spend time in active play may be more likely to avoid weight problems, both during childhood and later in adulthood, because they develop an active lifestyle. Interactions between adults and children during outdoor play can further enhance the benefits because adults can help children learn new skills and increase their activity level.
Missouri Early Learning Standards for Physical Development, Health, and Safety