Movement – what does the word mean to you? Is it simply a functional thing your body does, or is it something more? For fitness enthusiasts and athletes, movement enables them to perform impressive feats and stay healthy. Whether it’s running, climbing, crawling or jumping, the movements the body is capable of should be something to be explored and enjoyed.
This is especially true for children. As children grow, encouraging movement at an early age helps strengthen their bodies and improve their health. Movement has always been part of childhood – whether it’s clambering around play areas or climbing trees. In a country where 10% of children in the first year of school are obese, encouraging physical play is a must.
Now, movement is part of the sporting world too. In January 2017, the French movement-based activity called Parkour was made an official sport. The sport consists of moving through an environment in the most efficient manner possible, which usually results in spectacular displays of jumping, vaulting and flipping. Many parkour practitioners are adults – but they also often practice in play areas.
It’s no surprise that adventure playgrounds and play areas are as attractive to grown adults doing Parkour as they are to children. The physical benefits and safety elements make them fantastic areas to hone movement skills and also cognitive skills. Studies suggest that children with poorly developed motor skills by age five will never develop efficient motor skills. For your children, playgrounds build all kinds of physical prowess.
Structures that involve climbing problems are not only fun for children, they also build a child’s motor skills and musculature. The cognitive development offered by climbing includes problem solving, memory and confidence building. Physically, climbing is an anabolic activity (in other words, it encourages muscle growth) and engages every muscle in the body. It particularly strengthens the back, arms and shoulders.
For an adult weighing 125lbs, 30 minutes of climbing burns 240 calories. Children, generally lighter than this, will naturally burn less – but still expend a significant amount of calories. That means climbing in playgrounds is beneficial not only for mental development, but for fitness too.
From toddlerhood to teenage years, children jump their way through activities. In the playground, jumping can be risky – but is a key part of play. Some studies indicate that jumping helps enhance development by granting keen cognitive and motor skills. A NASA study found that jumping on a mini trampoline was the best way to improve circulation and improving fitness levels. Encouraging jumping also helps build a child’s posterior chain, as well as muscles such as the gluteus maximus and erector spinae – which help support movement.
Whether it’s monkey bars or a different overhead system, upper body strength is built through overhead play. With the majority of children possessing poor upper body strength (studies suggest 30% of boys and 60% of young US children can’t do a single pull up), it’s clear overhead play should be encouraged. It develops grip strength, hand-eye co-ordination and lateral weight shift.
Swings mimic our ancestors – from vines in trees to modern playground swings. Swings give a child a choice: seek out relaxation with gentle swinging or satisfy their excitement with more active swinging.
The physical development on offer is broad too – from pectoral muscle development to grasping, rhythm, balance and push/pull strength. Swings build a child’s vestibular system – which is responsible for our movement and balance sense and also aids the proprioceptive system, which in itself is responsible for ‘own’ body sense (for example, when you close your eyes but still know how your arms or legs are positioned).
As the concept of movement gains more attention in the mainstream media thanks to sports like Parkour, the lesson to be learned for our children is simple: the more we encourage movement using areas like playgrounds, the more our children stand to gain both physically and developmentally.
Wortham, S., Frost. J. Playgrounds for Young Children: National Survey and Perspectives. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. 1990.