Exercise through play
Jungle gyms aren't just for fun, although smiling faces are always a bonus.
Jungle gym (Shutterstock)
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Did you know that they were also designed to help with your child’s development? Between social, mental, emotional and physical dynamics, there’s good reason to argue that the jungle gym plays a bigger part in your child’s formative years than you think.

Physical development

From swings and climbing frames, to see-saws and tree-houses, as your children delight in the elements of a jungle gym they get the opportunity to flex their physical faculties. Such as balance, coordination, and of course, physical fitness. You might not commonly look at a child and think, “He has a good sense of balance”. But it’s the kind of thing you notice when it’s missing.

This is especially important in our modern day. Think about how much the typical child spends cooped up inside, whether learning the ABC’s or playing a video game. A child needs physical exertion and strength building in those developing years.

It’s not just strength and balance that are important. We need to remember that a child’s motor skills are something that’s learnt. Motor skills are the ability to integrate different bodily movements into purposeful action. Even the simple movements your 3-5 year old perform, like throwing a ball, jumping or skipping, are building blocks of more complex movements later on. A baby isn’t born with coordination finesse. It’s an acquired ability.

Mental/psychological

There are other reasons why a jungle gym benefits development, which are mental, emotional and psychological.

Science supports many ideas we have about the cognitive aspects of play. Play has the benefit of improving memory, stimulating cerebral cortex growth, more focused attention, and triggering the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells. What better way to achieve this then with an engaging playscape like a jungle gym?

A jungle gym or interactive playground is also where the use of imagination is actually encouraged. We’ve become so used to compartmentalising play time and learning time, that we forget that human beings are most engaged when doing both.

Social interaction

Let’s not forget the importance of learning how to play nice with others. Before your child meets him in the court room or on the trading room floor, he will learn how to interact with his fellow man in the sandbox.

Think about how merry go-rounds teach children to work together for the mutual benefit of all. Or what pushing another child on a swing teaches about reciprocity. Even something simple like going down the slide one at time instils an instinct for harmonious social order.

A note about safety

As of late, there’s been a tendency to pull down swings and uninstall merry-go-rounds in school grounds and public parks. Perhaps for cost-cutting reasons, but largely because there is in general a growing concern about safety.

Yes, your child’s playpen needs to be a safe zone. But researchers are asking whether your child might be missing out on their emotional, social and physical development needs by not having access to playgrounds. Not just a simple set of swings and a low slide, but a proper jungle gym with the works.

Parental precautions obviously aren’t flung out to the wind when there are swings in sight. For instance, you won’t want your child walking off to a deserted playground at the end of the day by himself. And the smaller your children are, the more monitoring they need (check out the physical activity guidelines for children under five.)

Get your kid to a playground with a jungle gym today

Even if there isn’t the convenience of a local park in your street, seek out bigger and better parks. Take a drive to a playground where there are more playmates for your children to meet. Bring your friends' children. Make a morning of it. Even if there isn’t a good public playground somewhere, or you would feel more comfortable monitoring the play from your home, you can set up a jungle gym in your backyard. You can make one from scratch, or put one together from a DIY jungle gym like those provided by Poleyard.

What’s more, it’s great for children to learn to appreciate the enjoyment of being in the outdoors, alongside nature, where they can soak up ample vitamin D-enriched rays of sun. Think about the confidence and independence they’re learning. Children can actively seek out enjoyment or challenge, thrill or social interaction as feels right for them. Remember, they’re still in a very plastic place where they’re constantly working out what feels okay and what doesn’t.

It’s at the top of a tall slide that your son learns to overcome fear. It’s at the Monkey Bars your daughter discovers the thrill of a challenge.

Forget the boring, bare playgrounds. They don’t engage. They don’t develop.

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