Playgrounds as Tools to Teach Play

I like playgrounds, a.k.a. magical spaces for children and the young at heart. Playgrounds originated in Germany as tools to teach kids how to play. They build social skills, self-esteem and imaginations! My all time favorite playground feature is the swings, where I would belt out songs in unison to pumping my feet!

In elementary school, my friends and I started a playground tradition of pole competitions. There was a symmetrical play structure with a pole on each side of the unit. During recess, we would assign a judge to determine who gave the most creative performance sliding down the pole. The poles extended a few feet beyond the play structure, which gave us plenty of space to swing around in creative ways.

A few of my favorite playgrounds are listed below. My descriptions will not do them justice, so please Google them for photographs that will make you want to be a kid again!

  • Dennis the Menace Playground at Lake El Estero
    Monterey, California
    This playground includes a sunset bridge, hedge maze, tunnels, a locomotive to explore, and many more unique features designed by a cartoonist.
  • Kids’ World at Alameda Park
    Santa Barbara, California
    The City of Santa Barbara is home to more than 50 parks. I knew I had found the right park when I turned a street corner and saw a castle, need I say more! This 8,000 square foot playground is across the street from Alice Keck Gardens – home to koi, turtles and trumpet shaped flowers!

The next two examples are actually children’s garden playscapes, which are playgrounds that have a natural look and feel of the environment.

  • Children’s Garden at The Huntington
    Los Angeles, California
    This garden incorporates scientific principles for little ones to explore. The Huntington website is a great resource, breaking down the exhibits into the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, with descriptions and a garden map. Don’t forget to check out the adjacent conservatory with hands-on exhibits to help kids learn what makes plants unique.
  • Hamilton Children’s Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden
    San Diego, California
    The Hamilton Children’s Garden is unlike any children’s play area I have ever experienced. Within the garden there are a number of exhibits, such as Incredible Edibles, Spell & Smell Garden, Arts Garden, Garden Rhythms, Toni’s Tree House, a sundial and more. There are so many opportunities for learning, but a child would never know it! The best part is that throughout the season, the landscape may change as different plants come into bloom, thus creating a different experience each time you visit. Don’t miss the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden on the other side of the grounds and check out the topiary figures in the Mexican Garden along the way.

Try This:
1.     Favorites Poll: Have your little learner create a poll to find out family and friends’ favorite playground activity. Is it the slide, swings, monkey bars, pole, seesaw or something else entirely? After collecting responses, create a visual representation of the results like a graph or collage.

2.     Obstacle Course: Visit your local playground and create an obstacle course. Who can be the first to swing back and forth 10 times, take giant steps to the monkey bars, swing across the monkey bars, climb the rope ladder, go down the slide and touch the pole? Phew, need a break, sit on the bench and draw an aerial view of the course in a notebook. Create a different course each time you go and add it to your notebook. You can even log course completion times and try to break your records.

3.     Named in your Honor: As the champion of playground obstacle courses, a playground is being designed and named in your honor. Create your own 3-dimensional playground. Use any materials you can think of. Here is a list to get you started.

  • Craft supplies: construction paper, pipe cleaners, yarn, felt, corrugated paper…
  • Organic material (depending on the artwork’s life expectancy): grass, twigs, sand…
  • Other: cereal box, straws, toothpicks, pieces of broken toys, corks, bottle caps…

“All the world’s a playground!”


One response to “Playgrounds as Tools to Teach Play

  1. Pingback: I like botanic gardens. | City Sights for Kids

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