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  • Developing Balance, Coordination and Fine Motor Skills on the Playground

    Developing Balance, Coordination and Fine Motor Skills on the Playground

    Playgrounds offer many benefits and childhood opportunities for learning. In fact, playground equipment and child development are closely linked. Children can work on their mental and emotional development by building confidence as they master play equipment such as swings and slides. They can also build social skills as they learn to share, take turns and play together.

    There are many developmental benefits of playgrounds. Physical play and exercise can help children build physical growth and strength. Playing on the playground can be especially useful in helping children develop fine motor skills, balance and coordination.

    What Are Balance and Coordination?

    Balance refers to the ability to keep a controlled position or posture during a specific task. Walking, climbing or even sitting all require balance. There are two types of balance. Dynamic balance refers to the ability to stay in position during activities that require movement, such as walking. Static balance refers to the ability to maintain position during stationary tasks such as standing or sitting.

    Coordination refers to the ability to correctly interpret multiple signals to do more complex physical tasks. Hand-eye coordination, for example, requires children to correctly interpret visual information in a way that allows them to catch a ball. This seemingly simple task involves neurological activity, physical control and reflexes, among other abilities.

    What Are Fine Motor Skills?

    Child catching football: Motor skills are sometimes divided into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

    Motor skills are sometimes divided into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills refer to skills which include many large muscle groups and the whole body. They include skills needed to climb, walk and jump. Children need to develop these skills before mastering fine motor skills.

    Fine motor skills include small, controlled body movements involving more limited numbers of muscles. These skills allow us to hold a pencil, write, hold a book and open a package. These skills require more patience for kids, especially for more detailed and delicate tasks.

    Why Are Balance, Coordination and Fine Motor Skills Important?

    Fine motor skills, coordination and balance are essential for child development. The development of these skills can help with day-to-day activities, such as walking, play and learning. For example, children who develop gross motor skills can sit up, crawl, walk and play. Children who master coordination and balance can climb and walk confidently. Fine motor skills allow children to pick up a book, feed themselves, tie their shoelaces and perform many of the other small tasks which slowly make them more confident and independent.

    Child with book bag walking. Pull out quote: Children who master coordination and balance can climb and walk confidently.

    1. Make Every Day Activities Easier and Safer

    Coordination, balance and motor skills are also important to minimize fatigue. When children are just learning these skills, they expend large amounts of energy and mental acuity to master these abilities. If you have ever watched a child learning to walk, you can see them spending a great deal of time and effort on the activity. As these skills become more evolved, they become automatic, so an older child can walk without expending much energy and without thinking much about it. Once children can walk naturally, they can focus on other aspects of development.

    Fine motor skills, balance and coordination are also necessary to help children play sports, stay active and exercise, which is important for overall health. Gross motor skills help children catch a ball, while balance and coordination are important for children to jump, climb and play sports without falling over. Developed physical skills are also necessary for the fluid movement necessary to play sports well.

    1. Reduce the Likelihood of Injury and Accidents

    Mastering these skills can also help a child reduce the likelihood of injury. Children with strong balance and coordination are less likely to fall over when climbing stairs or walking along an uneven surface. Gross motor skills, balance and coordination can also help children build their core muscles, which helps them stay more stable during movement and when sitting, reducing the likelihood of injury.

    Fine motor skills can also help prevent injuries by ensuring children have the ability to complete tasks without accidentally hurting themselves by crushing their fingers in a book or otherwise injuring themselves. Children who have mastered fine motor skills are able to more able to do things like stringing beads on a pipe cleaner without poking themselves.

    1. Develop Social and Emotional Skills

    Motor skills, balance and coordination are also important in developing social skills. Children with good physical skills can master activities such as sports, playground use, and other, giving them even more opportunities to interact with their peers. In addition, children who master physical skills can participate in activities such as bike riding or team sports, and have better developed physical skills and ability to avoid issues like running into other children. With these skills, they can more easily make friends and become part of different social groups.

    Group of children smiling and sitting together. Pull out quote: Motor skills, balance and coordination are also important in developing social skills.

    Developing these skills can also help develop emotional strength by encouraging children to be independent and to feel confident. Children who have the physical ability to master new playground equipment or games often feel comfortable trying new games, which allows them to develop independently and to learn new things. Physical confidence can help curb anxiety and fear that may be associated with a lack of coordination and can help encourage them to try new things.

    1. Participate More Easily in Academic Activities

    Children who master balance, coordination and motor skills can also be more primed for school and academic performance. Kids who master physical skills can sit more comfortably because they have the appropriate posture. They can also handle things such as writing or opening a book more easily because they have the motor skills to hold a pencil, turn pages and the other skills needed to complete school tasks.

    How Can Playing on the Playground Improve These Skills?

    Activities that promote fine motor skills, coordination and balance can all be found on the playground. You can use these play spaces to help your child with physical development. Some of the playground activities include:

    1. Walking on Steppers or Balance-Challenging Play Equipment

    Walking on something above the surface level of the ground or pavement can help children develop balance and coordination. Balance beams and other challenging surfaces encourage children to build their core strength and to learn how to balance their bodies in response to level and direction changes. Starting with low surfaces is important to allow children to develop the confidence and skills needed to move on to balance beams and other advanced equipment.

    The Unity® Stepper is one option for playgrounds for developing balance and coordination. The stepping stones can connect pieces of equipment, or they can stand alone. They can help children develop physical skills such as balance while they are also developing their social skills. Kids can use them to play imagination games, such as pretending they are crossing a snake-infested river. Large and small steps of different sizes and heights can help develop coordination.

    1. Climbers

    Climbers allow children to develop core strength, as well as balance and coordination. Climbers also require children to grasp hand rests, building gross motor skills. Climbers are often better for advanced children who've already mastered basic balance and coordination. They can help build confidence, and can ensure children build physical strength, as well.

    Cartoon playground. Pull out quote: Climbers allow children to develop core strength, as well as balance and coordination.

    Mini Mountains are a great type of beginner climber. You can arrange these climbing squares in different configurations up to four blocks high. Their three-point climbing surface ensures balance and promotes safety while encouraging children to climb in different ways and explore different types of movement while climbing. Children can play together or alone. These climbers are also great for children who are just developing their coordination and balance, since caregivers can stand near the climbers to help children climb correctly.

    1. Nature play

    Climbers and other equipment inspired by the natural environment are a great option for building coordination and balance. Children are naturally intrigued by rocks, trees and other natural environments where they play. Unfortunately, natural environments pose several risks. Trees may not have sturdy branches, and rocks may be too slippery or sharp to climb safely. Playground equipment that’s designed to mimic nature, but which provides a safer and more stable surface, helps children explore the natural world through their senses, such as the sense of touch, while also helping them build their physical skills.

    The Rock Log, for example, is a diverse piece of playground equipment that can serve as a bridge, sitting surface or balance beam. Children can sit on the log if they're just developing their coordination and balance skills. They can also walk or stand on the log as they further develop their skills and confidence.

    Safer conditions are needed for younger children.

    1. Activity panels

    Activity panels are great for promoting fine motor skills because they require children to push buttons, adjust small knobs and interact with a surface which can be similar to a book or a writing surface. Themed activity panels can also keep children's interest long enough to allow them to explore different subject areas. Many activity panels help children learn things like numbers or letters. This can help give them an advantage in school.

    The Fire House is a great solution if you are interested in bringing an activity panel to your play area. There is a maze panel which has rotating pieces to help children develop hand-eye coordination as well as fine motor skills. There are spinners, levers and clickers to engage children as they practice these skills. These panels are designed especially for early childhood development, and panels are centered on a firehouse theme, so children can let their imaginations soar and pretend they are saving lives as they develop their skills. The Fire House can also be a great way to develop social skills as kids work together to race to the rescue.

    1. Innovative climbers

    Traditional climbers are similar to wall climbers. They usually feature either ropes, steps or a rocklike surface with hand- and footrests to allow children to ascend up a wall-like structure. Innovative climbers encourage children to develop balance and coordination, as well as motor skills, because they can use their bodies in unique ways.

    The Fire Hose Climber, for example, is a spiral close to the surface of the ground. It can be used in many different ways. Children can climb through, over or in and out of the spiral sections. This equipment helps build coordination and balance and lets kids explore different types of movements. It can be used as part of a larger themed play area involving fire equipment, encouraging children to imagine themselves as heroes saving others.

    1. Playground structures

    Another way to build balance and coordination is with playground structures that include many activity stations. Complete playgrounds, unlike individual playground equipment, encourage children to move from activity to activity, building balance and coordination with different types of movement.

    Pull out quote: complete playground structures encourage children to explore different activities.

    In addition, complete playground structures encourage children to explore different activities. It can also be more effective, since even if kids don't feel compelled to try one activity that helps build them develop coordination or balance, they may still find another activity that inspires their imaginations while helping them develop these physical skills.

    The Bambino Kiddie Corner is an ideal complete play solution for smaller spaces and younger children. This play area includes a double slide, four activity panels, a climbing area, a seating area, a platform and multiple components. Ideal for ages 2 to 5, this playground solution lets children develop fine motor skills as they play with color, numbers, music and movement at the activity panels. It also allows children to develop balance and coordination, as well as motor skills, as they climb, walk and slide around the activity areas.

    This playground is designed to be fully inclusive and allows children of different ages, mobility levels and ability levels to play at the same time.

    Girl with down syndrome. Pull out quote: This playground is designed to be fully inclusive and allows children of different ages, mobility levels and ability levels to play at the same time.

    Design a Playground That Will Help Improve Balance, Coordination and Fine Motor Skills

    With a few careful design considerations, you can create a play space that will engage and develop children’s balance, coordination and fine motor skills.

    • Community needs.

      If you'd like to develop a play area that encourages the development of coordination, motor skills and balance, you'll want to start by considering the children playing on your playground. This includes thinking about their developmental levels and how many children could potentially be on the playground at one time. You may wish to create a playground children who are at different stages of development when it comes to balance and coordination and how you design your playground may depend on the number of children who will be using it at once.

    • Opportunities to develop multiple skills.

      When choosing playground equipment, you will also want to consider equipment which allows children to work on multiple skills at once. For example, activity panels can help build fine motor skills, while climbers can build gross motor skills, in addition to balance and coordination. Combining the two-in-one play area can encourage children to work on all their skills at the same time. Playground equipment such as seesaws and motion riders encourage children to develop fine motor skills by grasping handles as well as balance and coordination, since the play involves movement.

    • Playground safety.

      Of course, safety is paramount. You will want to ensure there is a proper surface around and underneath all equipment, especially as children are developing balance and coordination and may still experience falls as they are still mastering the skills. Look for equipment that is sturdy and reliable and meets safety standards. Inspect surfacing frequently and choose the surfacing that is most appropriate for your equipment height and the types of equipment you are considering.

    PlayExplorers Equipment Helps With Early Childhood Development

    PlayExplorers has many freestanding pieces of equipment that you can add to a current playground, as well as full play structures to help children develop their physical skills. Our playground equipment is designed to help children develop balance, coordination, strength and fine motor skills. In addition, our equipment encourages children to stay active and to have fun, so they associate physical activity with enjoyment. They’ll want to explore their abilities and to keep trying, even if they don't master motor skills or balance right away.

    Designed and Tested by Experts

    PlayExplorers works with engineers and child development experts, ensuring our playgrounds and play equipment are designed to encourage child development, as well as fun and creativity. We also work to ensure our pieces of equipment are fully inclusive and allow children of all abilities to develop social, emotional, physical and mental skills. Our playground equipment encourages children to get stronger and more confident.

    A Focus on Quality and Safety

    Each piece of PlayExplorers play equipment is designed for the highest standards of safety. Made from quality materials such as reinforced steel or plastic, each piece of equipment is thoroughly tested and carefully designed. We meet or exceed all relevant safety regulations and standards, and we stand by our products to ensure your peace of mind. Our equipment is used all over the country in churches, day cares, schools and communities. Designed to last for years, our playground equipment is a long-term investment in fun and childhood development.

    Boy with a red helmet giving two thumbs up. Pull out quote: Each piece of PlayExplorers play equipment is designed for the highest standards of safety.

    A Variety of Equipment to Meet Your Needs

    We offer a range of equipment, including spring riders, climbers, slides, outdoor playgrounds, indoor play equipment, playground accessories and more. Our designers can even work with you to develop a customized play area so you get the exact play space you need. Or, you can choose from one of our complete playground solutions. We have playground solutions for small spaces or for specific markets. For example, we have play solutions that are ideal for toddlers, churches or day cares.

    Play Gurus Are Ready and Waiting to Help Make Your Dream Playground a Reality

    PlayExplorers is focused on creating the best possible customer experience. Our team is highly motivated to help answer all your questions and get everything you need. We help people at every stage of the process, from designing your play area to picking out the right pieces to installation and more. Whenever you have a question, we’re here for you. We can also work with you to design the exact piece you want, and can even help you if you have questions about fundraising or financing.

    If you're ready to create a play space that not only encourages physical activity and the development of balance, coordination and motor skills, but also encourages children to play and have fun while building lifelong memories, contact a Play Guru at PlayExplorers today. We will be happy to help you start building the playground you've always wanted.

    Happy to help build a playground.

  • Funding for Playgrounds: How Can We Raise Money?

    Funding for Playgrounds: How Can We Raise Money?

    Various businesses and organizations, ranging from daycare centers to YMCAs to places of worship, across the country have raised significant amounts of money for playgrounds. Playground funding goals include anywhere from a few thousand dollars for playground maintenance to $40,000 to $80,000 for a complete playground build.

  • New Jersey nursery school updates playground with Playworld equipment

    When Dana Cavanaugh recently became the director at Prospect Cooperative Nursery School, she strongly felt the Maplewood, New Jersey, facility was in need of new, versatile playground equipment that helped young children to feel more physically confident while having more fun.

    With these goals -- and absolute requirements of impeccable safety ratings and long-lasting equipment -- Cavanaugh began searching for a vendor, beginning a selection process she said was “quite overwhelming”.

    “There were many manufacturers with endless choices to choose from, but we went with Playworld based on a recommendation and we’re happy we did,’’ said Cavanaugh.

    The Spring 2016 installation process began with a representative from George Ely Associates, a distributor Playworld equipment, paying a visit to Prospect School.

    “The rep from George Ely Associates really listened to our needs and constraints,” Cavanaugh said. “Taking these factors into account, he came back with a plan.”

    The school chose the Moon Rock Climber, a structure that encourages exploration and discovery, and the Butterfly Climber, equipment that provides children with a safe and fun place to practice their balance and coordination skills.

    From start to finish, the playground project took about three months. Since installation, countless children have engaged with the equipment, climbing, running, jumping and socializing in the play space. Being outside allows the young students at Prospect the freedom to explore their creativity and offers them experiences not provided in the classroom.

    “Playing outside is necessary for the growth and development of preschool children,” said Cavanaugh. “We’re happy we chose Playworld to help us with the early gross motor development of our students. We are already looking to replace another structure on our playground and Playworld is helping us with that now. We’re really excited to be working with the company again and can't wait to see what other outdoor adventures are in store for our kids.”

    Are you in need of innovative, safe playground equipment for your school? Get in touch with your local Playworld representative today.

  • Scratching the June itch: keeping kids focused with play

    We anticipate it every year. Summer is quickly approaching and school is coming (or for some already has come) to an end. A few months off from school bring a more carefree attitude, fun activities and family vacations. However, this can also be a challenging time for teachers and parents who are struggling to keep children focused on academics for the final days of school. Kids tend to get antsy. They want to be outside playing and dreaming about how they’re going to spend their summers. But there’s still work to be done and teachers need their students to be at their desks and prepared to finish out the school year.

    Fortunately, there’s a fun and effective solution to helping kids stay focused during this last stretch: play! Allowing children to engage in active playtime provides them with an outlet for their energy. Besides letting them rest and recharge, it offers them the opportunity to communicate, cooperate and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well in life.

    Think about it this way – would you like to sit at your desk all day long and not be allowed to take a break? Probably not. Well, it’s not any different for kids! We have to provide them with the playtime they need if we want them to perform well academically.

    Schools in Finland have successfully implemented this strategy throughout their school year. For every 45 minutes of instruction, children receive a 15-minute break. In fact, an American teacher who taught in Finland recently highlighted his experience. He noticed a drastic difference between implementing the American approach of prolonged periods of classes followed by a short break and implementing the Finnish approach. The Finnish approach resulted in a classroom full of focused, eager and happy kids, whereas the American approach led to a classroom full of restless and distracted kids.

    The more we provide kids with opportunities for free play, the more attentive they will be in the classroom – not just at the end of the year, but every school day. It’s important for play to be incorporated into children’s daily lives as it serves as an important platform for growth and discovery.

    Are you making sure your kids play enough?

  • Subbing Play for Sweets in Year-End Festivities

    It’s that time of year. The end of school is near and the weeks are filled with special events and ceremonies that culminate all the hard work students have done since September. I’m not going to lie: I love the pomp and circumstance of the spring recitals, presentations and blacktop parties. My eyes tear up just thinking about how they help us mark time as our children end one grade and prepare for the next. What I could live without is yet another Sign-up Genius notice asking me to bring treats in for the students.

    Why does every event require food? I give my children breakfast at home, they are allowed a snack (before or after lunch, depending on when their class goes to the cafeteria) and then they eat lunch. Why do we need to bring more food for them to eat in between those three meals?

    Just last week, my husband and I attended our third grader’s recorder recital. It was absolutely delightful listening to the students with the sweet sounds of their recorders playing in unison. I couldn’t believe how many songs they learned. It seemed we only heard the same three or four at home. After the show, we were invited to the blacktop for a reception where the kids were offered Capri Sun juice pouches, cinnamon rolls, mini-muffins and bags of chips – all before 10 a.m.

    One mom I know approached the food table with a big Dunkin Donuts bag. The kids nearly attacked her, not even hearing her say, "It's not donuts!" as she walked over. When she pulled out beautiful homemade fruit kabobs, there was some initial disappointment, but many of the kids grabbed one, ate the fresh fruit, and tossed the empty stick in the trash before running off to play on the playground.

    The truth is I’m not sure we needed a reception at all. If the point was for the parents to spend time with their kids afterward, it didn’t happen. They mostly pounced on the food table and then ran off to chase each other or play on the playground. If the objective was to reward the kids for their hard work all year (and they deserved it!), then why not offer fruit and water? Or better yet, ask the parents to lead an activity – such as a craft or a scavenger hunt. Give them 15 extra minutes on the playground. Can’t we use fun as the reward, not just food?

    I failed to mention we had gone to a similar reception the prior week for Invention Convention – cookies and brownies before lunch! And I just found out last night that the teacher had to cancel a museum field trip to take care of a personal matter. The solution? Another classroom party!

    I don’t want to come across as an advocate for over-policing food in the schools. I am a big believer in moderation when it comes to sweets. But we shouldn’t be surprised that our kids aren’t making healthy food choices when we’re bombarding them with treat after treat as the school year comes to a close.

    With recess and outdoor play on the decline, perhaps we should consider the consequences of kids consuming junk food and not having enough physical activity at school. Have you found a way to make classroom parties less about treats and more about play?

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