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BCI Burke Playground

Understanding the Benefits of Play

Play is important at all ages and stages of life and is the work of childhood and the joy of adulthood. In today’s fast-paced, overscheduled world, we often see play as something for children. On the busiest of days, it might even cross our minds that it isn’t productive and takes valuable time away from academics and other pursuits (all the lists!). This is the furthest thing from reality – in fact, play is an essential part of development, socialization, movement, community and unstructured play is critical for a healthy body and mind. 

According to the American Psychological Association, overlooking the value of unstructured play is a mistake. Unstructured play is a fundamental necessity for children to thrive physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. Play helps us become and stay healthier in so many ways – starting with the most obvious, physically, and then moving into social, cognitive and creative development. 


Physical Development 

This will come as no surprise: Running, jumping and climbing help young (and all) people improve their coordination, balance, energy levels and overall fitness. As they learn to enjoy these activities, they also will build healthy habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. Play systems like Nucleus Aspire, a series of climbers, tunnels and slides, encourages children to move and keep coming back for more while people ages 5-12 and 13+ can exercise and play on ELEVATE® Obstacle Course Fitness and when playing together, adults can model healthy behaviors for children. Win. Win.

For the American Academy of Pediatrics, this makes play a vital tool in combating the epidemic of childhood obesity (one in five U.S. children have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and healthy habits developed in childhood are more likely to be repeated in adulthood. 


Cognitive Development

AAP advises that executive functioning — which incorporates cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and working memory — is a core benefit of play. 

In a clinical report titled “The Power of Play,” AAP says, “Play is not frivolous; it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content), which allows us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.”

Activities that allow children to direct their own learning and give them the independence to pursue their interests and plan their play experience are an important part of development. The StemPlay® collection by Burke exemplifies the marriage of outdoor learning and play for cognitive development. The panels are fun and colorful and teach the concepts math, science and engineering in a child-directed way. 


Emotional Development

The Harvard Graduate School of Education says that “children learn self-regulation as they follow norms and pay attention while experiencing feelings such as anticipation or frustration,” particularly through social and guided play. It also teaches children “how to set and change rules, and how to decide when to lead and when to follow.”

Harvard also observes that play can reduce stress and improve mental health. It provides safe spaces for children to express themselves, regulate their emotions, manage stress and reduce anxiety. This builds resilience and the resilience they build transcends the playground into their lives and futures. Imaginative play events are the perfect way for children to build emotional intelligence and empathy. PlayHouses, the Burke Express, themed playspaces and Exploration and Sensory Stations for the 6-23 imaginations are all ways kids of all ages and abilities can develop emotionally. 


Social Development

Play has both social and emotional benefits. As children navigate social interactions, they develop communication skills, learn to understand social cues and build empathy. Swinging, sliding, game playing (MOVMNT® Electronic Play is a perfect example of this!) and even adventure play build these important life skills!

Harvard notes that social play “requires children to share ideas and express feelings while negotiating and reaching compromises.” As children resolve conflicts, they learn to understand other people’s perspectives, which will help them build healthy relationships now and in the future.


Creative/Intellectual Development

When children engage in pretend play and use equipment and objects in imaginative new ways, they are doing more than storytelling and world-building; they also are developing their skills in language, mathematics, critical thinking and problem solving. What’s more, they are learning how to innovate. Art, music and creative play outside can foster imaginative play and development and provides all the benefits of being outdoors – Vitamin D, natural light and more independence – to name a few.

We might not always see the long-term benefits of play when we’re in the thick of it, but they are ever-present — and over time, they lead to happier, healthier children. Those children ultimately will become stronger, more resilient adults who still enjoy play for better mental and physical health!


Contact your nearest Burke representative to learn more about how you can incorporate play into your community!