The Power of Play and Inclusive Playspaces

4 minute read

Written by

Rita Sverdlova, OTR/L

Play is an essential part of childhood, an inherent part of a child’s physical, emotional, and social development. Playing helps children learn, explore, and develop their creativity and imagination. This fundamental aspect of childhood transcends cultural and societal boundaries. It’s more than just a source of joy and entertainment; play is a powerful tool for children's growth.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of inclusive play areas, both outdoor and indoor playgrounds, which ensure that all children can participate, regardless of their abilities. Unfortunately, not all children have access to safe and inclusive playspaces, which can limit their opportunities for play and hinder their emotional and cognitive development.

Let’s talk about the transformative power of play and how inclusive playspaces can meet the diverse needs of children.

Playing Helps Children’s Physical Development

When children are running, jumping, climbing, and swinging they’re having a blast, but they’re also learning a lot. These activities simultaneously contribute to the development of fine and gross motor skills and promote overall fitness. Whether it's playing on a playground or engaging in interactive games, children's bodies are constantly in motion, strengthening their muscles and improving coordination. Physical play also supports the development of balance, spatial awareness, and a sense of proprioception, helping children gain better understanding of how their bodies operate in space.

Playing Supports Social and Emotional Growth

When engaging in imaginative play or cooperative games, children practice communication, empathy, and conflict resolution. They learn to take turns on the playground, share toys, and collaborate with others. These interactions are the building blocks of positive relationships. Through play, children can also express and work through their emotions, gaining a better understanding of themselves and others. Play is a natural platform for children to learn vital social skills and emotional regulation.

Playing Helps Children Learn Cognitive Skills

When children are playing, they’re also engaging in problem-solving, critical thinking, and creative activities. Imagine a child at an indoor playground, constructing structures with building blocks or solving puzzles. That child is actively using their mind to navigate challenges and explore possibilities. The same can be said for children who are engaged in imaginative play — dressing up or imagining narratives with their dolls and other toys. Imaginative play allows children to develop their storytelling skills and creative capabilities. These cognitive benefits of play lay the groundwork for academic success and lifelong learning.

Why Do We Need Inclusive Playspaces?

Play is hugely beneficial to children, helping to build their confidence, self-esteem, and resilience, which are all essential for their overall well-being. Not all children have access to safe and inclusive playspaces, though, an oversight that leaves children with disabilities or special needs without access to the same opportunities.

Inclusive playspaces are designed to be accessible to all children, regardless of their abilities, and provide a safe and welcoming environment for play. Children with physical disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids, may need ramps or wider door frames, for example. Children with sensory sensitivities or sensory processing challenges may need quiet spaces or access to specific textured surfaces or sound and light features. Interactive play panels can also benefit children with sensory processing disorders. Playspaces designed with all children in mind also provide opportunities for guided social interactions. This can help children to develop their social skills and build friendships.

When designing or choosing a playspace, it’s important to remember that inclusive spaces are beneficial for all children. They provide a safe and welcoming environment for play, where children can learn to appreciate diversity, develop empathy, and gain understanding of others. By embracing the power of play and creating inclusive playspaces, we pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Where Can I Find an Inclusive Playspace?

PlayWell Brooklyn is an inclusive playspace located in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. We are open everyday of the week and offer open-play, classes, private events, and more. Please check out our schedule and offering to learn more.