Structured Play Archives - Midstates Recreation

Why is Accessible Play Important?

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Play is a vital part of a child’s development.  It is the foundation upon which they learn social skills, creative thinking, problem solving and self-regulation.  Going to a playground also promotes physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. A playground is the “classroom” where kids can benefit from all of the advantages of free play.

Children playing on Midstates playground equipment in memorial park ohio

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the USA has a disability.  That means there are millions of children with a physical or mental disability. Play should not be reserved only for those children with no disabilities. All children should be able to participate.  There is a nationwide movement to make public places more inclusive. A movement to make sure that there is kindness in our communities and that everyone is included. This is why creating an accessible playground is so important.

What is “Accessible” and “Inclusive” Play?

Often, the words “accessible” and “inclusive” are used together. They are symbiotic words that work together in a playground setting but actually mean two different things.

When applied to play and playgrounds, “accessible” simply means that anyone can access the equipment.  You might be thinking of wheelchair ramps, and while those are useful, let’s think beyond that. Other important factors include the surfacing, the size and space of the area and the equipment itself. Fortunately, playground equipment manufactures are getting more creative every year with design and function.

An “inclusive” playground means that the equipment is designed to be used by people of all abilities, ages and sizes.  It means being a part of something. It means fostering an environment where diversity is respected and valued. In order to achieve an inclusive play area, it must first be accessible.

Keys to Accessible and Inclusive Play

In order to be considered accessible and inclusive for everyone, a playground should try to meet as many of the following criteria as possible:

  1. Equitable Use – each piece of equipment can be used by anyone regardless of disability, size, age
  2. Flexibility – each piece can be use in multiple ways
  3. Ease of Use – equipment should be easy to use with little or no direction
  4. Information – any info or directions that are needed for equipment should be easily displayed or available
  5. OK to Use Wrong – encourage creativity!  The equipment should be ok if used in a different way than intended.
  6. Low Physical Effort – equipment should be able to use by people of all strength levels
  7. Size and Space.- there should be enough room for anyone that uses special equipment (wheelchair, walker, etc.).  The space should also consider that a caretaker may need to be with the child.

It may not be possible for the entire playground or all of the equipment to meet these standards, but taking steps to make even part of the area accessible and inclusive is a step in the right direction.

Why Should We Make Playgrounds Accessible?

Special Needs & Inclusive playground Equipment at Neil Armstrong ElementaryEveryone deserves a chance to join in and play. Playing is when kids learn how to socialize, how to make friends, how to be fair, kind and empathetic.

Accessible and inclusive playgrounds may be designed with the child with the disability in mind, but the benefits overflow to the child with no disabilities.  These kids will learn about differences, kindness, empathy and a world with no barriers.

Inclusive playgrounds tend to be more creative and unique.  This makes it a destination for the whole community.  Even if the playground is private at a school or church, kids will get excited when they know they are headed there.

The physical benefits of play are great for all, especially children with disabilities that may not have as many opportunities for physical activity.  Many Americans live a sedentary or inactive life and childhood obesity is prevalent. Getting outside and moving can help!

Long-term studies* show that children that are exposed to play early in life have significantly better life outcomes.  Higher career earnings, an increase in the number of high school and college graduates and increased confidence in their social and coping skills.

Let’s not deny ANYONE these opportunities!  Provide accessible and inclusive play for all!

For more info on Inclusive Play, why it is important and how it can be achieved, click to read our FREE Inclusive Play Idea Book.


If you would like to learn more about designing and building a playground in your community, school or church, that is accessible and inclusive, visit https://www.midstatesrecreation.com/

Girl hanging upside down on a rope

How Can Play Help The Mental Health Of Children?

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According to mentalhealth.org , 1 in 10 children suffer from some sort of mental health issue.  This is a surprisingly large number of children!

Although there is no direct proof that the current technology-driven era is contributing to this large number, it’s no secret that children seem to be spending a lot more time in front of screens than in the past.

As parents, teachers and care-takers, it is our responsibility to raise children in a way that gives them the best possible chance to live without mental health issues. Making sure that they have plenty of opportunity to play can help.

Why is Play So Important?

It isn’t difficult to recognize the physical needs of children.  Provide them with food, shelter, exercise, healthcare, and a safe space to live and sleep.

However, figuring out what children need to develop strong mental health is not as obvious.  You might be surprised to find out that “Play” is an important key.

Play is how children learn who they are, test their strengths and boundaries, and figure out how the world works.

According to research done on brain development, play actually shapes the structural design of the brain.  Play creates a brain that has increased “flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life.”

Ways to Help Children Develop Strong Mental Health

Some of the things a child needs to form a strong foundation for their current and future mental health are:

  1. Unconditional love from their family
  2. Safe and secure environment and surroundings
  3. Teachers and caregivers that encourage them
  4. Appropriate guidance and discipline
  5. Positive conversations that build up self-confidence and self-esteem
  6. Play with other children- structured and unstructured

Play is a natural thing to do for children.  The job of the adult is to make sure the child has plenty of opportunity to do so.

What is Structured Play?

Just as it sounds, Structured Play is time to play that includes rules or boundaries.  This is usually any type of intentional game or activity.  Typically, there is a goal to reach (ex: build something with Legos or win a game of Tag).

Structured play can foster:

  1. Leadership tendencies
  2. Team building and teamwork
  3. Improved listening skills
  4. Problem-solving skills
  5. Goal-setting and meeting a goal

What is Unstructured Play?

Also known as “Free Play”, Unstructured Play is when the child leads the activity and there are no set rules or structured games.  The goal is to truly let the child decide what to do with the time and how they spend it.

Structured Play/Free Play can foster:

  1. Positive feelings like joy, thrill, competency
  2. Imagination and creativity
  3. Resilience- they learn how to handle different situations, how to cope with various outcomes, and how to continue playing when there is uncertainty or challenges
  4. Attention span- can increase how long a child can pay attention to tasks.  This is especially helpful with children who have a hard time maintaining focus for a long period of time.
  5. Social interaction- allows them to develop proper social cues and learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships.  They learn to compromise and cooperate with other children.
  6. Fewer undesirable behaviors like bullying.  Free play teaches children how to control aggression and regulate feelings of anger and frustration.

How to Provide Unstructured Play for Children

This is the easiest part.  Simply give the child a safe environment and let them play!  Try not to interfere unless their safety is at risk.  A room with toys works well but a great place to take them is a playground.

Playgrounds provide the perfect environment to allow children the freedom to play with no boundaries and to use their own imagination and free will to choose what they will do.  They can use the actual playground structure to inspire their own games and imaginative play.

To view playground projects that will inspire the creative side of your child’s mind, click here to visit our Gallery.

Commit to a Strong Mental Health Foundation for Your Child

There are several ways that you can guide your child to lifelong good mental health.  Teaching your child about feelings and emotions and being aware of their actions and behaviors.

Show them that it’s okay to struggle as long as they learn how to work through those problems.

Teach them about relationships by being someone that they can trust.  Allow them to learn how to problem-solve on their own (with your guidance).

And lastly, you can encourage their creativity and other life-skills by playing with them and also allowing time for Free Play. Doing these things can’t guarantee that your child will live a life without any mental health problems, but it can guarantee that you have done everything to help guide them in a positive direction.