When kids play on the playground, they are engaging many of their senses including sight, sound, and touch. This sensory play has far-reaching benefits on cognition, motor skills, and social development. Play can also impact two different sensory systems in the body, proprioception, or body awareness, and vestibular function, or sense of balance. Playground equipment has been thoughtfully designed to contribute to sensory play. Here we highlight the senses and consider what play events correspond to their development.
Sight: How a play area looks visually impacts the experience. Important visual components include things like shades and roof toppers, color selection and color contrast, surfacing integration, design, and theme, as well as overall flow of the equipment.
Sound: Music play is the obvious choice here and it can be incorporated as part of the playground, or as a stand-alone music park. PlayEnsemble® provides so many ways to bring joyful noise to the playground. Sense of hearing also intersects with sense of touch as children explore their ability to manipulate the instruments.
Tactile: There are many touchpoints on a playground. To incorporate tactile events, consider products like the Sensory Rail or panels that are meant to be explored with hands. In addition, the Serenity Spot™ has games, a rubber kick pad, and a mirror. For the youngest users ages 6 to 23 months, products like the Portable Sensory Station™ offer appropriately sized, hands-on, exploration.
Proprioception: Climbers and rockers are just a few of the play events that relate to body awareness. Rope climbers like the RopeVenture® are less rigid and allow a child to learn how their body moves in space. A product like ZipVenture® gives a child a sense of how their body feels gliding from one point to the other.
Vestibular: When thinking about vestibular development, consider the intersection of movement and balance. Spinners are key to vestibular development because they are impacting a child’s inner ear which directly impacts balance. Products like the Comet, Rev8 and the Volta® Inclusive Spinner are great for vestibular stimulation. Swinging, sliding, rocking, and walking on a balance beam are also helpful.
A playground is all about sensory development. It is one of many reasons why we ALL, especially kids, need time for play.