School Playground Equipment: A Canvas for Unstructured Play

Installing school playground equipment is a great step to helping your students excel in school.

Spoken like a true marketer, eh? Why should you listen to anything I have to say?

Fair point. However, I am a dad to three kids, work in the playground industry, and was a teacher.

A Former Teacher’s Thoughts

I taught school for about five years. Now, I need to qualify that statement as I taught in a small, rural Mennonite school nestled in the world’s grass seed capital. Mennonites schools and Public Schools are very different. Yet both are made up of people and problems, adults and kids. I do not claim to be an expert, but I know a little about how challenging the role of a teacher can be.

Looking back on those years, one of my biggest regrets is my attitude towards recess. I was young, naive, and impatient; school was about learning, and recess sometimes got in the way!

Now, I realize that recess would have been my best ally if I just embraced it.

Without getting into the political and social maelstrom our educational system has turned into, I understand the tension between grades and play, natural fun, and the need to keep everyone safe.

Many schools purchase playground equipment, as it bridges play and safety. It provides a lot of fun and opportunities for games but has much inherent risk engineered away.

Sports VS Play

A playground allows children to develop their own play, which is a very important part of learning how to get along with others. Think about it. Sports are great, but there are already set rules for interacting with one another. There is the best player, the referee, and the coach. There is the whistle that stops play when some unacceptable happens. There are the expected behaviors, the game plan, and the scheduled stops and starts.

But natural, unstructured play teaches kids that others won’t want to include them if they are mean. If you are kind, people will be drawn to you. If you share, you will be shared with. If you start a game, you need to try to include everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I think sports are great and teach many important lessons, but I am a little afraid we have swung too far away from letting our children have unstructured playtime.

Unstructured play gives opportunities for life lessons such as forgiveness, generosity, leadership, gentleness, creativity, inclusiveness, and many other great life skills. Children playing together are prepping the skills they will take into adulthood.

Teachable Moments

This is not just pie-in-the-sky talk. Think about it. A typical playground scenario such as “I tagged you!” and the “No, you didn’t!” retort has the potential for the children to learn about honesty, fairness, dealing with difficult situations, conflict resolution, and much more! When we cut out unstructured play, we cut out all these important life lessons!

Unstructured play on school playground equipment also can present plenty of moments for group teachable moments, such as when someone is being excluded, the game takes a dark turn, or someone is bullying others. Of course, when to do this takes real wisdom but gathering the kids around to discuss a situation and what should be done to remedy the situation.

A qualified adult should always supervise unstructured play on the playground, but the play should be the children’s domain. Let them work together to learn through playing. The adult is there to much sure the play stays safe and fair.

How does school playground equipment help with unstructured play?

In my mind, there are four major reasons school playground equipment excels in helping kids engage in unstructured play. I am sure there are more, but these are the ones that leap out immediately.

No Rules, Open Play

There is no set game to play on the playground. It can change every recess. This teaches children to be flexible, to work together on what to play, and helps children learn to lead

Cooperation: All for Fun and Fun for All

Tying in with the first point, children learn if they want to join the game, and if they want the game to be as fun as possible, all their imaginations have to flow in a similar direction. Imagination games always make me smile as kids learn to play off of each other like the shortest improv group you ever saw. But this is critical learning for adult life!

Structure but not Restriction

Ok, yes, this feels like it flies in the face of unstructured play, but hear me out. Because this is a school setting, you need some safety structure. The playground area creates a natural border for children to play in. It helps keep everyone together but not in a restrictive way.

Sparks for Imagination

Unlike a basketball hoop that can only be used for one game, a playground can be anything! You can play tag, hide and seek, or design an obstacle course! And don’t even get me started on all the imaginative games that can be played on a playground.

At this moment, let me welcome back the marketer side of me. A playground such as the Navigator is an amazing playground for fostering unstructured play.

My children’s favorite is “Sea Monster,” where I am surprised, suprise, a sea monster! The game is me chasing after them till my lungs feel like they will pop.

Obviously, this is a much larger topic than a blog on a commercial playground website can cover. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means. If this interests you, I highly encourage you to do your own research!

And if you have any questions about our commercial playgrounds, please get in touch with our playground sales team!

And, if you are a teacher, thank you for all you do! And yes, I know grammar is not the best! I have my weaknesses!