Expert Health Articles

The Benefits of Playground Play for Children

Emilee Shoemaker, MOT, OTR/L, CLT-LANA 

Occupational Therapist
Julie A. Cole Rehab and Sports Medicine Clinic

Warmer weather is here and parents all over the county are excited to break their kids loose from the house. The past few years, the COVID-19 social guidelines limited kid activities, including comfort levels and social distancing at the playground. Kids are starting to fill up the playgrounds again, which means it is a good time to revisit the benefits of playground play with your children.

The playground offers a unique environment for building skills. There is a lot of development and therapeutic growth that can happen in an environment like a playground. Other than the obvious areas of development, such as strength and gross motor skills, children also learn body awareness, sensory regulation, executive functioning skills and self-esteem.

The following lists a few ways to use basic playground equipment to help your child develop and grow this summer.


Use the swings to increase core strengthening and balance. Cue the child to use their legs to pump the swing on their own or even have the child lay on their stomach. To improve their vestibular sensory input, push them on the swing or spin them as tolerated.


The tunnels at the playground promote great sensory regulation and vestibular input to help organize and allow the children to explore their abilities. Tunnels also encourage true crawling on their hands and knees.


Slides improve core strengthening and challenge the child’s sense of balance. Allow the child to go down the slide on their bottom, their stomach and even on their back. When supervised by an adult, walking up the slide can help improve hamstring strength and proprioceptive sensory input.

Monkey bars

The monkey bars not only improve arm and trunk strengthening, but also improve how children perform reciprocal patterns in the upper body and crossing midline. Allow the child to attempt the monkey bars with and without your help. They can just swing on one bar, or even attempt to swing to the next bar.

The merry-go-round

Children love the sensory input provided by the merry-go-round! You can encourage the child to sit on their stomach, lay on their back or even help push the merry-go-round to get the full benefits of vestibular and proprioceptive feedback.

Vertical ladders

Using the vertical ladder to get to a slide or the monkey bars helps kids build their strength, bilateral coordination and regulate vestibular sensory input. Using their body weight, the child will increase their proprioceptive sensory input as well as being able to respond to their body’s movement in space.

Utilizing playground equipment allows kids to challenge their bodies, develop their muscle strength and practice fine motor skills in ways that they generally are not able to use on a daily basis. We have several playgrounds in our area that are handicap accessible for kids who use walkers or wheelchairs. We also have parks that offer equipment sized for babies who are learning to crawl to those big, strong preteens who are ready for a break from their video games. Kids using the playground will have a chance to reach new physical achievements. It’s time to play!