Although the playground is known as a place for recreation, you can find creative ways to teach your child how to use it to stay in shape. Running is just one example of physical activity, but your child needs an effective and beneficial fitness routine.
Encouraging your child to workout at a young age is one thing, but to show him/her that it’s possible to use it as a makeshift gym is another. With all of the playground equipment within his/her reach, you can help him/her choose as little as a few to get started.
Read further to find out about basic techniques, what playground equipment to use (and others to avoid), and how your hands-on approach can make a difference.
What to Do Before You Start
Discussing fitness with your child should be done before you start the process. This will allow you to explain why fitness is important and the specific place you want him/her to learn. If he/she asks questions (and you may find yourself on the receiving end of many), you should try to answer them accordingly. If you’re met with resistance, be sure to mention the playground and it may help him/her reconsider.
You shouldn’t just jump right into a routine because your child can be caught off-guard. It’s better to prepare him/her first. Perhaps you may need to sit down and plan how you’re going to start the discussion.
Why the Playground is Suitable for Fitness
Aside from its common use for playtime, the playground is also important for the physical development of children. Of course, they seem to find endless ways to use playground equipment to satisfy their need for fun, but they don’t have a sense of how effective the equipment is in terms of fitness.
One strategy is to think of various ways to use a particular piece of equipment. This is easier than you may think and only requires your imagination and perception. For example, a slide isn’t strictly for sliding and a bench isn’t strictly for sitting. Both can be used to do fitness techniques but have to be done carefully for the safety of your child.
The atmosphere of the playground can motivate your child because it spurs excitement. It reflects the freedom that he/she has to use energy in a wide-open space and can choose what equipment to tackle first.
- Weight Control
To perform daily functions effectively, it’s important for children to continually work to improve their strength. Those functions relate to their motor skills that can be as simple as brushing their teeth. Gross motor skills are especially important because they’re related to physical activity. Kicking a ball, swinging a bag, and doing pushups are just a few examples.
The next time you see your child carry a heavy toy, you’ll have it in mind that he’s/she’s using a motor skill. As simple as it may be, many of these skills play a role in many daily actions.
Exercise can be helpful in terms of increasing your child’s productivity. This doesn’t apply to playing because it’s recreational and isn’t related to achieving fitness goals by engaging in physical activity. Productivity can also teach your child how to not be idle and to get used to including physical activity as part of their daily schedule.
A child’s endurance depends on how long his/her muscles can work. Considering they’re quick to recover from high-intensity physical activity due to their youth, fitness can help maintain muscular strength as they age. Compared to adults who are quicker to become tired and sluggish, children have the natural ability to continue engaging in physical activity longer, especially if they stay in shape.
Although your child can function longer and may still have more energy to burn compared to you, he/she should still learn the importance of endurance.
Fitness is one of the keys to avoiding the risk of your child developing diabetes or heart disease. Excess weight is dangerous for a child because their body can’t handle it. Although there are children who have pre-existing conditions that cause uncontrollable rapid weight gain, children who don’t have those conditions should still be health-conscious.
If your child has trouble with weight gain, but it can be controlled, fitness is twice as important because it can teach him/her how to maintain their weight according to their size.
Playground Equipment: What to Use and What to Avoid
Playground equipment can be installed individually or connected in the form of an obstacle course. The equipment is stationary and doesn’t require electric plugs nor complex controls that would be difficult for your child to understand. It can simply be used for fitness without your child having to rely on you to turn it on and off.
On the other hand, not all playground equipment is created equal. Some are safe while others are dangerous and can cause serious injuries if an accident happens. This is important for you to know to protect your child while exercising and to avoid risks.
You may find that dangerous equipment outnumbers safe equipment. But your child only needs to work with a few to do fitness techniques. It doesn’t have to be spectacular but it should be effective.
What to Use
- Plastic Slide
- Plastic Swing Seat
- Balance Beam
A plastic slide is much safer than a standard steel or metal slide. The surface is usually hard, durable, and strong while long-lasting. Unlike steel and metal, plastic reflects light and doesn’t get extremely hot.
This slide is a far better choice because children are less likely to be injured and they can still slide down as quickly as they would on a steel or metal slide. Regarding fitness, they can do techniques safely and without having to worry about slipping due to sweat or rain. Also, they can avoid burning their hands as a result of intense heat from the sun.
If you’ve ever used a plastic slide, you know it’s ideal and doesn’t have as many risks as the other types.
Plastic Swing Seat
A plastic swing seat is more suitable than a steel, wood, rubber, or metal swing seat. With a hard plastic surface, it’s easier and safer to use and is less problematic.
Rubber swing seats are popular as well but they tend to form around the body of an occupant. Wooden swing seats weaken as they age and also develop splinters. Steel and metal swing seats tend to absorb sunlight and get extremely hot to the same degree as steel and metal slides.
Not only are plastic swing seats practically required on many playgrounds, but they’re also popular. Also, you’ll have fewer risks to worry about if your child uses it.
The balance beam is a classic playground object among children because they love to test their ability to balance themselves. It’s usually nothing more than a plank of wood that is supported on both sides to hold body weight. Some balance beams can be raised for people who prefer to challenge themselves in terms of height. But the standard balance beam for children is close to the floor.
Mainly used in gymnastics, a balance beam is good for children who admire the athleticism and/or want to mimic professional gymnasts as well as acrobats. Also, it can help their coordination and posture.
It may take a while for your child to be able to balance himself/herself without falling off. Hold your child’s hand and guide him/her until he/she gets the hang of it.
What to Avoid
- Monkey Bars
- Swings with Chains and S-Hooks
Often, children use monkey bars to swing from bar to bar toward one end of the equipment and then in reverse toward the other end. However, the bars are made of metal and it’s easy for a child to twist their wrists, or hurt their hands.
What is most dangerous about monkey bars is that children often climb to the top of the equipment and either stand up or walk across the bars. They can fall through the bars and injure themselves upon impact to the ground. Or they can fall on top of other children standing under the bars. These are only two possibilities of why the equipment has been barred in some states.
It’s recommended that you keep your child away from this equipment. All it takes is one slip up for the worst to happen.
Swings with Chains and S-Hooks
A swing set is one of the more popular and commonly used types of playground equipment. But the installation of the swings usually includes chains and S-hooks that are supposedly secured into place.
As a child grips the hanging chains, the S-hooks can open and pinch (or cut) their hands. No amount of tightening S-Hooks can prevent an accident that is waiting to happen. Although the chains may not break underweight, they wear down over time and become weak. Also, the bolts are attached to the chains and can loosen as well as cause an injury if they break.
Be sure to choose a safe swing set that has safe attachments. A swing that is attached with braided polyester rope is a better choice for your child. Rather than keep a firm grip on the rope, your child can simply hold it (with one hand on each side) while swinging.
A trampoline may appear to be fun, and children love to test themselves to see how high they can jump, but it can be deceiving. Jumping too high can result in head and body injuries. Although children are advised to jump in the center of the trampoline, it’s still risky and it’s easy for them to lose balance. The fabric is unstable and is the reason why injuries are so common. Trampolines that include a handle are also unsafe because a child can accidentally hit their head or fall on top of it.
Trampolines can move or flip if too many children exceed their capacity which could lead to falling.
A climbing rope is promoted as durable and strong enough to last many years. Playgrounds usually don’t have support at the bottom of the rope in case a child loses their grip and plunges to the ground. This can lead to an injured spine, broken legs, and various other severe injuries.
If your child anticipates using this equipment, just explain why it wouldn’t be safe to use and the risks.
Despite the ban of seesaws due to their dangerous reputation, some still do exist. They have more risks than benefits and are gradually being banned and removed because they’re now deemed illegal.
Considering this equipment requires two occupants to add support on both ends, it’s easy for one occupant to suddenly jump off. This is a common dangerous act that forces the other occupant to slam down to the ground.
Since the invention of seesaws, they have been problematic for children and have caused countless injuries. They’re available in wood and metal, but both surfaces are irrelevant because the equipment as a whole is forbidden.
How Old Should Your Child Be to Exercise on the Playground?
Age does play a part in a child’s ability to handle exercise or to follow directions according to certain fitness techniques. 7 years old is good to start a fitness routine that is structured especially for children. At that age, they can mimic techniques and are capable of remembering them.
However, the endurance level of a 7-year-old is lower than the endurance level of a 10-year-old. So, one technique may have two different results. Basic exercises are still more suitable for children of both ages to ensure they’ll accomplish enough physical activity. At the same time, they won’t do entirely too much or more than they can handle.
If you have a toddler, most likely, he/she is incapable of understanding the meaning of exercise aside from their inability to use playground equipment without your guidance. You should wait a few years before deciding to teach him/her how to exercise.
Recommended Playground Fitness Techniques for Your Child
If you’re lost in terms of brainstorming some techniques, online research can help you become familiar with various types and what you think is suitable for your child to learn. The last thing you want to do is choose techniques that can do more harm than good. Knowing your child’s limits could help you understand certain techniques you should follow and what you shouldn’t even think about trying.
In the meantime, there are several techniques in this section to get you started. Perhaps you can improvise by adding alternative techniques after both you and your child memorize and master the original techniques. Remember that you should be clear when teaching to ensure your child will understand. Also, be as detailed as possible.
Keep in mind that these techniques are especially for your child. Although they seem to be easy, he/she may not know the proper way to do them.
The side plank benefits the abdomen and also core areas of the body. While slightly similar to stretching, the body is lifted and positioned on one side for a period. This technique is often used to burn calories, shrink excess fat, and can improve posture. Also, it can be done on the floor, a bench, or any surface that provides stability. This is an alternative to doing the standard plank which requires a face-down position.
However, this technique shouldn’t exceed a couple of minutes for children. Prolonged side planking can be stressful on their bodies and can result in sprains as well as intense pain. Considering their tolerance is far lower than the tolerance adults have, they need the proper guidance to help them judge how long is too long when doing a side plank.
Step 1: Lay down on one side and then lift your body off the ground. Your hands and arms are a form of support.
Step 2: Put both legs together and keep them side by side while remaining in the same position as directed in step 1.
Step 3: Lift yourself for at least several seconds and then down. Repeat 10 times and then do the same on your other side.
Bench jumps are beneficial in terms of developing strength in the legs, core areas, and the shoulders which help keep the upper body stable while jumping.
This technique is quite similar to leaping but the difference is to leap from a low surface to a slightly higher surface. When done consistently, the legs become stronger over a period. This is good for children because it’s beneficial to them to improve their speed, power, and conditioning.
Step 1: Position yourself in a half-squat.
Step 2: Wait a few seconds and then leap onto the bench.
Step 3: Either jump off or step off the bench and then repeat 10 more times.
Pushups tackle muscles and help build upper body strength. Triceps, pecs, and shoulders are three important parts that benefit significantly from this fitness technique. When done daily, it can also benefit cardiovascular health.
However, if done improperly, some risks include wrist and elbow injuries. Children should do this while on their knees. Or they could try to do the standard but limited to a maximum of several to ensure they won’t hurt themselves.
Step 1: Lay face-down and then lift yourself with your arms and hands.
Step 2: Lower yourself and then repeat step 1 at least 15 more times.
Stretching can prevent injuries, release tension, improve flexibility, and improve posture. Although it isn’t meant to be a warm-up activity before exercise, it can benefit performance during physical activities.
As a popular fitness technique, it’s ideal for children to stretch either during their routine or perhaps after. But stretching too far is risky and it’s easy to pull a muscle.
Step 1: Extend your arms and stand with your legs far apart.
Step 2: Bend down and then slowly stand on the tips of your toes.
Step 3: Stretch as far as you can. Repeat step 1 and step 2 at least 10 more times.
Swinging is a classic yet popular playground activity. It helps to develop motor skills as it benefits the core muscles by continually pumping the legs outward. Not only is it a good fitness technique, but it also provides an adrenaline rush.
Children love to swing and often choose this as the first activity to do on the playground before moving on. However, swinging too high is dangerous. So, supervision is necessary to ensure that children don’t get too excited nor carried away while swinging.
Step 1: Secure yourself on the swing seat and make sure you aren’t leaning forward nor backward.
Step 2: Use your feet to push yourself back and then left them off the ground.
Step 3: Repeat step 2 until you no longer have to use your feet to push yourself.
Step 4: Pump your legs as you swing and remember to avoid swinging too high.
Jogging is a good way to maintain a healthy weight and also improves cardiovascular fitness. It’s also beneficial in terms of agility which is important to be able to move quickly. People often jog before their fitness routine because it gets the heart pumping.
A few laps around the playground is enough for a child in one day.
Step 1: Start slowly then pick up your pace.
Step 2: Jog 2-3 laps around the playground. If the playground is too spacious, try 1-2 laps.
Step 3: Return to a slow pace and then stop.
How Playground Fitness Can Benefit Your Child Emotionally and Socially
The playground is good for social interaction and it’s also a place to meet new people. Since it’s used by children regularly, it’s natural for them to talk to each other, follow each other, and work together. Children usually pay attention to what other children are doing despite how simple the action or activity may be. They become curious and ask questions or may want to get involved.
Emotionally, fitness can help build your child’s confidence, develop a positive self-image, become motivated, take pride in accomplishments, and develop an awareness of other people’s feelings.
If your child has social issues, encouraging him/her to interact with other children consistently can help develop better social skills. This is especially beneficial in terms of fitness because he/she can be an inspiration to other children while passing their health-consciousness on. He/she may even have the urge to brag about it which can spur curiosity in other children.
Your child can also get to know other children who are also learning about fitness. Perhaps he/she can teach them what he/she has learned from you.
Valuable Tips to Remember Before a Fitness Routine
Keep these tips in mind before your child starts his/her fitness routine. They’re intended to make the experience go as smoothly as possible and to help you remain focused. You have to be completely dedicated while knowing that eventually, your child will exercise freely without your supervision. Also, you’ll be proud that you were involved throughout the entire process and didn’t give up so easily.
Be Patient. It may take some time for your child to catch on to the fitness techniques and the routine as a whole. Considering the entire process is new to him/her (and perhaps he/she isn’t used to you being his teacher aside from being his parent), you need to maintain your composure and give him/her a chance to learn what is easy to you is difficult for him/her.
Too Much Sun Is Hazardous. Although it’s normal to prefer sunny days to exercise, be sure to protect your child from overexposure. Heat exhaustion is a condition that is a result of excessive activity and can cause body temperature to rise.
Don’t Overwork. The urge to complete an entire routine in a certain amount of time could put pressure on your child. As a result, he/she could get frustrated and could also become too exhausted to continue exercising. He/she could also be at the risk of fainting.
Be a Participant. As your child does his/her fitness routine, he/she can be motivated to be consistent and push himself/herself if he/she sees you following closely behind. The more involved you are the more confident he’ll/she’ll be.
Take Breaks. It isn’t healthy to continue exercising without taking a few minutes to breathe. This is especially dangerous for your child because he’s/she’s still developing and can only handle minimal exercise within a certain period.
The playground can be a great choice for fitness as long as you find various ways to teach your child how to use it as such. With your encouragement, you’ll inspire him/her to maintain good health (or improve their health) and to include fitness as part of their lifestyle while spending quality time with you at one of his/her favorite places.