Playground time is equal in importance if your goal is to raise well-balanced kids. Not doing so makes everything else harder when it’s time for Kindergarten.
When kids are between the ages of two and five, before they enter kindergarten, the social skills they learn on the playground are critical. Socialization should represent a top priority for parents to give their kids a head start before it’s time for bigger classrooms and diverse personalities.
It all starts on the playground, not on that backyard swing set that’s ideal for rural farms deep in the hinterlands of North Dakota. Kids who interact and make connections through play, verbal communication and physical activity are better prepared than kids isolated from those their own age.
I learned this, of course, from my brilliant wife who is a stay-at-home mom who ensures our son spends quality time on the playground. I can’t take credit, so I’ll share what she’s done over the past several years:
Step back when they turn four: My wife and I were hands-on parents when our 18-month-old started waddling around the playground. When our son turned four, my better half made a point to consciously step back to let our son play on his own. This enabled her to spend quality time with other moms and it fostered autonomy among the children. the reason for doing so is…
Let them work out their own problems: My wife and other moms were attuned to the sounds kids made and knew when someone was hurt. If some bickering took place or one child was annoyed with another, the playground moms held back and did not interfere. They let them work out their differences on their own. 95% of the time, they did.
Encourage strength and endurance: It’s fascinating to see kids go from barely hanging on to monkey bars to doing multiple rounds back and forth across them. It builds up their physical confidence, and the benefits also relate to cognitive development – they’re more resilient, a major benefit from playgrounds.
The flip side was on full display at a recent Kindergarten orientation event I attended with my wife and son. Nearly sixty families were present, packed with their parents near the main entrance. It was chaotic, loud and some kids were overwhelmed from the experience.
The kids that had crossed paths with one another on the playground softened up – they recognized their future classmates, saying hello and talking. Ten minutes later parents were separated from their kids into different classrooms and my son walked confidently with his head held high like a champion…
… Okay, that’s a blatant lie. He was a mess, worried about being separated from us and he freaked out when we shuffled him into the kids’ classroom. He was fine afterward when the parents were reunited with all the kids on the school’s outdoor playground.
Other kids we saw, that rarely if ever go to the playground with their parents or nannies… that’s a different story.
Hence the importance of exposing your kids to local playgrounds.
Kindergarten brings a whole new set of challenges when you’re a parent. Managing kids who aren’t used to playground socialization will only make your life harder.