Active play is a critical for your child’s physical and social development. Exercising, performing physically challenging tasks, and cooperating with friends during play helps them to develop a variety of important skills. However, it’s not always obvious which kinds of play equipment, outdoor swings, slides and activities are appropriate for your kids. They’ll always want to do what bigger kids are doing, and parents need to know how to keep play challenging and fun without allowing them to be unsafe.
While not every child develops at the same rate, there are some basic guidelines on what kinds of toys and play equipment are appropriate for children in different stages of development.
Toddlers (6 months - 2 years)
Infants and young toddlers are still exploring their basic environment, and their own bodies. Toys and play equipment. They need safe and controlled spaces to move and explore, and to practice crawling, standing, and walking.Sandboxes
Sandboxes provide a controlled space where you can help your little one explore interesting textures, to play with toys, and to practice standing up and falling down.Bucket Swings
Outdoor play swings are always a favorite, but young children won’t be able to hold themselves on a moving swing very well, and should use a swing with a closed bucket seat to prevent slipping.Terrain and Simple Obstacles
As kids learn to walk, they’ll begin to manage different types of terrain, from sand, to bark chips, to grass, and eventually to minor obstacles like low stairs.
Pre-Schoolers (2-5 years)
Pre-schoolers have had time to build basic coordination skills, and can begin to tackle more of the obstacles you would expect to see at your public playground.Low slides
At this age your kids will have little trouble climbing a few stairs to go down a slide. Tall slides can be dangerous, however, because improper usage can leave kids vulnerable to falling. Keep your kids on lower play sets to ensure that you can guide them, and step in quickly if there’s a problem.Short Ladders and Ramps
Climbing is a natural instinct, and it’s important to provide a healthy and safe outlet for kids when reach an age where they’re ready to start thinking vertically.Tunnels and Crawl Spaces
Low and confined spaces are safe for kids in this age range, but need to be designed to allow supervising guardians to see into them, usually through a transparent viewport. It’s important to be able to maintain your line of sight with your child at all times.
School Age Children (5+)
School-age children are usually well-coordinated, and can handle physically challenging tasks and obstacles. Play equipment needs to be designed to be challenging and interesting for them, to help ensure that they don’t feel the need to misuse it in order to entertain themselves.Climbing equipment
Angled rope climbers, climbing walls, and monkey bars are meant for children in this age range. They’ll be able not only to perform climbing tasks, they’ll also be much more able to land in a controlled way if they make a mistake and fall off.Cooperative Play
While younger children can play together, they generally won’t cooperate with each other. Improved interpersonal awareness and socialization will help your kids to work together at this age. That means they can begin to use see-saws and other cooperative equipment, and they’ll be able to begin playing sports and games with each other.