Whether in the school environment or accessing playgrounds in the community, it is important to discuss playground therapy as a tool for building skills. Therapy playground strategies can support development in many different areas. Here, we’ll cover how to incorporate the playground in therapy sessions, as well as playground equipment.
You’ll also want to dive into specifics about sensory integration at the playground and balance at the playground. Another resource that is helpful for some individuals is our article on sensory diets at the playground.
The playground offers a unique environment for building skills. There is so much development and therapeutic growth that can happen in an environment like a playground.
Let’s take a look at the various areas of development that can be targeted through play on a playground:
- Gross motor skills
- Hand-eye coordination
- Body awareness
- Sensory input
- Behavior and behavioral problems
- Direction following
- Executive functioning skills
- Bilateral coordination
- Motor planning
- Sensory integration
This skillset is powerful and it’s all through the power of play!
Playground Therapy Equipment
With it’s slides and swings, surroundings, slope, surfaces, and colors, no two playgrounds are exactly alike. Just as all playgrounds are different, the childhood development that can occur using the equipment at a playground is vast.
Some important playground therapy equipment include:
- Balance beams
- Climbing wall
- Climbing platform
- Foam sensory stations
- Wheelchair access
- Climbing areas
- Monkey bars
- Auditory input stations
- Fine motor areas
- Musical areas
- Cognitive skill areas
All of these spaces on the playground can be used through free play to support development. It’s through the occupation of play that children of all abilities develop.
Creative play including pretend play and interaction with peers on the playground can promote development on a typical weekend trip to the park, or during recess time on the playground. Occupational therapy practitioners uniquely promote functional performance and play is both the therapy tool as well as the target for development.
Using playground equipment in therapy goals can also be used to support a variety of diagnoses.
Not only that, but a playground is a supportive and community friendly space that allows caregivers to carryover recommendations in a shared and accessible space.
Ultimate Guide to the Playground
- Sensory Diets at the Playground
- Outdoor Sensory Diets
- Playground Balance Exercises
- How to Use Playground Equipment for Sensory Input
- Sensory Nature Walk for the Family
- Research on Outdoor Sensory Play
- Sensory Activities for Playing in the Woods
- Executive Function Activities at the Beach
- Sensory Activities at the Beach
- Virtual Picnic Activities
When playing on the playground, so many skills develop. We covered this in our resource on sensory play using playground equipment because motor skills and movement are intrinsically connected to sensory skills, meaning sensory-motor! You’ll love this resource on developmental progression of playground skills.
Modifying Playground Equipment for Development
Neighborhood parks, school playgrounds, and even natural play areas (hiking trails, beaches, state parks, forests, and the backyard) are in every community. What a resource we have within minutes from every home! But, when it comes to playground equipment, not all are created equal.
Sometimes, we need to adjust our plans or activities at the park or playground. And that’s ok! A swing may not be developmentally appropriate for every individual. A climbing device or elevated play area may not work for the needs of every individual. What we can do, however, is adjust or modify the equipment we do have access to.
This way, we can use the resources available as best we can while promoting developmental progression and achievement of individual goals. That is exactly what we do as occupational therapy professionals!
Check out this blog on modifying playground equipment. It’s a great tool to add to your therapy toolbox!
- This blog post includes utilizing playground equipment to support visual processing skills on the playground
- This blog post has social skills activities while at the park or playground
- Tag games
- Outdoor Lawn Games
- Sidewalk Chalk Ideas
- This blog post has more ideas for playground games
Try these outdoor play ideas: