The Perks of Playgrounds

This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.

Playgrounds have long been the hubs of most neighbourhoods. In recent years more playgrounds are sitting unused as the physical fitness of Canada’s youth declines and screen time increases. The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth states, “95% of parents report local availability of parks and outdoor spaces,” however “only 37% of parents often play actively with their children.” The good news is, it’s easy to add playground time to your family’s life and it has a multitude of benefits for everyone.

Sherri Moffatt is the HRM Recreation Department’s Halifax Peninsula Area Coordinator. She explains that in addition to the physical benefits from activities such as climbing, jumping, and swinging, children also gain social and mental health benefits from playground play.

“It’s a great unstructured play opportunity,” she says, “Often you’ll see children creating their own games and chasing each other; it also creates an opportunity for them to improve their social skills, their problem solving skills, and experience inter-generational play.”

Lindsay McDonald is a personal trainer and the mother of two young children. She makes it a priority to spend time outside with them each day.

“Coordination, balance, strength, agility - it's all tested on the playground and they only get better with more practice,” she says, adding that her nearly 4-year-old daughter is now also learning social skills at the park, “[She] is relying on other children more and more at the playground and less on me. She wants to play independently and make friends.”

McDonald has created her own checklist for choosing a suitable playground for her family. She checks the playground equipment for the recommended age stickers; chooses one with features her children will enjoy or need (i.e. certain equipment or a fence); looks for opportunities for the children to develop their social and physical skills; and picks a location close to her home to avoid the dreaded post-playground car nap.

Moffatt listed many of the same points as McDonald and added a suggestion to remember sun safety by wearing hats and sunscreen, and taking breaks in shaded areas. She also advises that parents ensure children are using the equipment as it’s intended. If people do see something that has been broken or vandalized, a call to 311 will have it fixed.

There are over 400 playgrounds in the HRM. If you’re not sure where the closest playground to your house is, or just want to check out a different area, Moffat points to the searchable database of all of the playgrounds at www.halifax.ca/rec/PlaygroundsinHRM.php They are currently working on an updated version with even more information, including accessibility features.

This summer the Halifax Recreation Department will be having a Recreation Wagon visit some playgrounds. While at each stop the staff will be leading games and activities and bringing along some extra equipment for the visit. The schedule will be posted on www.halifax.ca/rec by mid-June.

Moffatt says playgrounds are the perfect venue for parents and children to play together.

“It’s free, it’s open from dawn till dusk, and it’s an opportunity for parents to get active as well,” Moffatt says

McDonald agrees, “For me, the benefit is being able to spend time outside and be active with my children. Both are key in keeping me sane,” she laughs, “When it comes to whether you should go to a playground or not with your children, the answer should always be yes. Picking an outdoor option should be a no-brainer.”