Backyard Play Gyms & Play Areas“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” - Fred Rogers
The complaint of parents everywhere: kids don’t play like they used to. They are watching television, DVDs, youtube; they are playing video games, crushing candy and blowing up angry birds. They are less active, not as healthy, suffering from vitamin D deficiencies and missing out on the beauty and wonder of outdoor play. A backyard play gym or play area not only will improve the value of your home; it will improve the quality of life for your kids. A backyard play gym can also set your child on the pathway to a lifetime of fitness; they may develop a love of movement and good health.
It doesn't matter how big or small your outdoor space is; you can accommodate some type of play gym. They come in all shapes and sizes; they can be as elaborate or simple as you like. Climbing walls, rope ladders, and tree houses can be combined with the basics like swing sets, slides, and monkey bars to create a virtual wonderland of outdoor play. Play gyms can be made age appropriate as well; toddler swings, shorter slides, sand boxes will all appeal to preschoolers.
Physical Benefits of Owning Your Own Play Gym
Physical play is an indispensable component of healthy child development; play gyms provide fundamental opportunities for exercise through play. Research has shown a link between play and cognitive development, gross and fine motor skills and socialization. Every type of learning; emotional, motor, cognitive and social, is enhanced and expedited by play.
Play gyms encourage “free play.” Free play gives children the opportunity to play in any manner they choose; it encourages them to explore and interact with their environment and other children.
Outdoor play, and specifically play grounds or play gyms, provide occasions for advancing fine and gross motor skills which include reaching, running, grasping, balance, releasing, and hopping.
Climbing – Rock walls, rope ladders, step ladders, etc.
Encourages whole-body muscular strength and development, flexibility and durability. Stable and variable equipment and devices promote the development of balance and coordination.
Brachiation – Trapeze bar, spinning wheel, chin-up bar, monkey bars
Develops spatial awareness as well as hand-eye and arm-leg coordination; improves upper body strength and promotes rhythmic movement.
Swinging – Sling Swing, Back to Back Glider, Disc Swing, Tire Swing, Toddler Swing, Ball Swing, Infant Swing, Molded Swing, Vario Gondel, Vario Tellewippe
Encourages aerobic and cardiac health as well as muscular development. Teaches energy transfer and synchronized movement.
Sliding – Fireman Pole, Slide
Strengthens core, enhances leg and hip flexibility, promotes balance and encourages spatial awareness. And it’s fun!
The structures found in a play gym can easily be used for a family-friendly work-out.
Rings, chin up bars, overheard bar or monkey bars: do hanging crunches. Lift knees and pull them in as close to your chest as possible. Repeat, building up to three sets of 10-15 repetitions. This is good for your core as well as arm, neck and back.
Swings – do swinging cross-kicks. Lift your legs, and when they are parallel to the ground, cross one leg over the other. Change legs and repeat. Build up to three sets of 10 – 15 repetitions. Strengthen core, hips, legs and promote balance.
Do a dip. Utilize the end of the slide, seat or beam and hold onto the edge with your hands with knees bent and feet flat. Keep shoulders back and lower your elbows until they are bent at a 90 degree angle. Hold the position for 2-3 seconds, then release. Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps. Great for triceps, core and thighs.
Play It Safe
While play gyms are designed to be as safe as possible, we all know that kids can get up to just about anything, often while disengaging their brains in the process. Kids aren’t known for their impulse control. So, even though the play gym may be in your own back yard, you still need to provide adequate supervision to ensure that your children are playing safely.
Swings & Swing Sets
Found in virtually every play area and playground in the United States are individual swings or swing sets. Swings are seats attached to large overhead wooden or metal frames by hanging chains or ropes. An enjoyable and fun pastime, both children and adults love swinging on a swing set.
The seats are used to swing back and forth like a clock pendulum, creating an exciting experience similar to a rollercoaster or flying. Several swing seats attached to a large frame is called a swing set. Swing sets and swing seats come in a variety of sizes and styles, from a Baby Swing Seat that is molded out of solid plastic to glider seats, such as the Vario Tellerwippe.
Tire swings are quite common in America, as are simple rope swings that extend over a body of water such as a lake, river or pond. Sometimes swing seats are attached to a tree branch, which acts as the upper support in place of a metal or wood frame. Outside of playgrounds or backyard play gyms, swing seats are common on front porches and sometimes used by trapeze artists and other performers in circus acts.
Also known as a Wendy house, named after the leading female character in Peter Pan, a playhouse can vary in size from tiny models designed for wobbly toddlers, to larger models that will accommodate young teenagers. They can be constructed from organic materials, such as wood, or synthetic materials, such as plastic. They are typically square in design, with one room, one door and several windows, like the Kids Crooked Playhouses you see pictured here. A playhouse can act like a cubby-hole for young children, providing a safe retreat.
We all have those “good ole days” moments when we reminisce about the way things used to be; thinking about play gyms and back yards is bound to bring on some memories of summer afternoons spent in the great outdoors, without the distraction of iphones, tablets and video games. See if these ring any bells…
Red Rover, Red Rover
Mother May I?
Red Light, Green Light
Capture the Flag
King of the Hill
Kick the Can
Heads Up, Seven Up
Jump rope and clapping games -
“Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn around. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.”
“A sailor went to sea, to see what he could see. And all that he could see was the bottom of the deep blue sea.”
“Say, say my playmate, come out and play with me, and bring your dollies, three, climb up my apple tree.”
“Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss her feller. Made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take?”
Kids Crooked House - A creative take on the standard backyard playhouse with odd angles, shapes, frames & colors
Backyard Adventures - Cedar play sets that can be customized hundreds of ways, making just the right play set for every backyard.
Backyard Discovery - One of the world's leading producers of wooden residential play sets, forts and swing sets, built for maximum safety
Creative Playthings - Long-lasting swing set accessories that will withstand the weather and your children's rough play
Kettler - Basic swing sets made from durable synthetic materials such as high-impact resin & powder-coated steel
The History of Playgrounds & Play Gyms
“Since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools.” - Theodore Roosevelt
The backyard play gym originates from the typical play area or playground found in most recreational parks across the United States. The roots of these playgrounds can be traced to Germany where, much like kindergartens and gymnasiums, an emphasis was placed on increased physical health through activity and heightened knowledge through hands-on learning.
Several aspects of German child and adult education spread throughout America during the early 1800s, with kindergarten being the most prominent. While the concept of kindergarten filtered into virtually every niche, class and demographic in American society during the 1800s, playgrounds initially failed to catch on with the public.
By the 1890s only a few examples of large playgrounds could be found in the United States, while kindergartens proliferated. Why? Cities rarely offered the defined space needed for children play areas due to population constraints; pictured above left you can see children from a New York City tenement building from the early 20th century playing in what appears to be an alleyway. Up until this point in time most American children led lives that offered little freedom between schoolwork, choirs and housework.
The Progressive Era of the early 1900s changed the status of children in America, with labor laws being passed to protect children from early work and requiring schooling. These laws, combined with an overall increase of general prosperity, improved public education systems and increased philanthropy, allowed the development of playgrounds and play areas in public settings.
A few historians contend the development of playgrounds in urban areas was sparked by the need of stronger soldiers, starting with World War I; many urban youths were denied entry into the services during this war due to poor physical health and stamina. These attempts to promote public playgrounds were a success; private residences started to build private playgrounds in backyards, complete with faux tree houses and swing sets.
After World War II the backyard play gym industry exploded, with returning troops creating backyard playgrounds for their children in American suburbs. These backyard play gyms in the 1940s and 1950s focused on improving motor skills through tire swings, seesaws, parallel bars, ladders and monkey bars.
The 1960s witnessed the incorporation of imaginative play, with equipment placed to offer a heightened imaginative experience. Children could now drive a car, ride a horse or steer an ocean liner without ever leaving the backyard. In the last few decades play gym builders have incorporated more learning equipment such as maps and music. This combination of physical play, imaginative play and educational play is standard in most outdoor play gyms built today.
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