How playground equipment can improve cognitive development

How can a playground encourage cognitive development in children?
How can a playground encourage cognitive development in children?


It’s no secret that cognitive development in early childhood is of the utmost importance and should be nurtured in any way possible. The act of play can help a child in terms of brain development, motor skills and social capabilities.

Playgrounds allow children to engage in free play, which offers crucial opportunities for learning. A playground that incorporates key pieces of learning equipment can stimulate development in a holistic way.

What is free play?

When we refer to “free play”, what we mean is the spontaneous activities of children. Free play doesn’t have the rules or structure of more prescribed activities, and allows children to play in whatever way they like. Generally, this type of play is driven by curiosity and the child’s natural tendencies will dictate what they do and how they do it.

A playground is a perfect medium for free play: A safe, fun and sometimes challenging environment where there are a number of different elements to engage with, but no specific requirements that they must do this or that. Playgrounds that feature imaginative and sensory elements allow children to get creative in their play and this helps to facilitate cognitive development.

Can playground design promote cognitive development in children?Driven by curiosity, free play lets children create their own games.

How does this support cognitive development?

During free play, a child will begin to understand the cause and effect relationship between motor skills and sensory impression. As an example, picture a toddler playing with a xylophone. When they make a certain movement (striking a key), they also hear a noise (the sound of the key). Repetition of this movement will help them to understand the relationship between hitting the key and hearing the note.

This helps to build neural pathways (think of these as roads for our thoughts) and strengthen them for future reference (turning a narrow lane into a highway). The more of these activities that a child discovers and learns, the easier they can understand the environment around them.

A great example of how playgrounds support language and imagination is the random creation of games.

According to Dr Amanda Gummer of Fundamentally Children, playgrounds provide kids with an environment where they can interact with their peers. This kind of interaction helps children become more confident expressing themselves and practising their language and imaginative skills.

A great example of how playgrounds support language and imagination is the random creation of games. Whether it’s tag or something with role play, kids need to communicate to understand the “rules” of the game. This supports negotiation, compromise and collaboration – all key aspects of cognitive development.

There’s endless research to support the points in this article, and we’ve also only scratched the surface of how important playgrounds are to early childhood development. For more information, or to find out how to get your playground project off the ground, get in touch with us today.