Why Playgrounds Are Important for Your On-Site Child Care Center

Playgrounds at On-Site Child Care Centers

When looking at children's education, there's a temptation to think about the playground as an adjunct. In other words, the important stuff happens inside the child care center; the extras are on the outside.

But child care experts would say that misses an opportunity. In fact, if you're planning an on-site child care center (and if you're doing it right), playgrounds, like curriculum, should have very specific educational goals.

"They may be the richest classrooms we have," says Susan Brenner, Bright Horizons senior vice president of education, of Bright Horizons' playgrounds.  "Done right, they're perfect laboratories for risk and exploration."

Playgrounds at On-Site Child Care Centers

Why On-Site Child Care Centers Take Playtime Seriously

Discussions about outdoors spaces took center stage recently at the aptly named Playground Summit where Bright Horizons early learning and facilities experts got together to talk about the latest and greatest in state-of-the-art design and equipment.

Playgrounds here are taken seriously, created with the same kinds of care and science used for math or language, with goals laid out that are to be learned, and corresponding lesson plans for how the child care center teaches it.

The Child Development Benefits of Playground Play

Appropriate risk taking, for example, is integral to a solid early childhood experience. But it's also something children often miss out on. "Children need physical challenges which are just above their current skill level," says Susan. "But in today's risk-averse society, children aren't getting enough opportunities to do that."

On-Site Child Care Center Playground Design

In a thoughtfully created playground, appropriate risks are offered in a controlled environment, with structures built to offer opportunity, and teachers trained to keep children safe but not adventure-free. Similarly, things like carefully placed plants, tree stumps, and surfaces encourage children to take an interest in nature and explore their environment. 

Academics aside, inspiring outdoor spaces also encourage movement and exercise, a big bonus in this screen-obsessed world where children are more likely to explore plants and flowers on their tablets - versus out the window. And there's ample evidence that physical activity positively impacts brain activity, meaning that monkey bars and math may be more connected than you think.

The important takeaway, says Susan, is that recess for young children is more than just play time. And playgrounds deserve every bit the same thoughtfulness as a classroom.

"Child care centers with state-of-the-art playgrounds offer a great variety of opportunity," she says.

"And smart child care center designers know how to get it right."

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.