Swing Set Smarts: Extending Learning to the Playground

Outdoor Learning Games and Activities
While research has proven these points, they are also evident when watching a child playing. Consider the classic games of Hot Potato or Red light, Green Light. Children practice impulse control, planning, negotiation, and timing through these simple games. These skills often develop through unstructured play, but they can purposefully be strengthened during planned activities as well.


The local playground and park (or even your backyard) is not just a place where children can run and play with abandon; it offers a wealth of cognitive and social-emotional learning opportunities as well. 

Consider these common experiences and the learning and developmental opportunities they provide. 


  • Meeting new children: reciprocal communication, self-confidence, sharing 

  • Playing games: negotiation, perspective taking, teamwork, turn taking, cooperation 

  • Swings: gravity, force of motion, balance, action/reaction 

  • Tag: decision-making, flexible thinking, risk-taking, responding to changed reality 

  • Monkey bars: self-regulation, coordination, planning, persistence 

  • Pick-up sticks: math concepts, left-right orientation, strategic thinking 

  • Play in sand, dirt, or mud: sensory and texture awareness, states of matter 


While ABCs and 123s are important, many teachers state that social-emotional competencies are key (and often missing) in children entering kindergarten. There are multiple ways to develop these, as well as higher-order thinking skills, during physical play. 

Plan or encourage activities and games that require your child to: 


  • Follow directions in sequence. Example: Red Light, Green Light 

  • Regulate their behavior and control impulses. Example: Duck, Duck, Goose

  • Make decisions and adapt to change. Example: Simon Says 

  • Work cooperatively with others and negotiate. Example: Jumping rope as a group 

  • Take on a supportive role as well as a leadership role. Example: Follow the Leader 

  • Take turns and share. Example: Hide and Seek 

  • Develop spatial awareness and consider distances (math). Example: Four Square 

  • Experience success (any goal they set for themselves) based on their own abilities and knowledge without adult intervention. Example: Climbing trees 

Bright Horizons
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Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Outdoor Learning Games and Activities