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Developing Visual Skills and the Playground

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Annie, don’t slide down the slide head first! I could hear a mother yell to her child as the little girl went down the slide on her back head first. I told the mom that it was actually good to slide down this way as it gives her body a new experience and sensation and she learns how to catch herself at the end upside down. I love watching kids naturally challenge their bodies. Why do we as adults try to put so many limits and rules on what kids are allowed to experience? We are keeping kids from developing their full potential.

  • don’t climb up the slide
  • don’t slide down head first
  • no swinging on your tummy
  • no swinging sideways
  • don’t twist the swings
  • gone are the teeter totters
  • gone are the merry go rounds
  • gone are the swings in some schools
  • gone are the tire swings

I understand that some rules at school are there because of injuries, but when at a public park, do there have to be as many rules? Can there be more yes–do that, than no–don’t do that (as long as it is not putting others in danger).

Kids need to experience, play, interact, and fully participate as part of their developmental process.  They need to plan and make up their games and problem solve the parts of their play. The playground is a space for parents to step back and for kids to take charge. If a child needs help in order to participate, then definitely give them what they need, but don’t take over for them.



The physical and sensory benefits of a playground

  • uneven surface and feel of grass and sand
  • climbing
  • swinging movement/multiple planes of position
  • hanging
  • sliding down
  • sliding in different positions
  • jumping
  • balancing
  • body strength on bars
  • rhythm and pumping on swings

Optimally, a playground will have a lot of natural elements to give non-uniform experiences. The sights, sounds, smells, and feel of nature are all healing and regulating to our bodies, so it is better to go to an outdoor playground than an indoor playground. We all need to get outside more and away from our screens.


Visual perceptual benefits on the playground

Your visual perception development requires the different movements, changes in texture, and the different positions that your body goes into in order to achieve strong development. In development, a child will reach for a toy, almost get it, and then adjust their reach so that they can succeed.  This involves the coordination between seeing the toy and the motor aspect of reaching for it, and the brain processing what it is seeing and touching. This process starts early on in a child’s life, but it continues to be refined as the body goes through new experiences. One huge benefit to playground and other similar physical play is that by putting the body through the physical movements and positions changes, the eyes have to take in what is happening during the movement and body positions and then the brain interprets it. This is best learned in a hands-on and physical way. As an example, let’s use the child from the beginning of the article that is going down the slide on her back and head first. She probably could easily catch herself if she was on her stomach because she would still have a normal upright visual orientation, but going down on her back gives her a completely different visual perspective of the world while she is moving down the slide. She has to figure out how to position her hands to match the new visual perspective in relationship to the ground that is going to meet her at the end of the slide. This is a great visual motor and whole body motor planning experience.

If you have young children, do them and yourself a favor and give them the outside playground experience every day.


This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series. You can read all of the functions on childhood HERE.  Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.

Looking for more information about the Playground? Stop by to see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written.

Developmental Progression of Playground Skills  | Your Therapy Source

Promoting Fine Motor Skills at the Playground |Miss Jaime OT

How to Support Gross Motor Skills Needed for Playground Success | Mama OT

Sensory Integration Therapy at the Playground  | Sugar Aunts

Modification Ideas for Playground Equipment for Children | Growing Hands-On Kids

Playground Rules to Break for Greater Play Skill Development  | Kids Play Space

Playground Games and Activities for Kids | The Inspired Treehouse

Essential Social Skills To Survive the School Playground! |Your Kids OT

Developing Visual Skills and the Playground  | Therapy Fun Zone


Looking For More? Try these categories


Fine Motor

Visual Perceptual


Motor Planning

Oral Motor

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  1. Hi,
    Nice post. Thank you for sharing. I agree that outdoor activities are beneficial for kids overall developments, and we should not put limits and rules on their movements and allow them more independence. However, it is also true that certain actions and movements of the kids can really harm them. It is for us as a parent to guide them.

    1. There is definitely a fine line between a learning experience and a potentially dangerous experience.

  2. I agree 100% that “the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of nature are all healing and regulating to our bodies, so it is better to go to an outdoor playground than an indoor playground”. Children are really missing out on outdoor time and its benefits from uplifting the mood, increased physical activity and improved visual acuity.

  3. I love the photos of the natural playgrounds in this post! How much fun do they look?! I want to go there!!!

  4. I agree with Anna – that playground is awesome. This post is really insightful- I love the way you listed all the rules – sometimes as adults we are so cautious – Kids need to play! And about limiting screen time- YES! I agree. Get outside, kids!

  5. Thanks for the great post Tonya! I agree…we ALL need more time outside to be free and play! I especially love watching children who haven’t quite learned all of the park and playground rules…..what great treatment plans they come up with! :)

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