Why do we think outdoor play is so good for childhood development ?
Of course children love to play and always have. In the natural world young animals often play too and this play helps them learn skills and equip them for life.
This is also the case for humans. There are many physical and social skills which playtime helps foster.
Physical – the act of climbing helps them learn hand-eye coordination, builds strength and improves dexterity. It also helps them assess a challenge, learn how to calculate and perhaps avoid risk. Playtrails help them with balance and agility.
Social – less obvious but very important. Normally when children are at an outdoor playground they are not alone. They will be there with friends, or will be interacting with the other children who are there. Maybe they know them slightly (ie from the same school) or maybe they are strangers. So the way children interact with the others is vital. They need to share the apparatus, get their turn on the swings or slide for example. And cope with the bully who wants it all to him or herself. These are all valuable lessons which will be a real benefit in later life.
Just a final word on risk. You can always fall off any sort of climbing apparatus; that cannot be prevented. The job of the playground designer and operator is to try to minimise the risk and try to make sure any fall doesn’t result in a bad injury. But children need to understand that risk = danger. They need to see there may be a repercussions to taking an unnecessary or dangerous risk. Recklessness without consequences is not a lesson to take into adulthood.