In Australia and around the world, ‘adult’ exercise equipment items are becoming common additions to playground areas. Sure, the equipment may have been designed with adults in mind; as a public health initiative to keep adults moving and physically active. But… the ‘oversized’, brightly coloured contraptions with moveable parts, certainly also intrigue our younger citizens. In fact, kids can ROCK ‘adult’ playground equipment too! Let’s take a closer look at what happens when kids choose to take on ‘adult’ challenges in the playground…
This adventure is another in the Let the Child Lead series. The sign read:
“Adult Exercise Equipment. This equipment is designed for use by people 12 years and older. Please follow the instructions located next to each piece of exercise equipment.”
But a five year old couldn’t read this recommendation, and the fence between him and the interesting, industrial-style machinery, only fuelled his curiosity. He and his buddy ran their hands along the fence, circling the ‘out of bounds’ equipment. They could have easily climbed over, but they asked for help to open the gate. Although us parents followed them in, it was the kids who led the way. They busily started exploring, attracted to the idea of attempting and conquering something new. It didn’t matter that handles were particularly high, pedals too far away or foot plates way oversized. They worked out their own means to balance, reach and move, without understanding the specific instruction signs accompanying each exercise piece. They problem solved, copied each other, helped each other, tried out new ways of operating the pieces, and laughed at needing to hold themselves up strongly with their arms because their bottoms wouldn’t reach the seat whilst pedalling!
“Ahhhh! This one is really, really wobbly and can swing so high!”
“How does this go?” … “Ohh! It’s a twisty one!”
“Whoa! My feet can reach when I go forward like this!”
“Look how fast I can march!”
And you know what? Within minutes, the entire ‘adult’ exercise playground, alongside the ‘kids’ playground, was filled with excited, energetic ‘under 12 year olds’, having a whale of a time. Not a single adult was utilising the equipment at this moment. Not one. I’m not advocating for all children of all ages to launch themselves at adult sized, exercise equipment, or that they are forced into exploring them by a supervising adult. I am, however, suggesting that by following a child’s lead in the playground, allowing them to choose and accomplish their own challenges, we may see kids naturally venturing beyond the fence, into the instruction filled ‘adult exercise area’.
Why? Aside from the fact that children often emulate adults in their play scenarios; kids love novelty in play, and whilst they may not seek to ‘ski’, ‘cycle’ or ‘climb stairs’ on the spot every single trip to the park, everything is new once, and everything is a challenge until mastered. I love that there are outdoor, publicly accessible exercise opportunities for adults, which contribute to a multi-pronged attack against health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain and osteoarthritis.
I also love that kids have the opportunity to add to their play experiences through these ‘interactive mechanical art installations’, promoting:
- body awareness
- balance and coordination
- problem solving and motor planning skills (honing their skills of prediction, which are essential for preparing for and executing smooth, efficient, well coordinated movements. Eg. what might happen if I move my body like so? How fast do I need to go to stay upright? How can I balance myself when the swinging plates take my feet out to each side? How much force do I need to exert to get this going?)
- social interaction and cooperative skills
- sensory processing efficiency and maturation
Most importantly, let’s not forget that if kids have independently chosen to explore and play with these equipment items, they are doing so for fun. And by having fun, they are staying alert/energised, releasing ‘happy/feel good’ hormones, and are more ready to learn whilst playing. – Not that play ever really needs to be justified, it’s benefits are endless, and certainly extend well beyond my own obsessive list making around the wonders of play!
Have your kids ever enjoyed a moment or two as ‘under age’ players on the ‘adult exercise equipment’ in the playground?
As always, I love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave me a comment below!