Building Blocks of Play Value

Extending play value

Play value is what children find by “reading” the play affordances of a play environment. If pathways offer play affordances at every step along the way, children will be motivated to keep moving – reinforced by play pockets at regular intervals. Playful pathway networks have the potential to spread play value through the neighborhood and beyond. Increased diversity of play value may support several developmental domains and increase inclusiveness by attracting a broader range of multi-age users than a conventional clustered playground.

Learning Cognitive Skills 

The “richness and novelty” of being outdoors stimulates brain development. Research shows that direct, ongoing experiences with nature in relatively familiar settings remains a vital source for children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development. Play creates a synergy between these outcomes in a process that helps children acquire an understanding of the world and how it works. The resulting cognitive skills grow and develop day by day as children continue to explore and discover phenomena in their expanding territorial range. 

Building Self-Esteem 

Children who spend time playing outside are more likely to take risks, seek adventure, develop self-confidence, and respect the value of nature. Outdoor recreation experiences like camping can improve children’s self-esteem. Children’s experience of green spaces outside the home can increase concentration, inhibit impulses, and improve self-discipline. 

“Self-efficacy” or “agency” describe the sense of being able to act on one’s environment and being in control of one’s own destiny. For children this means being able to take healthy risks, go on adventures, and solve problems by manipulating physical environments – preferably with others, to achieve a shared sense of accomplishment. Agency stimulates motivation, supports self-esteem and psychological health – the feeling of being in control of self and external events.

Integrating the Senses 

Sensory integration, which is supported by children’s experience in multi-sensory rich environments, is critical to healthy child development. As sensory integration pioneer Jean Ayers says, “Intelligence is, in large part, the product of interaction with the environment.” 

Learning to Live Together 

Pathway linear forms allow children to “go on adventures” together in their local area. Children can imagine they are explorers on a quest or safari. They love interesting terrain with natural objects to look at and clamber over. A small backpack can be used to hold interesting items gathered along the way. Family members can script an adventure together with masks and treasure maps, assign roles (actors, director) and film a movie “on location” as the pathway drama unfolds. Dramatic play scenarios facilitate collaboration as a group, enhance social skills, support emotional development, offer practice in working together to solve problems, and provide children a sense of collective achievement reinforcing self-esteem and competence in managing their own affairs. 

As part of the pathway adventure, “hideouts” or “clubhouses” (provided by design or built by children themselves) offer space for rest and relaxation, play experiences with children from different families, and interaction with surrounding life forms. Opportunities to build these types of socio-emotional skills are essential to healthy, balanced development of individuals and sow the seeds for harmonious adulthoods that rise above differences in culture, religion, and ethnic origin. 

Imagining a New World 

At a time when creativity of American children is in decline, the need has never been greater to develop imagination and creativity, which are regarded as primary economic drivers in today’s rapidly changing world. Hannah Arendt evokes the fundamental need for each new generation to re-invent the inherited world to ensure that cultural evolution is relevant to the pace of change now facing global society.

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