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Park Play

With the warmer weather right around the corner, you might be spending more time outside at the park! Below, are ideas on how to get the most out of your park experience and help your child grow socially and emotionally.

Boy with blue jacket slides down playground slide with his mother in green shirt holding his hand
Exploring the playground is not only fun - it's educational!

What to bring:

  • Water bottle

  • Snacks!

  • Sunscreen

  • Change of clothes for your little one (if there’s water, they will always want to splash in it!)

Observe upon arrival:

If it’s a new park, or one you’ve been to several times, give your child time to observe the surroundings using their senses. What do they see? Hear? Feel?

· Point out the different play equipment.

· Notice the trees, birds, flowers and other children playing.

· Talk about the different ground coverings. (grass, wood chips, sand, rocks)

Setting boundaries:

Setting visual boundaries and giving expectations can help set your child up for success. The goal is to keep their interest in the area you want them in. Bringing other toys such as bubbles or balls to play with, in the park area, might keep their interest as they learn to play on the new equipment. Or you can try these tips:

·Tell your child, “We are going to play at the park first, then we can go see the ducks.”

o Child friendly language, “First park, then, ducks.”

·Give your child choices on what they can do.

o Do you want to swing first or go down the slide?

o Child friendly language, “Swing, or Slide?” “You pick.”

·Tell your child where to stay.

o Stay on the wood chips, not the grass.

o Stop at that ____. (tree, trash can, sign, etc.)

Playing at the park provides opportunities to grow in all areas of development. Your child will strengthen their gross motor skills as they climb up stairs or hang/swing on bars. They’ll sharpen their cognitive skills by problem-solving, (example: How will I get up there? Or, how will I get over to that side of the play structure?) They’ll also grow in their social and emotional development.

Your child will go through different stages of play depending on their age and developmental level. Read on to learn ways in which you can help support your child’s play development.

The child who observes: Some children need time to warm up to the environment and feel safe. They want to check things out before participating themselves. Sitting on the bench for a few minutes with their caregiver to take it all in is a great place to start! Children can learn a lot by watching other children play and interact with the environment.

· Point out what other children are doing:

o “Wow, He’s swinging high on the swing!”

o “Wee, she went fast down the slide!”

o “Look over there, I see_____.” (a marry-go-round, rocking boat, etc.)

Parallel Play: Young children start out by playing along side others. They see that other children are near-by, but they continue to do their own thing. Children at this stage need parents close by to help guide social interactions. You can support social and peer connections by trying these tips!

· First, acknowledge that another child is playing near-by and get your child to notice them too.

o He has the same shoes as you!

o There’s someone behind you!

· Caregiver smiles and says hello to other children or parents playing near-by. “Hi!”

· Caregiver introduces child to near-by parent or child. “This is Emily, what’s your name?” Once you learn that child’s name, use it during play conversations.

Associate and Cooperative Play: Once your child has noticed others playing near-by, they’ll begin to move into the next stages of play development. Parents can model language to teach appropriate peer interactions at the park.

· Teach turn taking.

o Help your child wait in line, or model turn taking by saying:

“It’s his turn, let’s watch as he goes down first. Now it’s your turn.”

Or—in child friendly language: “His turn, Emily’s turn.”

· Invite others to play.

o “Do you want to get on the boat too?”

o “I think he wants a turn, do you want to go together?”

By helping your child learn beginning social skills, children will become more confident when approaching new friends at the park. Soon, they will know how to interact with their environment independently! This will help set the foundation for later peer-to-peer interactions. The park is a fun place to explore, play and learn! Where’s your favorite park?

If you need park recommendations in your area, contact your family resource coordinator (FRC)! Or visit: the Snohomish County Park Maps!

To learn more information about early childhood play, visit: The 6 Stages of How Kids Learn to Play | Child Development (

If you have concerns about your child’s play development, contact your FRC, to meet with an early childhood special educator on staff. Sherwood educators can work with your family on developing foundational play skills that help your child learn and grow socially.

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