How People Play

Play is a dynamic process that changes as people grow. The simple act of play actually becomes increasingly more complex and is an essential part of a child’s development. The demands on today’s children are much different than those from previous generations and, consequently, there is less play time in their lives. It is our responsibility as “professionals of fun” to understand this important lifelong skill and know how to integrate play into designs, facilities and programming.

Youth At Risk

Watch the news: “Studies show early signs of heart disease found in American children. One in seven school-age children have three or more risk factors predisposing them to deadly cardiovascular conditions. Sixty-five percent of all children 10 to 18 years cannot pass a minimum standard of fitness. One out of every four teenagers is dangerously overweight!” Additionally, drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is largely due to a lack of access to recreational water activities.

We continuously preach the importance of exercise, but how do we “force” children to do it? Perhaps we make it more fun. Humans have a natural affinity to water, and it is associated with fun in many instances–taking bubble baths, running through a sprinkler or open fire hydrant on a hot day or spending time at a lake or ocean. This may account for census results that report swimming is only second to walking over all other recreation activities.

In order to understand what aquatic trends will become popular and how to design for multi-generational programming, we must first look at the fundamentals and benefits of play, what motivates an individual to participate, and how each age group plays in the water.

Physical Development

Swimming can improve strength, balance and flexibility. It provides an aerobic benefit that is relatively injury-free in comparison to other sports. “The water’s unique properties allow the pool to provide an environment for people of all abilities,” according to the Aquatic Exercise Association. “Buoyancy creates a reduced impact exercise alternative that is easy on the joints, while the water’s resistance challenges all the muscles. Water lends itself to a well-balanced workout that improves all major components of physical fitness-aerobic training, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.” It is also a sport that can be a lifetime activity–from 1 to 101 years old.

Social Development

Through social play, children and adults learn to cooperate and appreciate the importance of taking others’ needs and feelings into account. Playing together fosters awareness of a variety of values and attitudes. These great strides in development all happen while a person is laughing and establishing friendships, while having fun. Water is a safe sport for children of all ages and proficiency levels. Learn-to-swim and aqua classes are socially enjoyable, and provide fitness benefits at the same time.

Psychological And Emotional Development

Water sports promote fitness and cultivate a positive attitude. Finally mastering the back float or competing in a swim meet increases self-esteem. Spend some time at a pool and count the times you hear, “Watch me, Mom!” Playing in the water promotes increased energy levels as children strive for physical achievement.

Water is iconic to stress relief, like the sounds of soothing waterfalls, gentle rains and trickling waters. Swimming forces one to regulate breathing, and allows more oxygen to flow into muscles. The warm water of a wellness pool or whirlpool helps calm nerves, stimulates cardiovascular circulation, and soothes the mind and body.

Age Groups–How They Play

Each age group plays and responds differently to pool amenities. An accomplished aquatic designer understands the “play needs” of each generation, and translates these into pool designs to engage users.

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