More than just kids' playtime
By Aimee Heckel
When 15-month-old Jack DiDomenico flies down the slide and throws a ball, he is not just playing.
He's improving his well-being.
He is developing motor skills for life, hashing out social structures and discovering who he is in the world, experts say.
Playtime is much more than playtime for children. In fact, some say it's the most important piece of a child's mental, physical, social and emotional health.
As the temps drop and the playgrounds frost over, parents might feel tempted to flip on the TV or sequester their children in the basement. (Let's face it, trying to push a floppy kid foot into a tight winter boot is harder than untangling a Slinky.) And although a handful of indoor play spots have closed over the past few years (such as Bounce Town in Longmont and Playdates at the Loft in Boulder), there's still a long list of other indoor places to take your child to get out the wiggles this winter — in ways much wilder than what most basements can handle.
Many rec centers feature play areas and special water features, of course. Schools, especially preschools, also prioritize play areas and gym activity when it's too cold to go outside.
But beyond that, Lafayette's nonprofit World of Wonder Children's Museum, with educational exhibits, crafts, a big slide and a mini, mock grocery store, has been a popular staple since 1996. Recently, Longmont welcomed a new "family fun center" called Dizzy, with a Kiddie Town (games, slides, bounce houses, toys and more) and laser tag.
And Great Play opened this summer in Superior.
Erik Lindholm, along with his wife, Katrina, of Arvada, decided to open Great Play as a career shift from being an elementary school teacher. The facility offers technology-enhanced games that teach balance and stability, motor skills and locomotion, divided by age groups. There's a wide range of equipment — tunnels, trampolines, hula hoops, balls, blocks, swings, parachutes, pillows, balance boards — that are switched out every day, to keep kids challenged and entertained.
She says they have tried music classes and gymnastics, too, but she likes the ever-changing programming at Great Play. It's like a movement sampler platter for him to taste; after all, he's so young it's difficult for his mom to know what he will enjoy the most.
"My son loves music, so he gets the exposure to that there. However, he's more cautious with sports-themed activities, and this gives him the challenges to develop those skills, as well," she says. "And we get to see a chance of what he might want to pursue long term."
In two months, his mom says she already has seen his confidence grow.
"He used to be really cautious. Now, he's jumping on slides and climbing things," she says.
In addition to the organized games, Great Play offers an open gym, where children can make their own games, Lindholm says.
"What we do is provide a foundation for kids," he says. "We're not trying to make a pro athlete. We're trying to build some confidence and some foundational skills, so if they were to try to play a sport, they've seen, felt and touched it."