Play Centers Are Places for Children to Grow
A play center is a valuable resource to help parents plan for leisure activities and free time with their children. Play centers are structured with the recognition that play has a fundamental role in the development of motor skills, cognitive skills, and social/affective skills in children.
Play centers first emerged as a specific pedagogical space towards the end of the 1960s. Since then, the main objective of play centers has been to help families whose children may have learning or developmental difficulties. It gives these families more support and also provides access to a variety of toys and resources for families with lower incomes.
The nature of these centers has evolved over time. Their objectives and services have changed substantially in the present day. Now, most play centers are spaces that seek to facilitate the social interaction between different groups of children and to promote the integral development of children through play.
The concept of play centers and their characteristics
Play centers are educational spaces that provide a service to prioritize the importance of play during childhood. Moreover, this service is offered in a structured space (it provides physical infrastructure, toys, games, monitors…) where the children go to play.
The main characteristics of a play center are the following:
- It can be a meeting space for children and preteens.
- It provides a varied selection of toys and games that the children can use on the premises.
- There can also be loan services so that children can sign out toys to take home.
- It caters to children from different social strata and environments.
The people who work in play centers are responsible for the maintenance and care of the installations. There are also other professionals who are sometimes employed and in charge of providing care for the children (playmates, child and recreational monitors, etc.)
Types of play centers
There are different kinds of play centers. They can be permanent, that is to say, they can be located in buildings that are dedicated to that purpose.
Play centers can also be temporary. In temporary centers, the activities aren’t fixed. For example, they may be geared to specific times of the year.
Furthermore, there are also play centers that rotate or are mobile. They move to distinct locations to bring play closer to the children that live in remote or isolated locations, like rural areas.
In addition, according to the organization and management models, play centers can be:
- Privately owned and publicly funded.
- Publicly owned and privately funded.
- Associations and foundations.
And, depending on specialization, play centers can be:
- Hospital-based: They can be created inside hospitals to attend to patients who are children or adolescents.
- Specialized: Adapted for children with specific and special needs.
- School-based: Located within primary and secondary centers of learning.
What defines play centers as spaces to grow
The primary purpose of a play center is to create a space where children can grow through social interaction and leisure activities, providing an appropriate space for their development. For this reason, the objectives and goals of the personnel at a play center are the following:
- Promoting psychomotor, cognitive, and socio-affective skills development through play.
- Developing the personality of the children through play.
- Compensating for sociocultural, economic, or personal deficiencies.
- Contributing to the balance of work and family life.
- Offering games and toys that are suitable for the children’s ages and specific needs.
- Prioritizing the social and communicative exchange among the children and their parents.
- Promoting aspects related to the teaching of values and in relation to attitudes like tolerance, cooperation, solidarity, and coeducation.
- Contributing to the development of habits like autonomy, order, and cohabitation.
A play center promotes the creation of a space where it is safe to share many things by means of play. For example, children share their illusions, feelings, and fantasies as they play in such spaces.
In addition, a play center creates a place that builds knowledge, creativity, and contributes to development and socialization. For this reason, we can say that play centers are dedicated to developing a space for children to grow.