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The why’s and 35 ways for kids to play this summer

  • 3 min to read

Playing is a kid’s job.

“Whether it’s structured or unstructured, play allows kids use their imagination, cognition, physical skills, emotional skills, social skills — it’s kind of all encompassing,” said Felicia Albert, physical therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Play is their job.”

Taking a simple trip to the playground, for instance, is much more than an opportunity for them to use up their energy.

This type of physical play can help build gross motor skills as they climb up a ladder, boost problem-solving skills as they figure out how to work their way across the monkey bars, build motor planning skills (which allow them to remember and perform steps to make a movement happen), aid in coordination, strengthening and much more.

Instilling in them a sense of wonder and excitement toward play, especially physical play, can help form healthy habits that ward off a sedentary lifestyle and the repercussions of inactivity, such as childhood obesity and diabetes.

Play is also important to healthy brain development. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Children grow and learn best in a safe environment where they are protected from neglect and from extreme or chronic stress with plenty of opportunities to play and explore,” the CDC states. “Parents and other caregivers can support healthy brain growth by speaking to, playing with, and caring for their child.”

As children’s brains develop, so do their motor planning skills.

“We develop a motor plan for just about everything we do, whether it's writing or driving or shooting a basketball,” Albert said.

“As kids practice doing the monkey bars or something like that, they are improving upon that motor plan. That's why athletes become great athletes at their sport because they have such a strong motor plan for that particular activity.”

Play enables children to engage and interact in the world around them, helping them grow both socially and emotionally as they play with others.

There are benefits to both structured play — goal-oriented activities with a set of rules or instructions (e.g. puzzles, board games, organized sports) and unstructured play, also known as free play and is both creative and open-ended (e.g. coloring on blank paper, inventing games to play). 

Whatever the activity, it's a great day to go play. 


Below are some examples of ways for kids to play in the area this summer.

Note: Several of these activities were taken from the Thrive Summer Bucket List, which offers a grand prize and weekly drawings for those who post a picture doing any summer bucket list activity using #thriveinthe419. Click here to learn more.

1. Visit Little Buckeye Children's Museum

2. Ride the carrousel at Richland Carrousel Park

3. Go to Storytime for Kids! at Main Street Books (takes place every third Saturday at 11:30 a.m.)

4. Have a picnic and play day at a park (examples: Seltzer Park or Brookside Park

5. Attend Mansfield Airport Day on July 6 

6. Jump around at Altitude Trampoline Park

7. Check out the birds at Ohio Bird Sanctuary

8. Go to a kids/family class or workshop at the Mansfield Art Center

9. Go horseback riding at Raemelton Therapeutic Equestrian Center

10. Attend the Mansfield Children's Festival on July 27

11. Go on a hike or attend an event at Gorman Nature Center

12. Visit Malabar Farm (example activities: hiking, foraging) 

13. Explore the Shelby Black Fork Wetlands

14. Go to Clear Fork Reservoir (example activities: fishing, boating, camping, picnicking)

15. Go to Mohican Adventures (example activities: canoeing, go-karting, Aerial Adventure Park) 

16. Go to Pleasant Hill Lake Park (example activities: boating, fishing, hiking)

17. See the Big and Little Lyons Falls at Mohican State Park

18. Visit Charles Mill Lake Park (example activities: fishing, boating, swimming)

19. Go to Loudonville Canoe Livery (example activities: canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing)

20. Visit Hemlock Falls

21. Participate in a park program (examples below)

22. Go to a festival (examples below)

23. Play disc golf (example locations: Marshall Park or Clear Fork Reservoir)

24. Look at the night sky at the Warren Rupp Observatory

25. Walk your (or a friend's) dog at Maize Memorial Dog Park  

26. Go to a fair (examples below)

27. Go go-karting (example location: The Infield

28. Go bowling (example locations: Lex Lanes or Luray Lanes)

29. Go geocaching

30. Check out a book or attend an event at your local library

31. Play mini golf (example location: Kelly's Dairy Bar and Miniature Golf)

32. Ride in a hot air ballon at the Ashland Balloonfest 

33. Go swimming (example locations: Liberty Pool in Mansfield or Brookside Pool in Ashland)

34. Go to the Mansfield YMCA Splash Pad Park or RJ's Spray Park

35. Feed the ducks at Kingwood Center Gardens


This story is brought to you in part by the Little Buckeye Children's Museum, a local children's museum that is proud to provide children and families opportunities to learn and discover through the power of play every day in Richland County. As a nonprofit, Little Buckeye Children's Museum appreciates the support of the community it serves. If you would like to support Little Buckeye Children's Museum and its mission for healthy child development, click here.

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Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.