Playground Research: Behaviors of Children on Equipment

Do you wonder how children actually use playground equipment? It is important to consider especially when ordering new equipment or planning out activities for children who may struggle to navigate the playground. This playground research took a very close look at the behaviors of children on the equipment.

Playground Research on Equipment Use

The behaviors of children on playground equipment was examined using 32 hours of videotape collected from 140 children who were typically developing and 41 children with a variety of developmental disabilities including autism, ADHD, sensory and regulatory disorders ages 3 to 15 years.  The research was published in a recent issue of  the Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention.   The videotaping focused on six pieces of playground equipment and was analyzed using a behavioral coding system for sensory features, social interaction, self-regulation, motor skills, and play levels.

The results of the videotape analysis revealed the following:

  • proprioception was enhanced through active use of the playground equipment.
  • increased verbalizations and positive affect were observed across all pieces of equipment.
  • symbolic play, novel use and motor planning were enhanced.
  • regaining regulation and expressions of self-esteem were observed.

This research supports correlations between:

  • proprioception and social interaction
  • positive affect and social interaction
  • motor planning and self-esteem
  • play levels with positive affect and social interaction.

In addition, improvements in regaining regulation, self-esteem, and positive affect were demonstrated through the case study analyses.


This playground research indicated that playground behaviors could be described using behavioral coding that includes sensory aspects, social interaction, self-regulation, motor skills, and play levels.

Reference:  Miller, L. J., Schoen, S. A., Camarata, S. M., McConkey, J., Kanics, I. M., Valdez, A., & Hampton, S. (2017). Play in natural environments: A pilot study quantifying the behavior of children on playground equipment. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 1-19.

Clinical Observations at the Park Tool

If you need to organize what you see when working with a child on the playground to make your sessions together efficient, effective and FUN check out the Clinical Observations at the Park Tool.

Behaviors of Children on Playground Equipment