Children choosing a game to play on the Lappset Memo Interactive play pillars

Social play forms friendships on the playground

We all know that children overcome obstacles and learn new social skills while playing. This gives them confidence, which makes it easier to approach other children. Social play allows children to build character, deal with social justice challenges, and develop meaningful relationships with each other. We also know that while playing in a low-stress outdoor environment, kids can release energy and usually behave better, making it easier to make friends.

Published: February 18, 2021, edited: October 11, 2023

Four steps to social play | 1. Access 2. Choice 3. Play 4. Together

 1. Physical & social barriers

Talking to users and experts shows that the focus often does not lie on playing together but first on making it possible for the end-users to play. Having access to a playground and being able to access the play equipment can be the first obstacle players experience. Reaching the goal of social play requires, therefore, the removal of all these barriers. Negative perceptions of typically developing students regarding their peers' ability with disabilities to play is another social barrier. This leads to children with disabilities being stereotyped and excluded from social play (Prellwitz, M., 2007). Playing together should come freely from the players, and playing alone is not bad if the player desires to. But when the players want to play together, there should be enough opportunities and choices.

2. Create choices & opportunities

Inclusive playgrounds are designed so that everyone can freely move, play, and mix within these playgrounds, which encourages all children to interact with each other and play together. We try to create as many opportunities as possible. All children will not always be able to or want to participate in all activities, but there should always be a real choice of play activities in an inclusive playground. Social interactions start with a conversation between children. This can be as simple as asking what they want to do next or sharing play experiences. Any other social connection between players will evolve from this first interaction. The playground environment fosters hands-on learning and social play that is not implemented in the classroom structure (Ramstetter, C.L., Murray, R. & Garner, A.S., 2012). It also improves the student's ability to learn and participate (Nabors, L. & Badawi, M., 1997).

3. Play equipment for all

The aim here is to give equal access to and have everyone play (The Children's Play Information Service, 2008). Implement the inclusive design principles so that the play equipment is suitable for as many children as possible, regardless of potential functional or physical impairments. What's important here is to know that how the children play and perform these activities can be completely different. Asymmetrical play is common between players, and also role play stimulates various activities between players. When everyone is playing next to each other social play will emerge.

4. Apply social game mechanics

As mentioned before, the need for everyone to play together at all times is not a goal in itself. But where we create opportunities for players to interact with the play equipment's design, the games can stimulate social play. Below are a few examples of game mechanics we use to encourage players to play together.

  •  Turns
  •  Cooperation
  •  Voting
  •  Roles
  •  Rewards
  •  Spectators

Two girls playing on the Flora

Two girls playing on the Flora

Improve social skills by learning

How to take turns

The game Stopwatch on the Sona allows children to make up their own track across the playground and keeps the time ('16 seconds, best score of the day'). Children try to beat each other's time, but they must learn how to take turns, given it's a more original game.

When playing Target Multiplayer on the Sutu interactive ball wall, children engage in social play by sharing. They get the instruction to hit the target of their own color, but they have to take turns while paying attention because the targets do not always appear in the same order.

How to deal with rivalry and competition

Social play teaches children how to deal with rivalry. Several games have an element of competition, such as Dance Battle on the Sona, where two teams battle against each other, or in the Memo games like Tag ('touch the post of your chosen color on time') or Dizzy ('who can conquer the most posts in their own color').

How to resolve conflicts

With most competitive games, the quickest player or the player with the best tactic wins, but sometimes there is also a little luck involved with our interactives. Social play also teaches children to resolve conflicts. When playing the game Switch on the Lappset Toro Interactive sports arena, children each play with their own color (for example, they have to hit the goals with red LEDs).

Meanwhile, two minutes into the game, a voice suddenly calls out 'switch,' the goal suddenly changes colour when you're just about to score; this might create some amusing situations, and sometimes you might have to learn how to adapt, deal with disappointment, or resolve a conflict.

Form friendships by cooperating

Many activities on our interactives require children to cooperate. Preschoolers learn cooperative skills when playing the game 'Memory' on the Memo because they will remember more symbols by working together.

On the Sona, together, you can recognize a more extended sequence during the 'Codebreaker' game, which allows you to enter a higher, more challenging level. Social play also teaches children to teach each other things. A preschooler might teach toddlers to recognize different colours by helping them stand on the correct shade when playing the Color game on the Sona.

Christiaan Ribbens, Lead UX/Game developer at Lappset
Author Profile | Christiaan Ribbens - Lead UX Designer Lappset Interactive

One of my favorite aspects of my role at Lappset is to not only create games that entertain but also games that really impact players around the world. We test all year round with many types of players and experts, giving us valuable insights into how to make our games even better. The best thing here is that we constantly measure, visit locations and it's amazing to see games being played more and longer not only on our digital dashboards, but also when we spot a product in the wild.

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