Our lower school’s newest playground equipment arrived over Winter break. The kiddos were elated to return from vacation to find an exciting new addition to their play area – a five-seat Merry-Go-Cycle from Play with a Purpose! They were convinced that Santa had brought it! Our facilities team placed it in the middle of the children’s play yard and it has become the centerpiece of playtime. It’s so popular that the teachers had to make a rule that they have to count 10 rotation cycles and then switch riders. This has allowed them the opportunity to practice both counting and taking turns.

Their engagement with the new playground equipment has been as unique as the children themselves… Some kids ride it the traditional way, pedaling along with both feet. Some ride balancing both their bottom and their feet on the seat, allowing their friends to carry them along. Others place one knee on the seat and push or pedal with one leg. Still others choose to push it like a traditional merry-go-round.

The activity has ignited the playground. Their energy is up after they have had their turn, so they launch from that activity to some equally exuberant engagement like climbing, jumping or running, just continuing to ride the waves of their own joy-filled energy high. Naptime has become a breeze, because the kids are blissfully tired from expending so much energy during playtime.

The merry-go-cycle offers many health and learning benefits. Pedaling requires the synchronized engagement of various leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves). Children are building agility, strength, speed, balance and coordination. All while fostering social interactions and a sense of adventure.

The whimsical nature of the merry-go-cycle cannot be overstated. The children are engaging with it daily in novel ways. Movement and sensory input are intrinsic benefits, but they are also spontaneously interweaving story and song into their play – unleashing their creativity as they craft scenarios – teaming up with their peers to embark on collaborative imaginative games. It is engaging even shy children and the inclusion factor is off the charts. They are building confidence and interpersonal skills as they engage in an activity that is uniquely designed for community participation.

Enhancing gross motor skills, developing muscles and core strength, increasing self confidence and developing imagination through play are foundational for all types of learners. Teachers are seeing more focused engagement in the classroom with this increased playtime happiness.

Research from Christina Hinton, Research Associate at the Human Flourishing Program & Founder and CEO of Research Schools International, shows that happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. Positive emotions release substances into the brain (dopamine and serotonin) that have a beneficial effect on memory as well as the brain’s ability to learn. One of the best ways to increase happiness is to engage in physical activity – especially exercise in novel ways. The Merry-Go-Cycle is a unique tool for activating both the children’s bodies and brains.

For schools keen to add some exuberance to their playground, this is the way to go! This would also be an awesome piece of equipment for your home backyard – sure to be a hit for playdates or social gatherings.