Moving to Learn

Teen Playgrounds – Improving youth health, learning, behavior, and socialization

TRX Equipment

Imagine you’re a teen in a small Northern community, walking around town in the early evening with your friends. You’ve got your face buried in your cell phone, nothing to do, nowhere to go, yet you’ve got energy to burn and you’re looking for some action. Ripe for getting into some trouble, you turn a corner and there in front of you is a Teen Playground complete with basketball hoop, volleyball court, exercise circuit, and Barstarzz bars. You look around further and find some TRX Training equipment anchored to the side of a building, right next to a climbing wall, some rotation pods, more cool things to climb on, and spring swings! Wow! How many of you would stop whatever you were doing and start to play? Pretty hard to resist trying at least one or two of these devices, and if you’re in a group, the pull to outdo each other would be strong. Whether you’re overweight, have delayed development, or have never engaged in physical activity before (the plight of today’s youth), the Teen Playground provides both individual and group based equipment that challenge youth at their own physical level.

Healthbeat exercise equipment 1   Healthbeat exercise equipment 4   Healthbeat exercise equipment 3   Healthbeat exercise equipment 2

Healthbeat Exercise Equipment

Barstarzz Equipment   trx   climbing wall

Barstarzz Bars                                 TRX Training Equipment                          Climbing Wall

Habitat Systems 1    Habitat Systems 2    surgeswing_product_rev

Habitat Systems playground equipment for youth

Research shows that exercise improves not only cardiovascular fitness, reducing risk of obesity and diabetes, but also improves mental health, reduces truancy, and enhances attention and learning (see Zone’in Fact Sheet for collated research references). These types of devices build strong core and motor coordination, resulting in improved printing, reading, and numerical literacy. Once the cell phones go in the pockets, teens start to socialize, helping them to feel more confident and less lonely. Teen playgrounds also offer youth the opportunity to expend some of that pent up, hyperactive, and often aggressive energy that builds up playing video games.

A thought to ponder is whether adhd is a mental illness, or a sign that children and youth just need to go outside and play. Recent issues arose in Vancouver BC as an advocacy group for children with disabilities released the results of a survey which revealed that numerous schools in the lower mainland were locking children into seclusion rooms, some for as long as 3 hour durations (see “Ban ‘isolation rooms’ in schools, B.C. advocate group urges” under Research and News section, December 2013 Child Development Series Newsletter). As problematic child and youth behaviors escalate, the propensity of the health and education systems to diagnose and medicate, or use restraints and seclusion rooms, rises. Diagnostic and medication procedures are costly, ineffective in most cases, and dangerous. Teen Playgrounds on the other hand are inexpensive, effective, and while a few youth might get hurt, their wounds will heal quickly. As Dr. Michael Rich pediatric researcher, quotes “I’d rather see a broken arm than a broken spirit”, one can easily see that the costs of a teen playground are minimal when considering the enormous mental and physical health benefits, reduced truancy, as well as improved attention and learning.

I’m presently working with a number of First Nations communities to establish these types of teen playgrounds in their communities. I’ve talked with hundreds of youth in the process who all report to me that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go to have fun in their community. When I show them pictures of this type of equipment, they all resoundingly say that they would definitely put down the tech and go outside and play if these devices were in their community.

How long can we continue to deny our youth what they sorely need and want, while instead turning to quick fixes of diagnosis and medication? How long can we turn a blind eye to the fact that our children and youth are suffering, and have never been sicker than they are today, largely due to technology overuse. How long can we continue to hide behind our own technology addictions, pushing device use onto our children and youth in both home and school settings? The ways in which we are raising and educating our children and youth with technology are not sustainable. Teen Playgrounds are a “best bang for buck” initiative to manage balance between healthy activity and technology.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist and advocate for children and youth. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc. providing products, workshops, training, and consultation services for parents, teachers, and health professionals. For additional information please visit

Cris Rowen

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT

Cris Rowan is a biologist, pediatric occupational therapist and sensory specialist with expertise in the impact of technology on child development, behaviour and learning. Having worked in school settings for over 3 decades, Cris is committed to improving student health while also easing the job of learning for children. Cris is a well-known international speaker and author to teachers, parents and therapists globally on topics of sensory integration, learning, attention, fine motor skills and the impact of media content including video games, social media and pornography on children’s brain and body development. Cris has a BSc’s both in Occupational Therapy and in Biology, is a SIPT certified sensory specialist, and has Approved Provider Status for CEU provision with the American Occupational Therapy Association. Over the past 3 decades, Cris has provided over 350 keynotes and workshops, writes monthly articles for her blog Moving to Learn, publishes the monthly Child Development Series Newsletter, and is designer and creator of Reconnect Webinars which offer research evidenced information for teens, parents, teachers and clinicians to manage balanced between screens and healthy activities. Cris is member of the Screens in Schools committee with Fairplay for Kids, member of the Institute for Digital Media and Child Development and sits on the Board of Directors for the Global Alliance for Brain and Heart Health. Cris has two adult children, Matt and Katie who grew up without screens.

Cris can be reached at Reconnect Webinars offers a free, 5.5-hour CCAP accredited Screenbuster Program training webinar for teens which qualifies them to perform Tech Talks for their peers. The Screenbuster Program requires one counsellor, teacher or principal to complete the 3-day Balanced Technology Management certification CEU provided course in order to adequately supervise the teens.

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3 Responses

  1. I’ve always wondered why there is no playground equipment at high schools. I think it would be a worthwhile investment in our future, especially in districts where semester systems mean that many students don’t get any physical activity at all except for extra-curricular sports or dance.

  2. I love this Chris!
    I will include in my Tools For Teens workshop, in the “designing sensory safe spaces” section 🙂

    Thanks for the great work you do !

    Best wishes,
    Diana Henry, OT
    Teaching on ateachabout and co- developing the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) for Teens

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