Play is the thing — not in the same way that Hamlet meant it.

But, play is the thing that elicits our excitement, curiosity and creativity. It gives us a chance to reconnect with family and friends and take a break from the stresses of life.

The next few weeks, during the remainder of spring and the days of summer, are definitely the time for play.

In fact, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, children learn cognitive skills, new vocabulary, social skills, literacy skills and develop physical abilities through play.

It’s not just for kids. Don’t forget the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Luckily, in Utah County, with the mountains, trails and water right in our backyard, there are plenty of opportunities to play. Another opportunity is within blocks of our homes — playgrounds.

According to http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org, one of the first playgrounds in the United States was opened in Chicago, along with eight other major cities, in the 1890s. This came after a coalition of child-saving reformers, including child psychologists, urged municipal governments to construct playgrounds where the city’s youth could have space to play.

“Playground reformers believed that supervised play could improve the mental, moral, and physical well-being of children,” it reads.

Now, of course, there are playgrounds across the country with some of the most beautiful and unique ones right here in Utah County. The playgrounds provide space for spending time outside, which, in our ever-increasing world of screen time and the accompanying lack of outdoor, active play, is so important.

Beginning June 17, a new and improved playground will be available for some of that healthy, outdoor play. Pleasant Grove’s Discovery Park, which has been getting a makeover from hundreds of community volunteers, will be open.

The new Discovery Park features a space shuttle, volcano, wheelchair maze and tree house. Some elements, like the space shuttle, volcano and musical features, were taken from the original park, built 23 years ago, and updated to keep the same feel of the popular playground. The park is now accessible for strollers and wheelchairs as well as completely fenced for added safety.

Discovery Park’s grand opening ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. on June 17. After the ceremony, children are invited to check out the new playground for the first time. The event will be the culmination of two years of community efforts to improve Pleasant Grove’s landmark playground, often lovingly referred to as the “wood park.”

Of course, Discovery Park isn’t the only playground worthy of our playing time. Be sure to do some park hopping around Utah Valley this summer to check out what else is out there.

Laura Giles is a long-time correspondent for the Daily Herald and a community member living in Pleasant Grove. She can be contacted at LauraCGiles@gmail.com.

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