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Playgrounds too safe, too boring to keep kids active

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Boring playgrounds may be one reason preschoolers aren’t getting enough exercise, researchers found in interviews with childcare providers.

Obese boy Strict safety rules for equipment and low budgets at childcare centers were largely blamed for playgrounds that don’t make kids feel like playing, Kristen Copeland, MD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and colleagues reported.

“Fixed playground equipment that meets licensing codes is unchallenging and uninteresting to children,” they wrote in the February issue of Pediatrics.

The other main problem cited was pressure to focus on academic readiness at the expense of physically active play time, Copeland’s group noted.

“Societal priorities for young children — safety and school readiness — may be hindering children’s physical development,” they wrote in the paper.

And that’s a problem because three-quarters of U.S. kids attend childcare at ages 3 to 5, where studies have shown that nearly all their time is spent sedentary.

“Because children spend long hours in care and many lack a safe place to play near their home, these barriers may limit children’s only opportunity to engage in physical activity,” Copeland’s group explained. “This is particularly concerning because daily physical activity is not only essential for healthy weight maintenance, but also for practicing and learning fundamental gross motor skills.”

Pediatricians may be able to help address this problem by emphasizing the learning and physical benefits of active outdoor play, encouraging parents to dress their child for it, and not suggesting that physical activity is inherently dangerous when giving injury prevention advice, the researchers noted.

The investigators conducted nine focus groups with a total of 49 childcare providers taking care of preschool-age children at 34 centers in Cincinnati, which varied from inner-city to suburban locations and included some Head Start and Montessori centers.

An abstract or the full text of this study is available free from Pediatrics, published online January 4, 2012.

 


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