Monday, April 9th, 2012
Nearly half of three- to five-year-old children do not have daily outdoor playtime with parents or caregivers, according to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The study collected data on 9,000 families, and found that though mothers took children outside more often than fathers, half of the children did not get regular outdoor playtime at all.
CNN.com has more:
“There’s a big room for improvement in how parents prioritize their time and what they’re doing in the time they’re spending with their pre-school children,” said lead study author Dr. Pooja Tandon of Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children play outside as much as possible, for at least 60 minutes a day. Physical activity is not only good for weight control and preventing childhood obesity; previous research also suggests playing outside improves motor development, vision and vitamin D levels.
“There is evidence that play – just sort of the act of playing – is important for children’s development of their social skills and their peer interactions,” Tandon said. “Being outdoors affords children an opportunity to play in ways that they may not get to when they’re indoors.”
Researchers suggested that families address outdoor time with child care centers or preschools their children attend, or work with community groups and friends to devise creative ways to incorporate more outdoor play into kids’ routines.
Image: Empty playground, via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Parents who urge their child care providers to focus more on learning than on vigorous physical play may be doing their kids a disservice, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found. Nearly three-quarters of American children between ages 3 and 5 are enrolled in some sort of child care, and the study reports that most of these kids spend most of their days doing sedentary activites.
The Washington Post’s parenting blogger Janice D’Arcy interviewed the study’s lead researcher and reports:
Providers told researchers that they felt pressure from parents to keep children from vigorous play that might lead to injury and also pressure to focus instead on academics.
The third consistent barrier was financial, as some providers said their funds were too limited to purchase up-to-code safe, outdoor equipment. (An ironic twist in this finding is that providers told researchers repeatedly that these “safer” playgrounds were oftentimes the least interesting to children.)
“We were surprised to hear that parents — both low-income and upper-income — were focusing on traditional ‘academics’ (letters, numbers, colors) instead of outdoor play, even for children as young as 3 years old,” lead author Kristen Copeland of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center wrote to me in an e-mail conversation about the report.
“At this age, many children don’t know how to skip, and are still learning how to share, and how to negotiate peer relationships. Yet teachers told us that many parents wanted to know what their child ‘learned’ that day, but were not interested in whether they had gone outside, or had mastered fundamental gross motor skills,” she said.
Interestingly, the study is released at the same time as other research that showed physical fitness to be directly related to improved academic performance, a finding that should
Richard Rende, Parents.com’s child psychology blogger, offered the following advice to parents who want to avoid sedentary habits in their children: “If you want to promote the optimal development and health of your toddler, make sure they have plenty of time for free play and physical activity. Convince yourself that this will be as important – if not more so – than the ‘academics’ they are learning during the preschool years. And do what you can to make sure they get it.”
Image: Preschool girl reading, via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
The New York Times has published an analysis of a body of research on playground construction designed to be “safe” and minimize the risk of injury. The changes include replacing asphalt surfaces with rubber or wood chips, lowering overall play structure heights, and removing see-saws and other equipment that could hurt ankles or cause other injuries.
Researchers have found that while the changes prevent some injuries, they also hold back a key function of playgrounds–to allow children to encounter risks and overcome fears. Ironically, the researchers conclude, parental fears of injury actually end up having psychological consequences for the children, including overblown anxiety over minor injuries.
From the Times article:
“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”
After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.
“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”
Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.
Also, children who feel they are in “safe” spaces may relax their self-protective instincts and wind up engaging in more risky play than if they were on a traditional playground set:
“There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds,” said David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University in London. He noted that the risk of some injuries, like long fractures of the arm, actually increased after the introduction of softer surfaces on playgrounds in Britain and Australia.
“This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t, because it is a common phenomenon,” Dr. Ball said. “If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don’t understand its properties, they overrate its performance.”
(image via: http://www.myremoteradio.com)
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