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.
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.