Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Preschoolers Need More Opportunities for Active Play

Results from a two-year study published in Pediatrics show that children in daycares and preschools were presented with only 48 minutes of opportunities for physically active play per day -- significantly less than what’s recommended. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education and Let’s Move! Child Care recommend that children should receive at least 120 minutes of active play time daily, including child-led free play and teacher-led play.

Dr. Pooja Tandon, the study’s lead investigator and member of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, observed nearly 100 children ages 3 to 5 from ten child care centers throughout Seattle.

“We discovered that on average, children were sedentary for 73 percent of their day,” said Tandon. “But what is even more troubling is the fact that kids are not even being offered the opportunities to achieve the recommended amount of active play. If they are not getting the opportunity, they obviously will not meet the overall recommendation of 120 total minutes of physical activity.”

Tandon found that children did not have active play opportunities (APOs) for 88 percent of the time, which included 26 percent of naptime. On average, children had 48 minutes of active play opportunities, 33 of which were outdoors. Children had less than 10 minutes per day of teacher-led active play opportunities. As expected, when children were given active play opportunities, such as outdoor time, they were much less sedentary and more active.

“The results are problematic because physical activity is important to the health and well-being of children,” Tandon said. “Active play helps develop muscles and bones, improve cardiac health and prevent obesity. It is also associated with positive mental health and academic performance.”

Tandon and other observers spent nearly a full week at each center analyzing children’s play and documenting their days. They were able to categorize child care time into six groups: not an active play opportunity, naptime, APO outdoor free play, APO outdoor teacher-led play, APO indoor free play and APO indoor teacher-led play. Weather did not appear to be a contributing factor to their results as the study was done over a two-year period and during a variety of seasons.

Tandon recommends that parents, child care providers, health care providers and policymakers take actions to ensure children are getting enough physically active play opportunities.

“Communication is key,” she said. “Parents need to be advocates for active play and ensure that it is a priority as a learning opportunity for everyone caring for their children. Conversely, child care providers need to be supported in their efforts by parents who send their kids appropriately dressed and prepared for active and outdoor play every day. “

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