Let the Kids Play!

Let the Kids Play!

Researchers are weighing in on children’s activity levels. A new study finds barriers include concerns about safety, focus on academics, and financial constraints.

You’d think that tackling the subject of kids’ playtime would be, er, child’s play. But broaching the subject can bring widely divergent opinions. Some people say kids need to play more. Some believe children need more academic structure to prepare them for lifelong learning. And still others (mostly lawyers) believe in safety first.

Scientists weigh in

Researchers have recently been looking at the question of playtime for kids and are beginning to sound the alarm bells. It seems that, at the same time as Western cultures are focused on alarming childhood obesity rates and low rates of physical activity, we’ve also been spending too much time worried about playground safety and academic performance.

3 main barriers to physical activity

A recent study of preschool-age children aimed to find out more about barriers to physical activity in childcare centres. The researchers interviewed 53 childcare providers in the Cincinnati area of the US and found there were three main barriers to physical activity, including

  • concerns about injury,
  • focus on academics over outdoor play, and
  • financial constraints.

Since at least 54 percent (most recent numbers from Statistics Canada) of children age six months to five years receive care from someone other than their parents, these results suggest that attitudes about physical activity pose a huge impediment to creating a healthy early start for our kids.

Safety and school readiness hinder development

The Cincinnati study, published in the January 2012 issue of Pediatrics concluded that “societal priorities for young children—safety and school readiness—may be hindering children’s physical development.”

When they interviewed childcare providers they found that government safety mandates affected their ability to provide interesting and challenging playground equipment. They also heard that parents made requests to keep children inside for their safety or to focus more on academics.

When equipment met safety standards (some caregivers couldn’t afford new “safe” equipment), many reported that children used the equipment in unintended ways because it wasn’t interesting enough.

Over-scheduling/hovering add to the problem

Other researchers have pointed a finger at low activity levels connected to our propensity for over-scheduling and hovering over our kids’ activities as well as too much screen time. Getting your kids involved in any physical activity, not just structured sports or classes, provides long-lasting benefits.

Get them out to play

Here are some fun activities for the family that don’t feel like exercise.

Winter

  • Bundle up and explore the outdoors on cold, wet days.
  • Splash through puddles.
  • Find a snow-covered hill for tobogganing.
  • Go ice skating.
  • Build a snowman or snow fort.
  • Play summer games in the snow: Frisbee, soccer, tag, hide and seek, follow the leader.
  • Make snow castles with the sand toys.

Summer

  • Fly a kite.
  • Dance to your favourite music.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Play a family game of badminton.
  • Swim and splash about at the local pool.
  • Walk the dog (not just in the summer).
  • Throw a Frisbee.

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