The February issue of Pediatrics, published online on January 4th, includes a new study on why children in day care are sedentary. The conclusion suggests that it is the parents rather than the care providers who are mostly at fault.
The focus of the study, done by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, was on day centers and the play time of the children who enroll. Previous research had exposed that three quarters of children who are preschool aged only spend two to three percent of their time energetically playing. The question in this study was why the percentage of playtime was so low.
The study looked at 34 racially and demographically diverse daycare centers in the greater Cincinnati area. Their conclusions were threefold:
First, providers indicated to the researchers that pressure from parents was exerted to keep their children from activities that might harm the child or lead to an injury. Parents often voiced the threat of litigation.
Next, academics was a greater focus for many parents than playtime.
Finally, providers indicated that funds were too limited to purchase up-to-code safe, outdoor equipment. And, while “safer” playgrounds were sometimes within walking distances, the children did not find them as interesting as other playgrounds not up to code.
Many providers said the first question they were asked by parents at the end of the day is “what did little Johnny learn today?” instead of “how did things go?”
As someone who taught developmental psychology and has worked with children for 20 years, I must tell you I am scratching my head at these findings. Much research has shown that children can concentrate and learn better after brief periods of vigorous activity. So ‘active time’ does not need to come at the expense of time dedicated to academics and learning.
Second, the chief thing they learn during this age is how to negotiate with their peers and how to interact appropriately. This is normal in regards to major theories of play.
Finally, the idea of skipping or playing tag or general motor movement allows for greater cognition given the neurological development of the time period.
The idea of play seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
Photo credit: madmetal