NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Potential playground hazards, a focus on classroom learning and boring play equipment have children spending too little time being physically active at daycare, according to a survey of staff members at child care centers in Ohio.
“Physical activity is essential for kids in this age group for preventing obesity and for development,” said lead study author Dr. Kristen Copeland, a professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Yet, according to the responses from the daycare staff, parents seem to value more traditional, classroom-based activities.
The researchers surveyed 49 child care providers from Cincinnati about potential barriers to kids’ physical activity.
The children are “still learning how to skip, how to play with balls, how to share and take turns. But the teachers were saying they were pressured by the parents and somewhat by state early learning standards to emphasize classroom learning,” Copeland told Reuters Health.
More than half of kids aged three to five years in the United States go to daycare centers, preschools or nursery schools, her team writes in the journal Pediatrics.
Although the teachers agreed that moving around is important, safety concerns were also a big barrier to kids’ time spent running around and climbing.
Some of the teachers said that parents have asked for their kids to sit out of any vigorous activity to avoid getting hurt on the playground.
In cases when outdoor equipment had been updated to meet safety standards, the gear became boring and kids either tired of playing on it or they used it dangerously to make it more stimulating, the providers reported.
Daycare facilities couldn’t always afford sufficiently challenging equipment, they said.
“Young children learn by moving,” said Russell Pate, a professor at the University of South Carolina who was not involved in this study. “I am concerned that preschools and child care centers are placing a very heavy focus on the development of pre-academic skills.”
This research “adds in a significant way to a growing body of information that indicates that the characteristics of preschools influence the physical activity levels of young children,” Pate told Reuters Health.
Pate has shown in earlier work that children spend a very small portion of their time in daycare moving around vigorously.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education recommend that preschoolers should be allowed an hour and a half to two hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
He said there are ways to encourage kids to exercise.
Teachers can incorporate movement into classroom activities, and daycare centers can stock up on mobile equipment, such as tricycles and balls, which entice kids to move.
Copeland added that parents should make sure their children dress appropriately to play outside — no flip flops and warm clothes.
“My advice for concerned parents would be to ask daily, ‘did my child go outside today? And do they go outside daily except in the most extreme weather?’”
SOURCE: bit.ly/y3ZdYU Pediatrics, January 4, 2012.