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Are Playgrounds Too Safe?

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It takes a lot to bore a preschooler. They are so inquisitive that just about everything seems interesting. But, believe it or not, playgrounds may have become so “safe” that they bore even preschoolers. A new report suggests that may be one of the reasons these little ones are not getting enough exercise.

Researchers have found that strict safety rules for equipment and low budgets at childcare centers were largely blamed for playgrounds that don't make kids feel like playing,

Kristen Copeland, MD, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and her colleagues wrote in the February issue of Pediatrics that fixed playground equipment that meets licensing codes is unchallenging and uninteresting to children.

Another reason kids may not be exercising enough is that schools are focusing on academics at the expense of recess and gym.

"Societal priorities for young children -- safety and school readiness -- may be hindering children's physical development," they wrote in the paper.

According to an online article in Medpagetoday.com, three-quarters of U.S. kids, ages 3-5 years, attend childcare and most of their time is spent being sedentary.

"Because children spend long hours in care and many lack a safe place to play near their home, these barriers may limit children's only opportunity to engage in physical activity," Copeland's group explained. "This is particularly concerning because daily physical activity is not only essential for healthy weight maintenance, but also for practicing and learning fundamental gross motor skills."

The investigators conducted nine focus groups with a total of 49 childcare providers taking care of preschool-age children at 34 centers in Cincinnati, which varied from inner-city to suburban locations and included some Head Start and Montessori centers.

The providers interviewed were nearly all women with at least some college education. These providers commonly expressed concern that the children they cared for had little chance of outdoor playtime when they went home, particularly those who were picked up late in the day or whose parents worked multiple jobs.

Many of the parents didn't have a dedicated room indoors where kids could be active during bad weather.

To prepare kids for grade school, an emphasis has been placed on teaching children shapes, colors, and skills that prepare them for reading, but not giving them time for outdoor and active play- both of which have been shown to increase a child’s learning ability.

That pressure came directly from parents -- both upper- and lower-income families -- as well as from state early-learning standards.

Some parents also told providers to keep their children from participating in vigorous activities so that they would not be injured.

Providers felt that the playground equipment was safe to let kids play on because of beefed up state inspections and stricter licensing codes, but all the safety measures sort of back-fired and kids just weren’t interested.

"To keep it challenging, teachers noted that children would start to use equipment in (unsafe) ways for which it was not intended," the researchers wrote.

They quoted one provider who explained that with new equipment fitting the tighter standards, "you see children trying to climb into places they're not supposed to climb in because it's just not challenging. They're walking up the slide much more than they ever did with the other one. You can see they are just trying to find those challenges."

Pediatricians may be able to help address this problem by emphasizing the learning and physical benefits of active outdoor play, encouraging parents to dress their child for it, and not suggesting that physical activity is inherently dangerous when giving injury prevention advice, the researchers noted.

Source: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/GeneralPediatrics/30493

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