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Preschool Activities: Children Don't Play Outside Enough, Study Finds

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/04/2012 2:30 pm Updated: 04/04/2012 2:30 pm

Preschoolers And Outdoor Play

If there's something that makes you feel nostalgic about the thought of children building forts in the woods and running barefoot through grassy backyards, that could be because another piece of research has confirmed what many parents already know: kids don't get outside the way they used to.

The study, which was published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, analyzed data from the parents of nearly 9,000 preschoolers. Less than 50 percent of the children made it outside with their parents on a daily basis. And girls were significantly less likely -– by 16 percent -- to get outside than boys.

The researchers explained to Time magazine that the gender disparity may be the result of a combination of factors including societal norms, boys asking to be taken outside more, and the assumption that girls are less athletic or less inclined to want to play outdoors.

As New York Times Motherlode blogger K.J. Dell'Antonia, pointed out, "Those aren't conclusions most of us want to be consciously coming to about our daughters, but (as when we fail to talk to our daughters about math) some stereotypes are tucked so deeply into our minds that we act on them without even knowing they're there."

Even if society or adult-bias aren't to blame and some girls prefer playing indoors, they should still be encouraged to get outside because research has shown outdoor play provides a host of benefits.

“Physical activity through play is essential for preschoolers’ growth and development,” said Pooja Tandon, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who led the study. "Outdoor play is also beneficial for motor development, vision, cognition, Vitamin D levels and mental health."

If getting your children outside more sounds like a challenge, other aspects of the study lend insight on how to do so. For one thing, more active parents equaled more active children. Moms who exercised more often than four times a week were 50 percent more likely to take their child outside on a daily basis. If exercise isn't something you see fitting into your own future any time soon, keep in mind that the children with more playmates tended to get outside more, too. And being more pro-active about ensuring other caregivers help out in the efforts is another option.

"Even if parents are not able to take their children outside to play due to logistics or time constraints, they can advocate for or insist upon it in child care or preschool settings," said Dr. Tandon. "If we can increase awareness of why it’s so important for children to be outdoors, there can be a cultural shift and our children will benefit in many ways."

Of course, going the route of relying on daycare centers or schools to take the reigns is not without its challenges: a 2008 study found that some teachers make the entire class stay inside if one child has forgotten a coat or shows up in flip-flops. Even more surprising was that some parents were purposely keeping their child's coat so that he or she couldn't play outside.

If you're going to talk to your child's teacher about outdoor play, check out the rule on flip flops, and make sure the parents of your child's classmates aren't surreptitiously holding coats hostage.

Need more inspiration for how to enjoy time with your children outside? Try these spring-appropriate ideas from HuffPost blogger Debi Huang.


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