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Preschoolers aren’t getting enough active play time

June 03, 2015

A new study tells us that preschool-aged children aren’t getting enough active play time at their childcare facility.

This may not be the first thing on your mind as we find ourselves here at the end of the school year and looking forward to the summer. Lets be honest, many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve finally just made it through the year. But as we all know, summer will come and go quickly and we’ll be back to our school year routines in no time. We have a unique opportunity now to stop and reflect on the time that our kids have spent in childcare this year and let those observations help guide the decisions we make going forward.

What we already know

We know that physical activity is vital for the health and development of our children, and the patterns they develop in early childhood will affect them for years to come. Experts recommend that children between the ages of three and five years old get around two hours of active play time per day. We also know that on average, preschool-aged children will spend roughly 30 hours per week in a preschool or childcare facility. It makes sense, then, that the preschool or daycare will significantly impact how much active play time a child gets each day.

What we learn from this study

While observing children in various childcare facilities, researchers found that kids on average had about 48 minutes of active play opportunities per day. This was well below the recommended 120 minutes (two hours) of active play that is recommended for this age group. This study also found that the times when children were most active were when they were allowed to play freely outdoors. While they may have had some teacher-directed physical activity or some indoor activities, they tended to get the most vigorous exercise outdoors during free play.

What we can do to help our kids

This study is a helpful reminder that active play time is an important priority for our kids, even in their earliest years. While parents and teachers may focus more on academic pursuits, we have to remember that physical activity, too, is very important for our kids’ development.

As we wrap up one school year and look forward to the next, here are some questions that you might want to reflect upon:

  • How many minutes of scheduled, active play time does my childcare facility offer?
  • What type of activity is it: teacher-directed or free play? Indoors or out?
  • What type of play equipment is available (indoors and out) and does it look like something my child will enjoy?
  • Does the school have a plan for indoor active play if weather doesn’t permit outdoor play?
If you’ve taken a look at your childcare facility and determined that your child isn’t getting enough active play time, here are some things to think about:
  • Consider prioritizing active play once the child has returned home
  • Think about altering your schedule. Could dinner be a half-hour later or naptime become a little shorter in order to allow some time outside?
  • Instead of pushing your kids out the door to play on their own, play with them to encourage physical activity by example
  • Look for organized sports for your child to engage in after school
  • Share your concerns with your childcare facility and express your desire to have more active play time.
Of course, there is no perfect scenario in which we do all of the right things all of the time. However, simply keeping in mind that active play time is important for our kids and making it a priority each day will make a difference. They’ll be happier, and healthier, too!