About best outdoor play to reduce sedentary behavior
In this article, we will explore the best outdoor play in childhood. We will define outdoor play; give examples of outdoor play; identify barriers to outdoor play; and explore two research studies which show two stragegies for reducing sedentary behavior through outdoor play.
The focus of the article is free, unstructured play and not structured play as in the example of sports.
Outdoor play defined
Smith (2010), cited by Carson (2019) reviewed research studies conducted on outdoor play in childhood. They defined it as:
“A form of gross motor or total body movement in which young children exert energy in a freely chosen, fun, and unstructured manner.”
Active play is a key concept of outdoor play (Smith, 2010 as cited by Carson, 2019). Active play involves:
Exertion of energy.
Rough and tumble play.
Gross motor movement, which involves the movement of the limbs.
Unstructured, free, and fun play.
Smith (2010), cited by Carson (2019), also gave examples of outdoor play which include:
Barriers to outdoor play
Evidence shows that children engage in fewer opportunities for outdoor play in many countries when compared to the past. Research studies have identified barriers to outdoor play in children which include:
– Parents’ concerns about the safety of their children.
– Fears that children will be abducted by strangers.
– Concerns that children will be bullied by others.
– Concerns that children will collide with pedestrians.
– Concerns that children will be injured during play.
– Over importance of academic success for children.
– Increased usage of devices such as the television.
– Overscheduling and hurried lives of children.
– Parents enroll their children in structured play activities.
– Parents keep their children indoors rather than allowing them outdoors to play (Carson, 2019).
Sedentary behavior is reduced by unstructured outdoor play
with everyday, household items
One of the benefits of outdoor play is the reduction of sedentary behavior. Sedentary behavior is a term referring to limited physical activity. However, that play must be freestyle and free from traditionally designed structures designed by adults.
This was an important finding by Australian researchers who were concerned about the growing epidemic of obesity in schoolchildren. They found that freestyle, unstructured play in an unstructured environment positively impact childrens’ involvement in play.
The researchers studied one hundred and twenty students between the ages of five and twelve. aged between five and twelve. The purpose of the study was to determine if children would engage in play in an unstructured environment when compared to structured playgrounds.
The researchers placed buckets, pipes, exercise mats, hay bales, and swimming pool noodles in the play areas of an Australian primary school. They compared play involvement with another school in the area which had a traditional, adult-designed playground. This latter traditional playground had play equipment such as monkey bars and slides.
Study results showed a reduction in sedentary behavior from 61.5 percent to 30.5 percent during the study. When students played with household items, they moved more times per minute. They were also more intensive and vigorous in their play when compared to peers in the traditional playground (RMIT University, 2014).
Sedentary behavior is reduced by outdoor play in natural environments
University of Tennessee at Knoxville (2012) researchers found that children play more actively when natural items like logs and flowers are incorporated into their playgrounds.
This contrasted with their involvement in play when their playgrounds were traditional and consisted of metal and brightly colored equipment.
The researchers examined changes in physical activity levels and patterns in young children who were exposed to both traditional and natural playgrounds.
The study began in 2011 when lead researcher Dawn Coe observed the play activity of young children attending the University of Tennessee’s Early Learning Center. The researchers documented children’s usage of the traditional wood and plastic equipment, slides, and other playground equipment.
Researchers also logged the intensity of their play, as well as time that they spend in a porch area to escape the heat of the sun.
The staff of The Early Learning Center renovated the playground into a “natural playscape.” The new additions included a gazebo, slides built into a hill, dwarf trees, a creek, and flower and rock landscaping, logs, and tree stumps.
During the follow-up observations, researcher Coe found significant differences between children’s usage of the traditional and natural playground.
The study results showed that the children more than doubled the time they spent playing. They engaged in aerobic and bone-strengthening activities like jumping off the logs and watering the plants around the creek.
Overall the children were less sedentary and used the porch area less after the renovation.
According to researcher Coe:
“Natural playscapes appear to be a viable alternative to traditional playgrounds for school and community settings .. future studies should look at these changes long-term as well as the nature of the children’s play.”
Conclusion of the Best Outdoor Play To Reduce Sedentary Behavior
The research findings show that parents, caregivers and schools can use non-traditional approaches to engage children in play the way they enjoy it best.
Sedentary behavior or inactivity carries a host of health-related problems including obesity. However, these studies show that children become more intense and actively involved with play when they use everyday items and when they play in natural environments.
In fact, children from very early ages tell us their play preferences. They pull pots and pans from cupboards and play with just about anything they find around the house.
Armed with this knowledge, parents of all economic statuses can gain courage and create play areas for their children with the items they already have in their possession.
Carson, V. (2019). Active Outdoor Play. Retrieved from child-encyclopedia.com/outdoor-play/according-experts/active-outdoor-play
RMIT University. (2014, March 3). Health benefits from free play confirmed by research. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 21, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140303083547.htm.
Smith PK. Children and play. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
University of Tennessee at Knoxville. (2012, October 11). Natural playgrounds more beneficial to children, inspire more play, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 21, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121011135036.htm