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Nearly half of pre-schoolers not playing outside
April 2nd, 2012
04:01 PM ET

Nearly half of pre-schoolers not playing outside

The early childhood years are crucial for learning and development. That should involve a great deal of outdoor physical activity and playtime, but that's not always the case.

Nearly half of 3 to 5 year olds are not taken outdoors by a parent or caregiver every day, according to research presented in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine this week.

"There's a big room for improvement in how parents prioritize their time and what they're doing in the time they're spending with their pre-school children," said lead study author Dr. Pooja Tandon of Seattle Children's Research Institute.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children play outside as much as possible, for at least 60 minutes a day. Physical activity is not only good for weight control and preventing childhood obesity; previous research also suggests playing outside improves motor development, vision and vitamin D levels.

"There is evidence that play - just sort of the act of playing - is important for children's development of their social skills and their peer interactions," Tandon said.  "Being outdoors affords children an opportunity to play in ways that they may not get to when they're indoors."

In the study, researchers studied almost 9,000 pre-schoolers nationwide and asked their parents how often they take their children outside to play.

Mothers took their children out to play more often than fathers did. Working outside of the home was often a barrier for children to play outdoors, but some parents who worked from home also did not take their kids out.

In addition, the researchers found that mothers who exercised often were more likely to take their kids outdoors, as opposed to those who did not report any exercise.

The study authors also noted that girls had fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation than boys did. A study released in January came to similar conclusions.

"As caregivers or parents of girls, [we should] rethink how we dress our girls, and what we encourage them to do as far as play so that they have the same opportunity for outdoor play as boys do," Tandon said.

For all parents, Tandon offers a couple of suggestions.

First, check in with your child's care provider or child care center to ensure there is adequate outdoor time. Make sure that your child is getting it; if not, advocate for it. By pre-school age, 80% of the children in the study were in child care; in the U.S., pre-schoolers spend an average of 32 hours per week in child care.

Second, Tandon suggests coming up with new and creative ways to work around barriers, perhaps through social and community networks.

"I think parents want to do what's best for their children and I hope that this study serves as a reminder that playing outside with your children is also an important part of what we do as parents," Tandon added.


soundoff (240 Responses)
  1. Josie

    First of all a warm summer rain is not going to kill a kid. Nor is it being warm (as long as they have a chance to drink a lot). Second most parents use the t.v. or video games to entertain their kids...when you can give a kid a ball, a fenced in backyard and watch how much fun they have. My mom had us outdoors during the summer, we were outside more then inside, and my kids have that as well. Kids sleep better, focus better, and are healthier when they get time to go outdoors. If it's cold, bundle them up, let them play in the snow (remember building snow men?). If it's hot, take them to a pool, or if you can't do that provide plenty of water and shade and let them run around.

    April 3, 2012 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Randi L. Levin

      Josey as much as I agree with what you are saying; you are ignoring some facts. Some neighborhoods are infested with drugs, druglords and gangs hence it may not be a good idea to have your kids play outside in these neighborhoods.
      Also many parents have to work 1-2 jobs these days just to make ends meet, so we now have more latchkey kids then ever before and many attend day care or after school day type places, and many day care providers limit the time outside if any due to restraints depending on where they live or how large their backyard is!

      Keep in mind that not everyone lives in a suburban neighborhood! I live in the mountains, can take walks and play in my garden, but on some days it is still too cold or windy outside to go play.
      Yet when P.E. was available bi-or tri-weekly and for kids who still recess over ridiculous off-task promoting "Brain Breaks" the kids got outside daily! Hence maybe the time has come to reinstate recess for all elementary kids-at least it got them outside playing, socializing and developing skills that may last a lifetime.

      April 19, 2012 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    I live in Oregon. It pours eight months of the year. I could let them play in heat. I could let them play in snow. Buckets of rain is tough.

    April 3, 2012 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • † In God We Trust †

      There's no city anywhere in the U.S. that 'pours' 8 months of the year nonstop. You still have plenty of days and hours of the day to enjoy the dry weather.

      April 3, 2012 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • laura

      I live in Oregon too, I always played outside as a kid. Kids don't care what the weather is, I always liked the rain myself.

      April 3, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
  3. Steve

    Well seeing as how 2/3 of this country is obese im going to have to say hell no.

    April 3, 2012 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Randi L. Levin

      Sorry Steve but your statistic is incorrect-it's about 1 3rd of the people that are overweight or obese. And there is a difference between these 2.
      Not everyone who is overweight is obese!
      Now if you are living in a state, particularly some down south then your statement may be correct-but for the general population it is wrong!

      April 19, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
  4. † In God We Trust †

    2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese, and 1/3 of children the same. So no, kids don´t get out enough to play. Most kids today stay home and play games!!

    April 3, 2012 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Burbank

    Of course kids aren't getting outside enough, their obese dead-beat parents are far too lazy to actually have to watch them. God forbid it should cut into their own selfish, narcissistic "me first" time! (Same reason why you see screaming, running pre-schoolers in restaurants after 9 P.M. while the parents sit there and get swacked on another glass of beer or wine. These dead-beats would rather just park their kids in front of the kid's own TV set in it's own room complete with their own bathroom in their beighe McMansion (with no yard, just a ring of grass around it) and then wonder why these kids grow up autistic.

    April 3, 2012 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark@maryland

      Burbank it really isn't that simple. There are parents that let their children run wild and I dont agree with that. But it is very difficult to work 8hrs a day, have a 2-3 hr total commute, take care of dinner, cleaning, laundry, and get the kids outside to play. It would be nice to be able to send them out into the front yard to play but there is always the fear that someone could run off with them.
      In addition I have had back problems since the delivery room. My back went out sleeping in the chair during my wife 24 hr+ delivery. It has never been right since and has in recent years left me unable to move my left leg and it is not so easy to just sit an even just watch cause i need to be very careful what, where, and how i sit. But when i have been good i run the play ground with her but even that i have had a bad experience with. I had a 5 yr old (running wild) walk up and spit in my face. no parent , no one to turn him into and absolutely stunned that it happened. As far as the parents being overweight. trying to take care of our own health is difficult as well as we had previously had to compete over who went to the gym and who got to stay home and watch our child. Gyms that offer child care are a decent option and that is what we have just began. It is more costly and we dont really have the money to spend but it is our best option. she gets social play time even though it is in the indoor setting. and we are able to take care of our exercise needs and then take here to the pool where we can have family time.
      My point is it is very difficult to find the balance of family and work in our society. Even when children are born parents are barely given the time to find that balance. 4-8 weeks and they have to return to work, at best. in europe one of the parents is afforded 1-4 years state payed maternity leave to bond with and adjust to life style changes of having children.

      April 4, 2012 at 08:24 | Report abuse |
  6. Burbank

    Of course kids aren't getting outside enough, their obese dead-beat parents are far too lazy to actually have to watch them. God forbid it should cut into their own selfish, narcissistic "me first" time! (Same reason why you see screaming, running pre-schoolers in restaurants after 9 P.M. while the parents sit there and get swacked on another glass of beer or wine. These dead-beats would rather just park their kids in front of the kid's own TV set in it's own room complete with their own bathroom in their beige McMansion (with no yard, just a ring of grass around it) and then wonder why these kids grow up autistic.

    April 3, 2012 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Shay

    Letting your kids go play outside doesn't make them grow.

    Keeping your kids inside and studying lets them become money makers in life.

    April 3, 2012 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RVA

      You are absolutely incorrect.

      April 3, 2012 at 19:19 | Report abuse |
    • Randi L. Levin

      SHAY, there is more to life then MONEY!
      Money doesn't buy love only things and destruction!

      BTW: Most poor people are happier than those massively endowed with money-money does not fill one up, love does!

      April 19, 2012 at 12:47 | Report abuse |
  8. Rachel Fishe

    If you want to find places to take your kids outdoors to play visit recareas.com and you can join a growing community of users at connect.recareas.com

    April 3, 2012 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Shelley

    Are you people really scoffing at the idea that a child could be abducted or molested? This stuff really happens, and by strangers as well as people that the children are familiar with. My husband is a corrections officer and is not shy about telling me the awful truth of the crimes that these sickos commit. I have heard every detail that no parent ever wants to hear but probably should. I lay in bed at night and fear that someone will take my daughter from me and do the things to her that I know people do. I can't stress enough that these are real dangers, and not as much as a long shot as you might think. This is not to say that I don't let my preschooler outside, but she is absolutely within my sight at all times, and not far enough away that if someone were to grab her I would not be able to catch up to them. Predators know where to go to find the type of person that they are looking for. Don't think for a second that your child is "safe" because you are at the playground.

    April 3, 2012 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. P@RANOID

    Wow people are too paranoid these days. You walk out your house and you can get killed. The food you eat, the air you breath it's all toxic. Might as well live in a BUBBLE. No wonder kids are dumbed down and fat. They spend all day in front of the tube being distracted by monetary BS...yes BS thinking they need the new phone or the new toy because they think that is how the world will define them; too busy to see reality. Were fed all this crap on the news believing every thing we hear without questioning it. We don't even have our own thoughts anymore! People realize that whatever is going to happen in life will happen it's in GODS hands and there ain't a thing ANY of us can do about it!

    April 3, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark@maryland

      An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
      Not trying to safe guard against something cause it will happen anyway in your view is not a realistic view.

      April 4, 2012 at 08:32 | Report abuse |
  11. P@RANOID

    Proof of this Romans 3:4 "Let god be true, and every man a liar".

    April 3, 2012 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dana

    I too live in Oregon, and I agree, Dave, it rains buckets 8, sometimes, 9 months out of the year. My kids play in it anyway. We hike in the rain and the snow and the cold. There is no bad weather – only bad gear. Everyone has rain pants and jackets and boots. And my kids love playing in rain more than sunshine. There is no excuse for not getting kids outside – only laziness.

    April 3, 2012 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. JeffinIL

    Let your kids outside and more than three feet from your presence and you're a bad parent. Don't let them outside and you're a bad parent. You're all just bad parents.

    April 3, 2012 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Beth

      Ugh, isn't that the truth!!

      April 5, 2012 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
  14. Anthony

    I live in sub division in Florida where there are many many kids. When i was a young boy, on Christmas Day, all the kids were outside playing with their Christmas presents, riding our new bicycles, playing basketball that fathers had put up the hoop on Christmas eve, well you know what i mean. But i have noticed now on Christmas day the kids do not even come out at all. Its sad if you think about it. The presents they get now seem to be all geared to be played indoors. Sad so sad.

    April 3, 2012 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jay

    Children need to play outside. Medical experts tell us over and over again that children need physical activity daily. This is not option but a requirement. Remove your children from the television and the video games. Open your childrens minds to outdoor activities

    April 3, 2012 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Renee

    I'd like to know how the researchers worded the survey, and what the article means by "every day" - My kid goes outside almost every day, but he was not outside 365 of the last 365 days. If I were taking a survey that asked "Does your kid go outside every single day of his life" the answer would be no. This is a good topic to investigate, but I'm not sure how meaningful these results are.

    April 4, 2012 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Beth

    So much has changed since we were young! I can remember getting up and going outside, and not coming back in–or allowed back in–until sundown! And that was in Texas summers! Thirsty? There's a water hose around back! Hot? Sit in the shade and cool down a bit! I am the same way with my kids now! Get outside and PLAY! I agree with another poster, that it there really isn't bad weather just bad gear! (of course, serious storms exempt–I know there are some smarties out there that will point that out). I have had to make MAJOR adjustments moving from TX to CO with 2 kids! But we have learned that with the right stuff, playing outside in the freezing snow can be tons of fun!

    April 5, 2012 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Thumbprint

    Our local kindergarten is ranked among the "top" in Chicago. The kids are in school from 9-3 - WITH NO RECESS.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Cheryl

    Having been in Education for over 30 years, I can confidently say that children need to practice social skills and physical skills. Playing with each other is one simple, important way. Parents of young children and elem. school age children, for the kids' sakes, try to provide that practice time. Time to learn to take turns, to watch others interact with the structures or the toys, how to climb on things, throw a ball, and how to make small talk....just by playing in the sand or the dirt.

    April 11, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Aaron

    As the world we live in get busier, or so it seems, it is important to make playing outside a priority for both children and adults. One way to do this is to participate in National Play Outside Day, http://PlayOutsideDay.org

    The basic premise is to plan time, on the calendar, to have family and friends make a point to do something fun outside.

    The day does not have any formal activities planned. Just get outside at least on the first Saturday of every month and start to make it a habit.

    June 19, 2012 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 6, 2012 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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