Kristen Copeland, M.D. of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is lead author on a study that seeks to determine why kids in day-care aren’t playing outside enough. A central culprit was the importance parents place on academic activities (readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic) over outdoor playing activities. There were some other surprising factors, as well…
Then there was the mulch factor. “The staff members who participated in the groups were really concerned about mulch in the play area,” said Dr. Copeland. “Many said that the kids eat the mulch, or use it as weapons, or it gets caught in their shoes. It also requires constant upkeep. It’s certainly not something that we had anticipated as an issue, but judging by the amount of and intensity of the discussions among child care teachers, it really is.”
Dr. Copeland said the child-care center staff recognized that they themselves could sometimes serve as a barrier to children’s physical activity. “We heard reports of teachers talking or texting on cell phones instead of interacting with the children while on the playground,” said Dr. Copeland. She continued, “We found that a staff member who doesn’t like going outside — maybe she’s not a cold-weather person, or she thinks it’s too much work to bundle up and unbundle the children on a cold day — could act as a gatekeeper to the playground.” In some cases, staff reported that their own issues with being overweight prevented them from encouraging children’s physical activity.
We’re assuming by “mulch” they most likely mean tan-bark or other splintery, mostly wood based ground cover stuff, as opposed to fecal matter (though some kids have been known to eat that as well).
All in all, it’s unfortunate that the importance of outdoor play-time in terms of both health and social development is being overlooked.
Press release: Flip Flops, Mulch and No Coat: Study Identifies Surprising Barriers to Outdoor Activity for Kids in Child-Care Centers