Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre have identified some surprising reasons why child care centres keep kids indoor.
The new study of outdoor physical activity at childcare centres will be presented on May 5 at the annual meeting of the Paediatric Academic Societies in Honolulu, Hawaii.
"It's things we never expected, from flip flops, mulch near the playground, children who come to child care without a coat on chilly days, to teachers talking or texting on cell phones while they were supposed to be supervising the children," according to Kristen Copeland, M.D., lead author of the study which was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
She noted that because there are so many benefits of physical activity for children, it's important to know what barriers to physical activity may exist at child-care centres.
Researchers began the study by exploring child-care centre staff members' perceptions of barriers to children's physical activity.
They conducted focus groups with 49 staff members from 34 child-care centres in the Cincinnati area as the first of several studies on this subject.
"We found several previously unreported barriers that meant kids had to stay inside, including inappropriate footwear such as flip flops and inappropriate clothing for the weather," Dr. Copeland said.
She noted that in some childcare centres, if one child in the group shows up without a coat on a chilly day that means the whole group has to stay inside.
Researchers also found that some parents appear to intentionally keep their children's coats so they'd have to stay inside, which staff attributed to parents' concerns about the child getting injured or dirty, or a having a cold that may be exacerbated by cold weather.
Teachers said that they also felt pressure from some parents who were more concerned with children spending time on cognitive skills, such as reading and writing, than on the gross motor and socio-emotional skills (such as kicking a ball or negotiating with another child for a turn on the slide) that are best learned on the playground.
Researchers found that there was the mulch factor as well.
"The staff members who participated in the groups were really concerned about mulch in the play area. 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.
She said the child-care centre staff realized 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. 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," Dr. Copeland said.
In some cases, staff reported that their own issues with being overweight prevented them from encouraging children's physical activity.
"This initial qualitative research has identified a number of issues that we will be exploring in subsequent studies. Clearly this is a complex issue -But finding out what the barriers are is the first step in addressing the problem and getting more kids involved in more much-needed physical activity," Dr. Copeland said.