Encouraging active play and participation in sports is vital for our children
Encouraging active play and participation in sports is vital for our children. Why? Because there are fewer opportunities for active play than in the past – fewer urban play spaces, less school time devoted to play and sport and fewer playmates at home to play with. This contributes to a sedentary lifestyle for young people and the accompanying problems, such as obesity.
If obesity is the problem, play may be the solution
Childhood obesity can result from; genetics, the environment (including parental example), emotional instability, hormone levels and intake-activity relationships. For the majority of people involved with children, the intake-activity relationship is the only factor they can reasonably influence. This page looks at the activity side of the equation, namely active play in the home, garden, playground and open spaces. Increasing the physical activity level among children is complicated, schools under pressure to increase test scores are decreasing children’s opportunities to participate in break periods and physical education.
Recent studies suggest that one solution to childhood obesity is to encourage children to participate in active, free play outdoors. Play spaces should provide challenging activities for children who are not as physically adept as their non-obese peers, so that they will have opportunities to be physically active during play times.
Active free play can lead to improved academic performance. One study shows that providing children with play breaks during the school day maximises their attention to cognitive tasks. Without play, self control does not develop adequately. ‘The idea that all types of play – from fantasy to rough-and-tumble – have an important, if not critical, role in child development has not received much attention from mainstream child development researchers’, says child psychologist Anthony Pellegrini.
Rough & Tumble Play
Active play, especially outdoors, burns more calories than other forms of play. Given many children’s interest and enjoyment in active, locomotor (physical) play, children should be given numerous opportunities for this type of play as well.
Girls who engage in active play as children are more likely later to be involved in sport. Fathers are more likely than mothers to initiate physically active play with their children. Adults benefit as well from active play. In one study, participation in leisure activities was associated with reduced risk of dementia. And in another, elderly people who played video games had faster reaction times and felt better than a comparable group of elderly who did not play video games.
Encouraging active play
Children who are shy, obese, or not well-coordinated will need encouragement for physical play. Toys, playground and sports equipment should be chosen so that they are easily accessible to physically challenged children but still exciting.
Toys, not sweets
One study investigated whether children in the U.S. would choose toys over candy when offered a choice on Halloween. The 284 boys and girls, age 3 to 14 who were part of this study were just as likely to choose toys as sweets. There were no gender differences. According to this research, children will not be disappointed by toy treats rather than sweets.
Just some of the toys that encourage physical, active play
Balls, cycles, push-pull-alongs, pogo sticks, hobby horse, in-line skates, building blocks and construction, trampolines, climbing apparatus, toys, garden tools, stacking toys, stilts, ride-ons, scooters, sports equipment, swings, climbing frames, simulated sports games connected to TV or VCR, remote control vehicles, yo-yo’s, frisbee, hula hoop, karaoke, super soaker, balance beam, sliding boards, interactive football, with motion dance mats, sensors attached to leg active games such as ‘Twister’, skates.
For more information and to download this leaflet please click here.