Research Finds Preschoolers Need More Opportunities for Active Play

Children in preschool and daycare settings are only offered 48 of 120 recommended minutes of active play daily, study shows


Results from a two-year study published today in Pediatrics show that children in daycares and preschools were presented with only 48 minutes of opportunities for physically active play per day -- significantly less than what’s recommended. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education and Let’s Move! Child Care recommend that children should receive at least 120 minutes of active play time daily, including child-led free play and teacher-led play.

Dr. Pooja Tandon, the study’s lead investigator and member of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, observed nearly 100 children ages 3 to 5 from ten child care centers throughout Seattle.

“We discovered that on average, children were sedentary for 73 percent of their day,” said Tandon. “But what is even more troubling is the fact that kids are not even being offered the opportunities to achieve the recommended amount of active play. If they are not getting the opportunity, they obviously will not meet the overall recommendation of 120 total minutes of physical activity.”

Tandon found that children did not have active play opportunities (APOs) for 88 percent of the time, which included 26 percent of naptime. On average, children had 48 minutes of active play opportunities, 33 of which were outdoors. Children had less than 10 minutes per day of teacher-led active play opportunities. As expected, when children were given active play opportunities, such as outdoor time, they were much less sedentary and more active.

“The results are problematic because physical activity is important to the health and well-being of children,” Tandon said. “Active play helps develop muscles and bones, improve cardiac health and prevent obesity. It is also associated with positive mental health and academic performance.”

Tandon and other observers spent nearly a full week at each center analyzing children’s play and documenting their days. They were able to categorize child care time into six groups: not an active play opportunity, naptime, APO outdoor free play, APO outdoor teacher-led play, APO indoor free play and APO indoor teacher-led play. Weather did not appear to be a contributing factor to their results as the study was done over a two-year period and during a variety of seasons.

Tandon recommends that parents, child care providers, health care providers and policymakers take actions to ensure children are getting enough physically active play opportunities.

“Communication is key,” she said. “Parents need to be advocates for active play and ensure that it is a priority as a learning opportunity for everyone caring for their children. Conversely, child care providers need to be supported in their efforts by parents who send their kids appropriately dressed and prepared for active and outdoor play every day. “

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s mission is to provide hope, care and cures to help every child live the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. Together, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Research Institute and Foundation deliver superior patient care, identify new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients.

Ranked as one of the top five children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the largest region of any children’s hospital in the country. As one of the nation's top five pediatric research centers, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is internationally recognized for its work in neurosciences, immunology, cancer, infectious disease, injury prevention and much more. Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation works with the Seattle Children’s Guild Association, the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care and research.

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