Creating a better playground

If you want your child to be more active, try throwing him a ball
Tara Parker Pope / The New York Times

Simple playthings such as balls, jump ropes, hula hoops and riding toys do more for encouraging physical activity than swings, jungle gyms and other stationary playground equipment, according to a recent report in the ‘American Journal of Preventive Medicine’.
The findings are important because they show that schools and day-care centers don’t need expensive playground equipment to keep kids active. The data was collected by researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health from 20 childcare centers across North Carolina. The goal of the researchers was to determine the various environmental factors that encourage children to play with greater intensity and for longer periods of time.

Kids were also far more likely to be active at centers that scheduled more playtime, both inside and outdoors, and offered physical activity training and education for staff and students. Children in centers that had more portable playground toys and other characteristics showing support for active playtime reported about 80 more minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity and 140 fewer minutes of sedentary activity each week compared with centers that were viewed as less supportive of physical activity.
Surprisingly, stationary equipment, such as climbing structures, swings and balance beams, were associated with lower-intensity physical activity, researchers said, but are beneficial to other aspects of child development, such as motor and social skills.
Centers with more computer and television equipment actually scored better on activity levels, although it is likely the presence of electronic equipment signaled that a center had more money to spend overall, which typically means more equipment and staff training.
©2008/The New York Times