When Kirsten Copeland set out to find out why kids are so sedentary in child care, she did not expect to find the root causes had so much to do with parents. (Here’s a link to today’s earlier post on that report.)

Her study, published online earlier today in Pediatrics, found that providers of preschool-age care consistently cited parental pressure as a reason that kids don’t get outside and run around. Parents are scared that their children might get hurt and oftentimes thought that academics should trump play.

In a follow-up conversation, Copeland said the second point surprised her most, that parents are asking that children as young as 3 years old spend the day “learning” something.

Copeland, an assistant professor of pediatrics with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said her study did not look specifically at how parents’ attitudes have changed toward play, but, she said, it turned up plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that our definitions of educational success has changed drastically in a short time. And, perhaps, not for the better.

Below, I’ve re-printed some of the direct feedback she received from teachers in her study of Cincinnati-based child-care centers.

Copeland said one teacher with a son who is in kindergarten and a daughter who is in sixth grade told researchers:

“I am amazed at the difference between when my daughter, just what seven years ago was in kindergarten, to my son and he comes home during these warm days and I’ll say, ‘Did you get to go outside today?’ [and he’ll respond] ‘No! We were too busy! We had to do reading.’

“It’s so much more focused on academics than when she was in kindergarten. When she was in kindergarten it was still fun and play and just kind of learning about that school experience. And now I think they really push the academics so much. I mean, he’s reading already in kindergarten, which my daughter didn’t do until 1st grade. To the point where that’s become more important than letting them be kids and giving them that time that they need to be outside or play.”

Another teacher with school-aged and preschool-aged children of her own told researchers:

“You know what’s ironic, though: if you look at like what our kids know now. The test scores just keep going down. And we keep, pushing them harder and harder, younger and younger for them to do all this stuff. I think it’s counterproductive. ‘Cause like in other countries, like I think in the Netherlands, they don’t teach their children to read until like 7. But their literacy rate and how much their kids read — like when you get to like 12 — is way above everyone else! I think it’s just kids get turned off by the pushing. “

What do you think? Why are parents today more concerned about “academics” than what’s being lost?