I had the luxury of working at home when my kids were little. We played outside all the time, because my flexible schedule allowed it. But I can’t fathom how mothers and fathers who spend all day at work can manage to come home, fix supper, tend to all the things that need tending to in the evenings — and still find time to take their kids outside. Sure enough, research published Monday shows most young children’s parents don’t spend enough time outdoors with them. And kids who are in day care are less likely to regularly spend time outside with their folks than those who are at home full-time.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, analyzed records for 8,950 preschoolers from a large, existing database; that sample, the study notes, statistically represents approximately 4 million children. It found that 49 percent of preschool children are not taken outside to play every day by one of their parents.
The study notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests kids should play outside as often as possible, because outdoor play provides physical and mental benefits and can help ward off obesity.
The study’s lead author, Pooja Tandon of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, notes that preschool children — defined here as being a year away from entering kindergarten, or about 4 years old — need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
But Tandon’s research found that only 44 percent of mothers and 24 percent of fathers reported taking their child out to play or for a walk daily. Girls were less likely to be taken outside to play than boys; children of non-white parents were less likely than children of white parents to be taken outside to play. Kids with regular playmates were more likely to spend time outside every day, and mothers who exercised more than four times a week were more more likely than moms who didn’t exercise at all to take their kids outside.
The study found no association between kids’ hours of screen time (which in this sample was a whopping 3.78 hours a day) and the number of times they were taken outdoors by a parent. Nor was parental perception of neighborhood safety linked to outdoor time.
Most of the mothers in the study worked outside the home, and about 80 percent of the preschoolers were in day care of some kind, spending an average of 28.5 hours a week there. While 51 percent of all the kids represented in the study were taken outside by a parent every day, that percentage jumped to 58 among kids who weren’t in regular day care.
Those findings give rise to the observation that “the significant association between hours in child care and mothers’ employment status with daily parent-supervised outdoor play suggests that logistics and time are important barriers to children playing outside.”
Tandon suggests that parents with kids in day care check to see how much time their children are spending outdoors every day and, if they’re not pleased with what they hear, push for more outdoor activity.
And in this video, Tandon — herself a “working parent of two young children” — offers suggestions for getting kids outside to play.