Why Day Care Kids Don’t Play Outside

More than half of American children between the ages of 3 and 6 are in child care centers or preschools, so the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recently released the results of a study of children’s physical activity in day care settings. (NY Times, 5/6/08)

The researchers surveyed staff members at 34 area child care centers to find out more about how kids spend their time while they’re in day care, including the reasons why they may or may not spend time outside. They presented the findings recently at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The findings may surprise you.

Children are kept inside by day care workers if they show up in flip-flops rather than sneakers, or if they don’t have a coat on a chilly day.  If only one child doesn’t have the right clothes for outdoor play, the whole group may be kept indoors.  Occasionally, parents will deliberately drop off a child without a coat, because they don’t want the child going outside that day.

Mulch is often used to landscape playgrounds and outdoor spaces at child care centers.  The researchers found that kids eat the mulch, get it caught in their shoes or use it as weapons, so day care staff indicated that outdoor play can sometimes be troublesome.

Also the feelings of teachers and parents influence whether or not children play outside.  Children learn important motor and social skills by learning to kick a ball or negotiating with another child for a turn on the swing, but teachers said they felt pressure from some parents who were more concerned with children spending time on academic skills.

In addition, some day care workers said it was just too much trouble and took too much time to bundle up the kids during cold weather, while other workers said they just didn’t like going outside.

What more can be said about institutionalized day orphanages?