Playtime essential for healthy preschoolers -- helps ward off disease

by Mollee Bauer

Playtime wards of diseaseAccording to a recent study published in the January 2013 edition of Pediatrics journal, playtime is absolutely essential for preschoolers.

Well, gosh, that makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

The issue that researchers discovered isn't that these preschoolers aren't playing or behaving like kids -- they are. Instead, it is the alarming fact that they aren't spending or getting enough time playing outside or allowed to be just "kids."

Playtime is not just for giggles...

The researchers state that 75 percent of kids in the U.S. who are 3- to 5-years-old are in childcare and need to be more physically active.

The study also points out that those kids who aren't in some sort of daycare or childcare also are lacking enough time outdoors. This fact could tie into the childhood obesity issues that are all over the news, too.

According to the CDC, 17 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, so intervening early with more physical activity is important.

"Daily physical activity is essential for preschool age children both for preventing obesity and for their development - their physical development and their cognitive development," says study author Dr. Kristen Copeland from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

Dr. Copeland and her team wanted to see why the kids weren't as active as they should be. They sought out 34 different childcare facilities in Cincinnati, OH. Because there is such a focus on academics, the researchers saw that outdoor playtime was replaced by more classroom learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that this is not limited to Ohio and is a growing problem throughout many cities in the U.S.

"We were somewhat surprised to find this in this young age group," says Copeland. "But teachers told us that parents - both upper income and lower income parents - seemed to be more concerned about what their children were learning than about whether they went outside and mastered fundamental gross motor skills."

Researchers discovered that there are common roadblocks to playtime in schools and daycares alike. Sometimes outdoor fun was squashed by concerns about the playground safety and safety of the equipment by parents and staff. State safety guidelines for play structures have gotten stricter over time.

Another roadblock was that there was an alarming growth of parents requesting that the kids stay indoors rather than go outside at all.

In fact, pediatric experts recommend that preschoolers get at least 90 to 120 minutes of gross motor activity a day as well have at least two play sessions outside. Only 2 to 3 percent of their time is spent doing any sort of vigorous activity during an 8 hour day in childcare.

While learning in the classroom is invaluable, so is exploring the outdoors and being a kid. Dr. Laura Jana, of the AAP says, "Safety is important, supervision is important and academics too, but play should be elevated to the same level as early literacy.... play gets left off that list, it's almost too simple."

What we learn in those early grades shapes our success later in life.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.