Indoors, Outdoors, and the Sedentary Life of our Young Children

Every morning when I drop off my 5 and half years old daughter at school, I ask myself how much of her time will be indoors and how much she has to sit on that day. She is in school for 6 hours a day five days a week, and I know other young children who spend as much as 10 hours a day in school/day care (before/after school programs) everyday. And in my city, it is not unusual to spend all that time indoors! This breaks my heart. I am scared to even think about how the day passes for these kids and their teachers being indoors for so long and in a class of 20 to 30 children.

Why is this happening? Many reasons and there’s no shortage of finding new ones: the too cold or too hot weather, the icy condition of the playground in winter, the heat alert in summer , the lack of time, the bored children and teachers when outside, the risk of physical injury, the challenge of ‘supervising’ children outdoors, and the many other important things that need to happen and so kids have to rush inside, …

My daughter’s case,  her school, and my city are not exceptional. I wish they were. This is probably happening in many other schools and cities too. Here’s one broad research of 450 children, ages 3-5, from 24 preschools in a metropolitan area of South Carolina, US. They found:

• Children are largely indoors and sedentary at preschool: 87% of researchers’ observations of children occurred inside and during this inside time, 94% of children’s total physical activity intervals were sedentary.
• Children were largely sedentary outdoors, but displayed higher levels of physical activity outside than inside: 17% of children’s total physical activity intervals were moderate to vigorous and 56% were sedentary.
• Adults initiated the majority of children’s activities. Children engaged in more high-level physical activity when activities were child-initiated
instead of adult-initiated.
• Many teachers did not encourage or participate in children’s physical activities during outdoor play

[Reference: Brown, W. H., Pfeiffer, K. A., McIver, K. L., Dowda, M., Addy, C. L., & Pate, R. R. (2009). Social and Environmental Factors Associated With Preschoolers’ Nonsedentary Physical Activity. Child Development, 80(1), 45-58. This study may be available in a library near you or can be purchased online through the publisher at: http://www.wiley.com/%5D

The findings of this research, in my opinion, are alarming considering the crucial value of physical activities and outdoor time in children’s physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and  intellectual health.

One may argue that after all, school is just a part of these children’s time. What about when they are not in school or daycare? What may we learn if we do a mini- study about these children’s outside school experiences? What does happen when parents pick up their children at the end of their day in school? How much more seating and indoorization is involved for the rest of their time?  Are they seated in a car to go home? Or do they walk or bike home? Do they need to sit to finish their home works or school projects? Or do they play in a park after school? How much time do they spend watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, reading books, eating, and etc when at home? Let’s ask ourselves, on average, in a day, how much of our children’s time is spending indoors or outdoors and what do they do when outdoors or indoors? Is anybody interested to share?

I can think about yesterday: holiday time, no school, and everybody was off from work. It was a mild winter day, about 7 degrees Celsius. My daughter spent one hour and a half outdoors ice skating and snow playing, and the rest was indoors/at home!  When at home, her friend and she danced for one hour, played with their toys or draw for about another 5 hours. They also watched two movies for about 3 hours in total. That is: they spent just about %6 of their day outdoors and %12 of their day doing physical activity. Hmm, and I thought I have an active life style!

Do you think we need to become more aware of and bring to the public attention the sedentary and indoor life that our children (and we) live today? Do we, parents, teachers, and the wider community, need to resist it and question the reasons we’ve been given or making to stay indoors and often physically inactive?  Where are our  priorities and where they need to be on each and everyday of our precious life?

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