Preschool-age children seem to be continually on the go. Or maybe not. A study of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in preschool has found that these children are anything but physically active, even during playtime outdoors.
The research should unsettle parents and health professionals. An estimated 60 percent of the nation’s 3- to 5-year-olds who are not in kindergarten are enrolled in center-based preschools, and previous studies show more than one-quarter of children ages 3 to 5 are already at risk of becoming overweight. Climbing ladders, steering toy cars and riding tricycles would seem to be perfect preschool activity. But the study, of 539 children in 24 preschools, found that 89 percent of the children’s day was characterized as sedentary. Even when the children played outside, 56 percent of the activity was sedentary, 27 percent was light physical activity and only 17 percent was moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
The teachers rarely encouraged the children to be more active, said the lead author of the study, Russell Pate, of the University of South Carolina. In another paper by Pate that is awaiting publication, he found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was observed in the children during only 3 percent of the day – not including nap time.
Preschool-age children should get 120 minutes per day of physical activity, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. About half of those minutes should be structured and half unstructured. Clearly, adults need to lead structured activities and encourage children to play on their own as well. Early childhood educators, however, have placed a sharp emphasis on school readiness, such as preparing young children to begin reading. But, the authors said, physical activity and motor development shouldn’t fall by the wayside.