Everyone Inside! Texting and Threat of Mulch Wars Keeps Kids off Playground at ChildCare

No Playground for Kids in Child Care: Why More Kids are Staying Inside

Flip flops. No coat. The threat of Mulch Wars.

According to the New York Times, these are just some of the surprising reasons why some children are banned from the playground, as found in a new study on children’s physical activity out of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“It’s things we never expected, from flip flops, mulch near the playground, children who come to child care without a coat on chilly days, to teachers talking or texting on cell phones while they were supposed to be supervising the children,” –Kristen Copeland, M.D., lead author of the study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The Problem:

With the threat of more children leading a sedentary lifestyle due to more exposure to video games, TV, and the internet, (not to mention the overemphasis on high stakes testing and the negation of recess and gym in many schools) it’s concerning that children are spending more time indoors, even during allocated free-time or recess.

Lack of physical activity can lead to many health problems. In addition, as we discussed yesterday, children who don’t spend enough time playing outdoors can be deprived of important social interactions and natural stimulation that can aid in positive youth development.

The contemporary decline in children’s physical fitness and the rapidly growing incidence of childhood obesity and related diseases are prompting a new look at the role of active outdoor play in enhancing children’s development, fitness, and health. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds, by Joe L. Frost, Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, and Candra D. Thornton

The Stats:

  • More than ½ of American children, ages 3-6 years old spend some time in child care centers or preschools
  • Studies have shown that children who play outside for about 90 minutes each day in good weather have a lower risk of heart trouble later in life.
  • Outside play is great for children’s physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development
  • About 74% of US children aged 3-6 years are in some form of non-parental child care.
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).
  • Play in outdoor environments stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments (Moore & Wong 1997).
  • Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, of the University of the West of England (UWE), said a lack of outdoor exercise causes heart problems and diabetes.

The Study:

The staff from 34 child care centers in the Cincinnati area were surveyed to learn about how children spend their time in day care and to determine some of the reasons why the children may or may not be spending time outside.

They conducted focus groups with 49 staff members in total. Centers included Montessori, Head Start and centers in the inner city and suburban areas.


Inappropriate clothing or footware: Some children were coming to daycare in flip flops and no coat on a chilly day. In some child care centers, it only takes one child who is dressed inappropriately to keep the entire group inside.

Parent sabotage: The researchers reported that, according to some child-care staff, some parents intentionally sent their child to class without a coat or with the wrong footware. Staff attributed this parental sabotage to concerns about the child getting dirty, having a cold, or not wanting their child to go outside.

More work, less play: Staff also cited that they felt pressure from parents to keep the children’s attention on cognitive development through reading and writing rather than on gross motor and socio-emotional skills that children often learn on the playground.

Mulch: Aside from staff concerns about mulch getting into the children’s shoes, the mulch that surrounded many playgrounds was not being used properly.

“Many said that the kids eat the mulch, or use it as weapons, or it gets caught in their shoes. It also requires constant upkeep. It’s certainly not something that we had anticipated as an issue, but judging by the amount of and intensity of the discussions among child care teachers, it really is.” –Kristen Copeland, M.D.

Distracted Teachers: Instead of supervising and interacting with the children, some staff reported that teachers were talking or texting on cell phones while the children were on the playground.

Not a fan of the outdoors: If the staff member was not a “cold-weather person,” or she believes it’s too much work to bundle and unbundled the children, children may not get out onto the playground.

Feeling Fat: Some child care workers reported that feeling that they were overweight kept them from encouraging children’s physical activity.

What do you think? Valid or invalid? What’s your experience with child care facilities and outdoor play?

Tune in tomorrow so we can continue this discussion…


4 Responses

  1. […] Everyone Inside! Texting and Threat of Mulch Wars Keeps Kids off Playground at ChildCare […]

  2. […] Remember when our parents would tell us to go outside and play?  As you probably remember, a recent study found that children were being banned from the playground and made to stay inside during the school […]

  3. […] Threat of Mulch Keeps Kids Inside? No Playground for Kids in Child Care […]

  4. […] outside and enjoy! It might be starting to cool down but that doesn’t mean we have to stay inside.  Go sledding! Build a fort!  Create snow sculptures and snow angels.  And who can forget the […]

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