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Today, three out of four kids ages 3 to 5 are in some form of childcare including daycare and preschool. Increasingly, teachers, parents, and childcare workers are focusing more on reading than on running. However, according to a new study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), running trumps reading — or at least it should.

The study, Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers, found that preschool kids are getting very little exercise during the day, a problem since a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to obesity. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) guidelines, preschoolers should spend 120 minutes every day doing physical activities, but few reach that goal. Says the study:

“Children spend most (70%–83%) of their time being sedentary in child care — even when excluding time spent in naps and meals — and only spend 2% to 3% of the time in vigorous activities.”

Researchers conducted the study to figure out what’s contributing to the lack of exercise and activity. They found that there are three main reasons for kids’ sedentary lifestyle at school and daycare: concerns about injuries, financial limitations, and a stronger focus on academics.

I get the injuries thing. Little Girl got pushed through a playhouse window her first week at school and ended up with a huge scrape on her belly. Those are, I’m sure, the types of injuries parents and educators are worried about, and the reason fear of injuries was the number one worry of those interviewed for the study. I guess we’re all a little crazy these days when it comes to keeping kids safe. Still, as my husband reminds me kids are not veal. It’s okay for them to get bumped and scraped and bruised while they are playing. Or, even more direct: No, I cannot wrap Little Girl in bubble wrap to keep her safe.

As to the financial issue: Schools and daycare centers can’t afford “expensive” outdoor equipment or an indoor gross motor room where kids could play and run during inclement weather. Besides, they are being pressured by parents and regulations to make sure kids know their ABCs, colors, and shapes before entering kindergarten.

The study concludes with the following statement about kids and activity: “Child advocates must think holistically about potential unintended consequences of policies designed to protect children’s safety (eg, licensing codes that have rendered climbers uninteresting, or early learning standards that encourage child-care providers to cut time dedicated for outdoor play). Given that childhood obesity is quickly eclipsing childhood injury as a leading cause of morbidity, and that time in child care [including preschool] may be the child’s only opportunity for outdoor play, licensing standards may need to explicitly promote physical activity in as much detail as is devoted to safety.”

In other words, parents should encourage kids to run and jump as much as possible, and tell schools and daycare centers to do the same.

I don’t worry about my own preschooler. She never stops running here at home, doing laps around my house in her natural speed: fast. In addition, the preschool that she goes to has a policy to let kids play outside every single day as long as it’s not raining and the temperature is above 32 degrees. Between running my halls and running at school, Little Girl is definitely getting the recommended two hours of activity, but I can definitely see how that might be difficult for kids who are in daycare all day or those, like my older child, who prefers reading and art to jumping and climbing. There are things you can do to get kids moving, though.

For example, I bought Big Girl an indoor trampoline and one of those foam hopscotch boards and made sure she was spending time on both daily. I took her to parks, which are free, and on walks — also free — when it was nice outside. When it wasn’t, I made sure she had access to our doll carriages, to encourage indoor “walks.” We also played — and still do — hide-and-seek as well as other imaginative games that include running and moving. One of the easiest is freeze dance, which asks kids to dance until they hear the music go off. Another indoor favorite is family dance party, which gets kids up and moving. Bottom line: Aside from the trampoline, I didn’t need fancy equipment or have to spend a lot of time or money encouraging and fostering a love of movement and exercise. As I learned very quickly, kids want to move and will take your lead, so which path are you going to lead your children down today? I’d love to hear how you’re getting your kids moving indoors and out, especially since another study out of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that kids who exercise more do better in school. Yet another reason to make sure kids are getting plenty of activity throughout the day.

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