Fitness: How active are our kids after school?

Kids are spending less time on physical activity, as more and more free games are being replaced by adult-led programs that don’t always prioritize getting kids moving.

Article content

There has been a generational shift in what children do after school. Gone are the days when they jumped off the bus, dropped their schoolbag at the back door and played outside with friends until they were called out to dinner. Most children today go straight from the classroom to the after-school program and are picked up in time for dinner.

Ads

Article content

Not coincidentally, there has also been a generational shift in the number of minutes children spend in active play per day. Only 39 percent of children ages 5 to 17 in Canada accumulate the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Given the sedentary nature of a typical school day, the after-school period is a prime opportunity to put more play into children’s lives. However, according to a report by Get Involved, a national nonprofit that promotes healthy living and fitness, kids average only 14 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

These statistics are not unique to Canada. Kids are spending less time on physical activity, as more and more free games are being replaced by adult-led programs that don’t always prioritize getting kids moving. To learn more about what children do between the time they leave school and when they are taken home, researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia fitted children from 89 after-school programs with accelerometers to track their movements over the course of the study. one session. They also had observers chronicle the children’s activities by visiting after-school programs on two non-consecutive days between March 2018 and April 2019.

Ads

Article content

Observers coded the activity as free play (unstructured play without staff input or directions), structured play (with rules and adult directed) or enrichment (non-physical activity such as reading, crafts, or homework). It included notes about staff instructions, children’s participation, the amount of time spent standing versus active play, and whether the activity promotes inclusion or exclusion.

Only 26 percent of the 4,408 children in the study were active for 30 minutes or more.

“We found that children spent an average of 22 minutes in moderate to vigorous physical activity, with significantly more accumulation of moderate to vigorous physical activity than girls,” the researchers said.

Ads

Article content

Australia is not the only country investigating just how much children move once they leave school. An analysis of data from similar studies indicates that children in similar after-school programs spend about 54.5 minutes per session on activities that do not require much movement.

How do after school programs make room for more active play?

Observers in the Australian study noted that children were six times more likely to accumulate 30 minutes of active play when left to their own devices and twice when engaged in structured, staff-led play.

“Given the independent nature of free play, it is likely that not all children will choose to participate in active play during this time, and therefore structured activities may be an important activity to include in (after-school) settings to maximize participation; this could, the researchers said, be an It engages a wider range of children, especially girls.

Ads

Article content

Maximizing opportunities for children to be active should be a top concern when designing after-school programs. Often, the time spent explaining and preparing an activity means that children spend less time on the move. The same goes for activities that require rotating or eliminating children “outside”.

“Our results indicate that children’s odds of encountering 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were approximately halved when structured games included exclusion components in their activities,” the researchers said.

Due to the increase in sedentary lifestyles, not only for children but also for their parents, it takes a planned and consistent effort to increase participation in active play – especially among children who are not confident about their motor skills. Adding more free games and adult-led activities designed to engage children and keep them active has the potential to increase the number of children exercising to the recommended 60 minutes per day.

Ads

Article content

But more than satisfying a set of guidelines designed to improve the health of children who sit a lot and move less, encouraging children to engage in more active play allows them to explore their physical limitations, push boundaries and gain confidence in their athletic skills. Best of all, an active after-school program allows kids to recharge their batteries after a school day that rewards them for sitting still.

Children are not meant to be sedentary, but often lack the permission or opportunity to engage in unstructured, active, high-energy play. An after-school program that rewards children for being active, in any way, shape or form, is one that understands the importance of creating healthy habits. Active kids sleep better, eat better and are more able to focus on their homework – exactly what they need to start the next day on the right foot.

Ads

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining an active and civil forum for discussion and encouraging all readers to share their opinions on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour to be moderated before they appear on the Site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email if you receive a response to your comment, if there’s an update to a comment thread you’re following or if it’s a user you’re following. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Leave a Comment