Preschoolers miss out on outdoor play


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 Healthlink

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Posted on April 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 10 at 1:57 PM

At Nature Kids preschool a group of four and five years olds headed out of the building and onto the trail, eager to learn, The preschool, one of a handful in our area that emphasizes nature as its classroom, is located in Discovery Park. It's the perfect spot to let your feet, and your imagination run wild.

"I'm a tiger!" exclaimed one little girl. Soon the group came upon tracks in an open field.

"A print!" said one little explorer, who imagined it to be from a bear.

"My goodness friends. Do you really think that's a bear print?" asked Trixie Magsarili, Director of Nature Kids. "Yeah because it's bigger than a dog print," replied a child.

"We go out every day rain or shine. That's a big component our our program. We're outside every single day for about an  hour hiking around, exploring, playing," said Magsarili.

Soon the kids were engrossed in a game of hide and seek in the tall brush. Calls of "Where are you?" "Boo!", and "I found you!" blended with sounds of the birds.

Families seek out the Nature Kids at Discovery Park program, which Magsarili said has a wait list right now. Sarah Sherlock, mother of one of the preschoolers gave her reason for bringing her daughter.

"Part of why I sent her here, is because I wanted to make sure going to school didn't mean she was now inside the house all the time," said Sherlock.

The children had been out for about half an hour when Magsarili suggested, "Let's go check out our trees that some of us planted last year." Off they went down the trail.

Far too many kids aren't getting enough outdoor play. It's what Dr. Pooja Tandon at Seattle Children's Research Institute discovered when she looked at nationwide data on preschoolers. The new study was published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

"We found almost half the children did not have even one parent supervised outdoor play opportunity every day. And these are three to five year old children," Dr. Tandon said.

Dr. Tandon said outdoor playtime is important to prevent childhood obesity. But there are many more benefits. Studies show kids who play outside improve physical and emotional health, and brain development. They get more Vitamin D and perhaps even better vision.

"I saw a woban bud," said a wide eyed girl, as she pointed out a robin, with its lunch. "It had a worm in its mouth," she exclaimed.
Finding time to take kids out is hard for working parents. Dr. Tandon said she's had to make a shift in her own family. For instance, during the dark winter months, they may go on walks with flashlights. They call friends to make outdoor playdates. 

"When we're spending time together, can what we are doing be done outdoors?" she asks.

She also advised parents to talk with daycare providers about what opportunities the children have to play outdoors during the day. Some research shows preschoolers are sedentary 80% of the time they're in childcare. She said it may take nudging from parents to change that.

Something else the Seattle Children's Research Institute study revealed, parents took girls out to play less often than boys.

"I think there may be different expectations and norms around how we dress our little girls, how we encourage them to play," Dr. Tandon said.

Luckily for the girls at Nature Kids preschool, no one passed along the message to them. They laughed in delight as they ran down a rolling hill toward their next play destination, a log that doubled as a rocket ship. Next stop, the moon.