4 ways to keep preschoolers active

Health & Fitness

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A new study holds troubling news for the parents of young children: preschools might not be serving students' physical health needs.

In an observational study of 10 child care centers in the Pacific Northwest, researchers found that "active play opportunities," such as climbing a jungle gym or playing "Duck, Duck, Goose," constituted only 48 minutes of the daily schedule, on average, even though experts recommend at least two hours of physical activity each day for that age group.

Lead researcher Pooja Tandon, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, told USA Today that preschools likely fall short of suggested activity levels because of the pressure to build more academic skills training into the curriculum.

Although intentions might be good, less than an hour of play "is just not enough," he said, noting that exercise is crucial for boosting motor and social skills. Exercise also prevents childhood obesity, which, USA Today reported, has increased dramatically in the past generation, rising from 7 percent of children ages 6 to 11 in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.

The new research can motivate preschool teachers and parents alike to make time for more physical activity in a child's day. Here are some potential play opportunities:

1. Read an interactive book

Debbie Chang, vice president of Nemours Children's Health System, offered USA Today a simple way to keep kids moving and learning: reading a book. Selections like "The Wheels on the Bus" encourage kids to act out the story being told, adding both fitness benefits and fun to story time, she said.

Laughing Giraffe Books published a list of six other movement-centric books last year. "Dinosaurumpus!," one of the featured options, has children pretend to dance with dinosaurs.

2. Practice some new dance moves

Speaking of cutting the rug, dancing in general is an easy way to add physical activity to a child's day. As KidsHealth noted in an article about the importance of exercise, dancing is something children do naturally when adults put together a groovy playlist.

Michelle Obama acknowledged this idea when she invited young visitors at the 137th White House Easter Egg Roll to join her in a choreographed dance number, CNN reported in April. The first lady and guests shook and shimmied to "Uptown Funk."

3. Go outside

Another fun (and free) way to add more physical activity to a child's day is to spend time in the great outdoors. In April, Deseret News National reported on the value of playing in nature as a family, noting that the practice holds both mental and physical health benefits.

"You can download apps to your phone that allow kids to identify plants, rocks animals, stars, clouds — you name it," said author Scott Sampson to the Deseret News. "Or you can have your kids take pictures of 10 cool things they find."

4. Turn on the TV

Although the temptation of television is often the reason adults stay on the couch instead of heading to the gym, TV programs, like books, can help children add a little more movement to their day. For example, "Bo on the GO!," a popular show that follows a young girl's adventures with her pet dinosaur, is designed with the health of young viewers in mind and keeps them moving while watching TV, IMDB notes.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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