How today’s playground actually discourage activity

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We all know that the internet and fast food are some of the problems to blame for child obesity, but now there is evidence to show that school playgrounds also contribute to this epidemic. Yes, school playgrounds.

For years now, schools have chopped down trees and have replaced the playground space with asphalt and basketball goals in belief that it would encourage exercise and make kids happier. However, researchers at the University of Western Ontario discovered that the opposite is true. By planting global positioning systems on elementary school children in an effort to understand how their environment influences their activity levels, researchers are learning that kids won’t use the playground for a number of reasons.

First let’s take a step back and take a mental picture of what a school playground looks like. For many years, playground design consisted of picking a gym set out of a catalogue. They are generally flat areas of asphalt with little seating, little shade, and one big metal play structure (aka jungle gym). Now with that said, researchers are learning that during recess time in the Spring, there is no shade so kids are waiting for recess to end. In addition, some kids won’t use the jungle gym because the older kids are monopolizing it.

Research has also revealed that outside of the playground, children are more likely to walk to school when there are tree-lined streets because they feel more shielded from traffic. The study is not finished yet, but the learnings so far have been amazing.

Original story appeared in The Globe And Mail, Aug. 31, 2011.

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