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Many children in child care centers across the country are not meeting their daily physical activity requirements because of concerns of injury risks and a stress on academics.

"Sometimes you have parents who are afraid to let their children do things because they're afraid they'll get hurt," said a participant in the study done by doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The results were published in the latest issue of Pediatrics.

Societal priorities for children, such as safety and school readiness, may be hindering children's physical developments, according to the study. "Seventy-five percent of US children aged 3 to 5 years are in child care. Children spend most of their time being sedentary in child care-and only spend 2 to 3 percent of the time in vigorous activities," said Pediatrician and lead researcher Kristen A. Copeland.

In the study, 49 focus group participants each representing different child care centers answered a variety of questions. The participants had worked at urban and suburban centers, and a mix of locations such as Montessori, Head Start, church-affiliated, Young Men's Christian Association, worksite-or university-affiliated, and corporate for-profit centers.

But administrators at one center in Chicago make sure that these issues don't prevent its children from getting daily physical activity.

"We provide a really good balance of activities," said Jo Ann Bourgeois, director of Bright Horizons at Cook County/City of Chicago Child Development Center. "This is a critical time in their development."

The Bright Horizons at Cook County is a tuition-based child care center located at 40 N. Dearborn in the Chicago Loop. It offers activities for young children through its Movement Matters fitness and wellness program. Weekly activities include yoga, gymnastics and sports classes. Children at this center spend approximately 2 ½ to 3 hours doing physical activity per day, Bourgeois said.

The study also cited financial limitations of the child care centers as a factor on the amount of activities and equipment the center could provide for its children

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"You don't need a playground to challenge a child physically," Bourgeois said. Carol Reich, toddler teacher and enrichment teacher at Bright Horizons, said there were ways to get around the financial concerns, and that some physical activity programs did not cost a lot of money, like yoga.

"Our daughter loves yoga so much that she now joins me when I'm doing yoga at home," said Stephanie Senuta, whose daughter is in child care at Bright Horizons. Yoga and other classes can help children get into the habit of a healthy lifestyle.

Many participants in the study also brought up that they felt pressure from parents about stressing academics, also mentioned that physical activity was just as important for children at this age.

"[Children] learn through moving," a participant in the study said. "If they aren't able to move their bodies and explore and figure things out with their bodies, the rest isn't gonna click, either."

Reich stressed the mind, body and spiritual aspect of yoga in her classes with the children. She said that doing stretches before a math activity can help open her children up to learning.

"Daily physical activity is essential for preschool-aged children's development and for preventing obesity, yet parents' and teachers' concerns about injury and school-readiness may be keeping children from being physically active," Copeland said about her study. She said that even though initial policies may have good intentions, it may be having unintended consequences for preschool children.

 

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