Better playground design could help kids get more exercise

By: Alex Oh

Leadville, Colorado - Up until the spring of 2014, the playground at Lake County Intermediate School in Leadville was lifeless. Only a few swings and some old climbing equipment stood in the playground. For many, it was clear that the playground needed to change.

So, during the spring of 2014, the community decided to renovate the playground, replacing the run-down equipment with climbing nets, a new basketball court, and a grassy area for the kids to play. With the renovation in place, kids were now able to play with balls, Hula-hoops, and other loose equipment.

The result: not only did the playground look better, kids were becoming more active and spending more time moving around. According to Science News, when researchers visited the playground in November, they found that the number of children participating in “vigorous physical activity” had tripled. Throughout the rest of the year, the newly renovated playground allowed more kids to be vigorously active instead of sedentary or moderately active.

Studies show that being physically active has many benefits for kids. It improves physical and mental health. It also reduces the risk of obesity and boosts academic performance. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that schoolchildren get at least 60 minutes of “moderate to vigorous activity a day.” Unfortunately, most kids do not reach the recommended 60 minutes. According to Science News, globally, “81

percent of 11- to 17-year-olds fail to hit that threshold.”

One solution to this problem is redesign playgrounds, like the one in Leadville, to encourage kids to become more active. In fact, scientists are using accelerometers, GPS tags and other wearable technology to track how kids act on certain playgrounds. With this information, people have used various methods to improve their playgrounds to encourage play.

The first method people have used to improve playgrounds is to make them more colorful and add colorful designs. For example, in the late 1990s, Gareth Stratton, a sports and exercise scientist at Liverpool John Moores University in England, did a study at a local elementary school, adding designs like a castle, pirate ship, and dragon to see if they would encourage more kids to play. Using heart monitors to measure each kid’s heartbeat, Stratton found that the designs increased the amount of time kids spent engaging in “moderate to vigorous physical activity” from 27 minutes of their daily recess time to 45 minutes.

Another method is adding unconventional equipment to playgrounds. Instead of traditional sports equipment, some people have implemented loose parts, such as hay bales, tires, crates and foam pool noodles, for kids to tinker with and use in creative ways.

The last method is to create playgrounds with “varied landscapes.” This means having features like sports courts, climbing structures, balance bars, and even trampolines. According to Science News, researchers have found that this method can encourage even the most “sedentary” kids to be more active.

While most schools are shut down at the moment because of the pandemic, these changes to playgrounds have the potential to create a brighter future for kids.


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