New research by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) and the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University, has shown that playing is the best route to physical activity for primary school children.
The Active Play Report measured primary school children’s activity levels and found that physical activity during play is higher than at break-times, lunch-breaks and some school PE lessons. Children were moderately or vigorously active for almost twice as long when given toys and cardboard boxes to play with, than in the school PE lessons.
The study also examined the views of 2,000 parents on the activity levels of their children. Over a quarter of which admitted their children get just 30 minutes or less of physical activity a day. Parents acknowledge this may not be enough however, with over a third agreeing with government guidelines that children should have an hour or more of physical activity a day.
Natasha Crookes, from the BTHA said: "Most parents understand that play is important for their children’s emotional development, but what this research highlights is the time spent with props, either toys or even, in this study, cardboard boxes, is an easier and more enjoyable way for children to be physically active and meet the minimum guidelines of activity."
The Active Play Report also reveaed that children are physically active for two thirds of time spent in play sessions, compared to just over a third (38 per cent) in sports lessons. They were more active while playing than at any other time.
The university research studied children in play sessions, with a variety of toys including space hoppers, hula hoops and dance mats or with cardboard boxes in both indoor and outdoor scenarios and during school activities. They were observed in 30-minute play sessions across four days using accelerometers and heart rate monitors to measure activity levels.
The results demonstrated that boys are slightly more actively engaged in play than girls – playing actively for 20 minutes in a session, versus 17 minutes for girls.
Typically girls are less likely to be active than boys with studies showing that as little as 34 per cent of girls aged four to ten have an hour of vigorous physical activity per day compared to 51 per cent of boys of the same age.
The study also revealed that when provided with outdoor space, both boys and girls spent more time engaged in physical activity in comparison to being indoors.
However, the results also showed that children engaged in more activity of a moderate-vigorous intensity indoors with toys, compared to taking part in a PE lesson, highlighting that parents who are unable to provide an outdoor space can still encourage their children to engage in energetic active play indoors.
Natasha Crookes added: "While we see the importance school activities and PE lessons have, it is interesting to note that parents should not rely on these sessions alone for children to get a daily amount of physical activity – play is not only fun and sociable but an ideal way for children to be active."
Knowing how to encourage their children to play is a parenting skill that one in five dads and nearly one in six mums would like to improve on. In response, the BTHA is promoting its Make Time to Play campaign, with celebrity mum Kym Marsh, to encourage parents to get their children engaged in ‘active play for an hour a day’ to ensure they reach the governments minimum requirement on physical activity.
Through a dedicated Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/maketimetoplay and downloadable app called Make Time to Play, parents can receive and share ideas.
Kym Marsh has made a video with tips for parents to get their kids playing - watch the video below.