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More than just child's play

Lynsey Anderson with children in child care

Children always appear to be little bundles of limitless energy, so it might surprise you to know that only 14% of Calgary preschool children engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activity throughout a typical day.

When Lynsey Anderson — who graduated from the Bachelor of Applied Child Studies program last fall — discovered that alarming statistic through phase one of the study she coordinated, Physical Activity Levels of Preschool Aged Children in Child Care she decided to do something about it.

Additional phases of the study have resulted in educating caregivers at child care centres and providing tools for them to easily incorporate more physical activity for the children.

“I hope to have input in different activities for kids, to offer a wider variety of choices to them,” says Anderson.

“I want providers to know that this is important, this is something they should be doing and to think ‘Wow, this is easy!’” adds Anderson.

Student well supported

Getting to this point has taken almost two years and considerable activity — physical and mental — by Anderson and all those who helped her.

The study was a collaborative effort and Anderson had the support of many different groups from the Calgary community — including the Calgary Health Region, Calgary and Area Child and Family Services Regional Authority, Mount Royal’s Integrative Health Institute, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Department of Physical Education and Recreation and Child Care Centre, and the Alberta Association of College and Technical Institutes.

Even her fellow students from Child Studies and Early Learning and Child Care lent a helping hand by creating a survey and distributing it to 107 caregivers at child care centres to determine their educational level and attitude regarding preschool children and physical activity.

The survey feedback discovered that there was:

  • a lack of space and equipment
  • a lack of suitable ideas for structured physical activities
  • very little structured physical activity
  • too much emphasis on free play without direction
  • a lack of involvement by caregivers to facilitate activities

From there, Anderson and the team switched gears and concentrated on producing practical materials that can be used by the child care centres.

A resource manual, A Hop Skip and a Jump: Enhancing Physical Literacy, was developed along with an accompanying workshop.

Reaching out to the community

Child care centres around the city were mailed the manuals and Anderson conducted workshops based at an additional 12 child care centres.

Funding to print a second edition of the manual was recently approved. Anderson will be making changes to the manual based on feedback received during her research.

Anderson also intends to conduct 12 more workshops with child care providers.

“I want to make it sound simpler … structured physical activity doesn’t have to be difficult. Providers can use little or no equipment to engage kids and it takes less than fifteen minutes.

“I also want to follow up on the long-term effects of the study,” says Anderson.

Pay it forward

The materials generated from Anderson’s research may have already proven valuable to many child care centres around Calgary, but Anderson has also benefited from her project.

“When I think back to when I first started this project, I realize what a huge impact it’s had on me,” says Anderson.

“I am much more confident and comfortable with public speaking and networking. The knowledge that I’ve acquired from conducting this research has led me to what is now my passion.”

She has also been inspired to start her own consulting company so that she can continue to offer the workshops. She can also be contacted by any professionals who would like further information on the second edition of the resource manual. E-mail Anderson at lande162@mymru.ca

— Fred Cheney, March 5, 2010