CURRENT

Play Zone

A new study confirms what kids have known forever: recess is awesome.

Schoolchildren love recess. And recess loves them back, says Jill Barnas, a doctoral student in nutrition and exercise physiology at MU. “Active children are healthy children,” she says. “Moreover, past research has proven that activity helps academic performance.”

But can educators be doing more with kids’ time away from the classroom? Barnas thinks they can, and has come up with a new program for making that happen. The key component, she says, involves carving out playground “zones” aimed at amping up physical activities and encouraging completion of the so-called 60 minutes of “play per day” endorsed by health organizations (and, notably, the National Football League).

Barnas’ plan would divide playgrounds into areas devoted to specific, fitness-enhancing fun, while traditional recess games would be reworked to maximize physical activity. Kickball, for example, would become “hustle kickball,” a madcap form of the game in which children kick and run in “rapid fire” rather than waiting in line for a turn at the plate.

In a recent study, Barnas, along with her doctoral advisor, MU associate professor Steve Ball, tracked the physical activity of participants in a zoned playground using accelerometers — devices found in fitness wearables such as the Fitbit. Then they compared participants’ physical activity levels against those enjoying recess in traditional playgrounds. The results showed a significant increase in physical activity among zoned playground participants.

“Playground zoning is just one way schools can be proactive in their students’ health and wellness,” says Ball. “Recess is a way for young children to be active, and through playground zoning, schools can ensure that children are achieving maximum benefits during their recess period.”

Image of playground

Optimized Places for Play
Playgrounds ‘zoned’ to encourage fitness can amp up the benefits of physical activity during recess.

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