The preschools that children attend influence their physical activity level. But, little is known about which characteristics of a preschool may influence the physical activity of children. The purpose of this study was to examine policies and characteristics of preschools and the extent to which they influence the physical activity of 3- to 5-year-old children during the preschool day.
A total of 299 children from 20 preschools wore ActiGraph (Pensacola, FL) accelerometers an average of 8.1 hours (SD=1.5) per day for 5.5 days (SD=2.1). A researcher completed the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised Edition (ECERS-R) for each preschool to access quality. Classrooms and playgrounds were measured, and the preschool director was interviewed about physical activity policies. For each policy or characteristic, preschools were divided into two groups based on whether or not the characteristic/policy was presumed to promote physical activity (PPA) or not promote physical activity (NPA).
Children spent fewer minutes per hour in sedentary activity and more minutes per hour in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in preschools that had higher quality scores, less fixed playground equipment, more portable playground equipment, lower electronic media use, and larger playgrounds. Five preschools had all five of these characteristics, and children in those preschools had significantly higher MVPA minutes per hour and lower sedentary minutes per hour compared to children in the other preschools.
All preschools can encourage physical activity by providing inexpensive portable playground equipment, limiting the number of children using fixed equipment and the number of children on the playground at one time, and limiting electronic media use. Children in the top five physical activity promoting preschools accumulated more than 60 minutes per day of MVPA as compared to the children in the other preschools who accumulated less than 60 minutes per day of MVPA.
Keywords: children, preschool, childcare, physical activity, accelerometer