Three-quarters of 3-6 year-old children in the U.S. spend time in childcare; many spend most of their waking hours in these settings. Daily physical activity offers numerous health benefits, but activity levels vary widely across centers. This study was undertaken to explore reasons why physical activity levels may vary. The purpose of this paper is to summarize an unexpected finding that child-care providers cited was a key barrier to children's physical activity.
Nine focus groups with 49 child-care providers (55% black) from 34 centers (including inner-city, suburban, Head Start and Montessori) were conducted in Cincinnati, OH. Three independent raters analyzed verbatim transcripts for themes. Several techniques were used to increase credibility of findings, including interviews with 13 caregivers.
Two major themes about clothing were: 1) children's clothing was a barrier to children's physical activity in child-care, and 2) clothing choices were a significant source of conflict between parents and child-care providers. Inappropriate clothing items included: no coat/hat/gloves in the wintertime, flip flops or sandals, dress/expensive clothes, jewelry, and clothes that were either too loose or too tight. Child-care providers explained that unless there were enough extra coats at the center, a single child without a coat could prevent the entire class from going outside. Caregivers suggested several reasons why parents may dress their child inappropriately, including forgetfulness, a rushed morning routine, limited income to buy clothes, a child's preference for a favorite item, and parents not understanding the importance of outdoor play. Several child-care providers favored specific policies prohibiting inappropriate clothing, as many reported limited success with verbal or written reminders to bring appropriate clothing.
Inappropriate clothing may be an important barrier to children's physical activity in child-care settings, particularly if the clothing of a few children preclude physical activity for the remaining children. Center directors and policy makers should consider devising clear and specific policies for the types of clothing that will be permitted in these settings so that children's active play opportunities are not curtailed. To enhance compliance, parents may need education about the importance and benefits of active play for children's development.