Benefici del gioco spontaneo all'aria aperta sulle capacità motorie e cognitive in bambini di 5-6 anni (lingua Inglese)
The increase of technology, sedentary behaviours, urbanization and the lack of social connectedness contributes to inactivity. Opportunities for physical activity continue to decline, while the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles is increasing in most countries also among young children particularly at the expense of spontaneous play.
Objective: This study (1) considers relationships among spontaneous outdoor play, children’s and parents’ physical activity/sedentary habits, and built environment characteristics in 5-6 year-old children; (2) explores if spontaneous play in an outdoor environment is predictive of children’s motor and cognitive skill level.
Methods: 45 preschool children were administered tests of motor development (Movement Assessment battery for Children, M-ABC, and locomotor substest of the Test of Gross Motor Development, TGMD) and tests tapping executive cognitive functions (Attention subscale of the Cognitive Assessment System, CAS and the Random Number Generation (RNG) task to obtain indices of inhibitory executive function. Questionnaires were given to children’s parents to collect data on the family educational level and lifestyle, including information about children’s outdoor play, sport practice and sedentary activities.
Results: On the whole, family sedentary behaviours are most predictive of children’s overweight. The educational level of parents influences the importance attributed to children’s free play and counteracts an excessive amount of passive screen time. The accessibility of a variety of outdoor areas seems to translate in a wide use of them for outdoor play. Also, the exploitation of a wide range of accessible outdoor areas for free play is paralleled by children’s practice of structured sport activities. The usage of a wide variety of outdoor areas predicts better motor developmental levels in gross-motor object control skills and balance. Last, but not least, the amount of time spent in spontaneous play seems to be a stronger predictor of children’s inhibitory executive function than structured sport.
Conclusions: These findings, even though with the limitations of a small-sized convenience sample and of a correlational and cross-sectional study design, highlight the need to jointly consider more proximal (familiar) and distal (environmental) factors that influence the free play habits of young children and their effects on motor and cognitive development. Relevant implications for ‘health and physical activity’ may derive from future studies that focus on children living in socially disadvantaged environments.