Frequency of parent-supervised outdoor play of US preschool-aged children

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Aug;166(8):707-12. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.1835.


Objective: To characterize preschoolers’ daily parent-supervised outdoor play frequency and associated factors.

Design: Cross-sectional using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort.

Setting: Nationally representative US sample.

Participants: Preschool-aged children.

Main outcome measure: Parent-reported outdoor play frequency.

Results: The sample size of 8950 represented approximately 4 million children. Sixty percent of mothers worked outside the home, 79% exercised 0 to 3 days per week, and 93% perceived their neighborhood to be safe. Forty-four percent of mothers and 24% of fathers reported taking their child outside to play at least once per day. Fifty-one percent of children were reported to go outside to play at least once per day with either parent. Fifty-eight percent of children who were not in child care went outside daily. A child’s odds of going outside daily were associated with sex (odds ratio [OR] for girls, 0.85;95% CI, 0.75-0.95), having more regular playmates (OR for ≥ 3 playmates, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.72-2.38), mother’s race/ethnicity (OR for Asian, 0.51, 95% CI, 0.43-0.61; black,0.59, 95% CI, 0.49-0.70; Hispanic, 0.80, 95% CI, 0.67-0.95), mother’s employment (OR for full time, 0.70; 95%CI, 0.62-0.81), and parent’s exercise frequency of 4 days or more per week (OR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.28-1.75). We did not find significant association of outdoor play with child’s time spent watching television, household income, mother’s marital status, or parent’s perceptions of neighborhood safety.

Conclusions: About half the preschoolers in this sample did not have even 1 parent-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day. Efforts to increase active outdoor play should especially target children who are girls and nonwhite. Outdoor play opportunities at child care are critical for children of parents who work outside the home.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States