Study: Urban Children Struggle On Playgrounds And Playing Fields.

Apr 28, 2010

A new Ohio State University study suggests poor kids are at not only at a disadvantage in the classroom... they lag behind their more well off counterparts on the playground as well.

OSU researcher Jackie Goodway says disavantaged children are a clear disadvantage when it comes to developing motor skills. Researchers studied nearly 500 African American and Hispanic children in head start programs and found 86% struggle on the playground and playing field alike.

Goodway is a professor of physical activity and educational services at Ohio State. She tells WOSU's Marilyn Smith that kids who spend more of their time inside than out...fall behind when it comes to basic motor development.

Goodway: If I want to play a game of softball I have to be able to run. I have to be able to hit a ball with a bat. I have to be able to catch. I have to be able to throw.If you don't develop basic competency in those skills in your early years as you go out and try them in different sports and games you're ultimately not going to be successful. And so, you just quit after awhile.

Smith: However, some of these activities seem to me to be so natural to children that they don't even think about them. Some kids are so irrepressible they just act. They are sheer motion.

Goodway: Yeah, that's a big misnomer that's sort of out in the public that these motor skills just naturally emerge. And I would say that may have been true in our generation where, when I was little, I went outside. I played with my friends and my brother from morning till night. And I got lots of opportunities to practice these skills and get feedback on it from other kids and from my parents. But, these days our kids, they're inside children, and that's particularly true if you live in an urban environment where the parks aren't safe , mom is working multiple jobs and there's no safe backyard to practice these skills and so what we found is they don't develop, they don't develop normally and naturally and that we actually need to teach children how to do these skills. And that's been the other part of my work, its not just identifying that children have low skills but to go in and improve those skills.

Smith: Its so often we think of sports and these kinds of physical activities as being the key out of poverty for so many poor kids to get into college and perhaps to go on and play pro ball, pro football, pro baseball. But what you're saying is this doesn't necessarily follow?

Goodway: There will always be those children who are just naturally talented and will develop their motor skills and become really good athletes despite their environment. The way I look at this is not from an elite sports standpoint. I'm not interested in developing athletes for professional sports. The way we're coming at this is from a public health standpoint and we know with the huge increase in childhood obesity, particularly in these populations, that one way to counter childhood obesity is to get children to be more active. If they don't have the motor skills to engage in activity they're not going to get the necessary amount of activity they need to really, sort of, balance off their caloric intake and not be obese across the long haul.

OSU professor and researcher Jackie Goodway says she plans to follow up on the children in her study with programs designed to improve their mobility. then she says...researchers will look at the kids as they age to see if the denefits follow them.