Implementation Strategies Used by States to Support Physical Activity Licensing Standards for Toddlers in Early Care and Education Settings: An Exploratory Qualitative Study
Lessard, L., Speirs, K., and Slesinger, N. Childhood Obesity (September 2018).
Background: Childhood obesity is a major health concern that affects even very young children, like those served in early care and education (ECE) settings. Participating in at least 90 minutes of physical activity each day helps young children establish healthy routines and make them less likely to experience obesity. States can make sure children in ECE are getting enough physical activity by setting licensing regulations for the time and intensity of daily active play. This study looks at strategies and obstacles to enforcing those regulations.
Methods: Researchers selected nine states for this study, based on whether their state required 60-90 minutes of daily physical activity for toddlers in licensed ECE centers. Once the states were chosen, researchers interviewed administrators and licensing staff. Participants described: their role within the child care system; the development of the physical activity licensing regulations; strategies they used to implement the regulations; and challenges for implementing and enforcing the regulations.
Results: One common strategy for implementing physical activity regulations was to use partnerships with government or non-profit agencies to provide technical assistance and resources to ECE programs. Another avenue was pairing licensing inspections with additional resources to help ECE providers meet the requirement. The participants noted that most ECE programs were able to follow the physical activity regulations fairly easily, although challenges included limited indoor and outdoor space and unsafe weather conditions.
Conclusions: The findings from this study can serve as a guide for other states interested in establishing ECE physical activity requirements. Implementation comes with its challenges but can be done effectively. Increased partnerships between state agencies, community agencies and ECE programs can help providers integrate physical activity requirements into their daily practices.
This article suggests that providing 60-90 minutes of daily physical activity to toddlers and older children is doable for many child care providers. The biggest challenges tend to be finding space for active play and figuring out ways to get enough physical activity when bad weather gets in the way. Many providers have limited space in their facilities, so it can be difficult to dedicate an entire room for active play. Providers should build a catalogue of quick and easy physical activities that don’t require a lot of space. At the same time providers should look for opportunities to build movement and physical activity into their daily routines, like circle time and transitions. Even small bursts of physical activity for 3-5 minutes can add up throughout the day.
In areas of the country that get very hot, very cold or see lots of precipitation, regular outdoor play can be challenging. It is important to remember that outdoor play can be safe and fun in many conditions, as long as children and providers are prepared. Families should provide rain and snow gear for their children and providers can ask them to donate boots, hats or jackets their children have outgrown. Sunscreen, shade and hydration are key to keeping kids safe for outdoor play in hot weather. And providers should remember that getting outdoors in different types of weather can be a great learning opportunity. Children can practice self-help skills by getting their boots and jackets on, and playing in the snow, rain or mud provides a host of fun sensory experiences for young children.
This study provides several recommendations for how to write and implement policies in a way that makes it easier for providers and licensing departments to follow physical activity standards. First, physical activity policies should have clear language that includes the required time and intensity of activity. This sets clear expectations for providers and licensing monitors. Second, licensing agencies should work with community partners to make sure child care providers have access to training and technical assistance that can help them meet physical activity requirements. At the same time, licensing agencies should train their monitoring staff to be able to support providers in how to meet new requirements. Finally, states that put new physical activity regulations in place should consider a soft roll-out that gives providers and licensing staff a period of time to learn the new regulations and figure out how to meet them without risk of being penalized.