The role of physical activity and outdoor play in the socio-emotional development of children in Ireland
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The Role of Physical Activity and Outdoor Play in the Socio-Emotional Development of Children in Ireland Emma Hilliard Aims Physical activity and outdoor play is thought to have a number of benefits for healthy growth and development, both physically and psychologically. Recent decades have reported a decrease in active outdoor play for children. Meanwhile, a substantial number of children are presenting with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. This research aimed to examine physical activity and outdoor play in middle childhood. It investigated whether children who spent more time engaged in these activities reported better socio-emotional outcomes both concurrently and longitudinally and whether children’s socio-emotional development varied according to their involvement in structured versus unstructured outdoor play. Method The first study involved longitudinal analysis of secondary data from the child cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) national longitudinal study of children in Ireland to explore if time spent in physical activity play, exercise and sport at 9 years of age was related to socio-emotional development at 9 years old, 13 years old and 17-18 years old. The second study involved 108 participants aged between eight and ten years old who were recruited through primary schools. Parents of these children completed measures including a questionnaire on their child’s involvement in physical activity and outdoor play, socio-emotional development and an optional time use diary. Results Regression analyses indicated that time spent in physical activity and outdoor play at nine years old was significantly associated with peer relationship problems in middle childhood and early adolescence. While individual, family and environmental factors were significant predictors of other aspects of socio-emotional development, time spent in physical activity and outdoor play was not. No statistically significant difference was noted between time spent in structured physical activity and time spent in unstructured active outdoor play in terms of their impact on socio-emotional development. Conclusion The findings from this study provide valuable information about patterns of physical activity and outdoor play in middle childhood and tentatively support an association between these activities and peer relationships in middle childhood and early adolescence. They further highlight the importance of adopting a holistic bioecological approach to understanding socio-emotional development. The implications of these findings for schools, policy and practice are outlined.
KeywordsPhysical activity play