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Neighboring environment: influences upon young children physical activity
For optimal growth and development of young children physical activity is of significant importance because it provides a range of health benefits to them. Parents and carers shape young children's behavioural habits therefore they are the appropriate actors for encouraging and promoting the tendency towards physical activities amongst them.
To examine parents and carers perceptions of the local neighbourhood on young children's physical activity, an excursion exercise was carried out (from parents' perspective).
The aims of this activity are to examine the parents and carers perceptions of the local neighbourhood in relation to physical activity and to identify influences upon these behaviours.
An excursion exercise identified the influences of neighbouring environment upon parents' perceptions. The exercise (date……) involved a focus group study amongst classmates and professor. A purposive sample of (figure #------) participants participated in (figure #------) focus groups.
The flexible discussion sessions were arranged starting with a series of open-ended questions which were planned to motivate discussion about parents and carers perceptions relating to surrounding environment and their influences on physical activity of young children. The major topic areas included the nature, patterns and conditions of local neighbourhood for dynamic physical activity among young children, facilitators and hindrance to such activity.
Are community environment engaging for young children?
According to the socioecological model described in Fig. 1 factors which control adult health behaviours take place within a multi-leveled framework, starting from within the individual to the wider social, community and institutional environments. In relation to children's physical activity, similar levels of influence have been accounted.
Figure 1: Socioecological model of influences upon a child's physical activity behaviour's
The excursion analyzed that neighbouring environment facilitates children dynamic physical activity. The facilitators of physical activity included the safe social environment of the train station, adequate area for using prams and wheel chairs inside the train station, appropriate seating arrangements both for adults and children, to some extant satisfactory hygienic conditions and easy access to the nearest park.
The excursion suggests that parents' perception about neighbourhood is contributing factors to convince parents in allowing their children for any physical outdoor activity. These factors range from safe train station and carriage and park to safe access routes, appropriate seating arrangements for sitting, hygienic conditions and playing instruments. Hence it evidences that supportive community environment are associated with physical activity.
I think that the physical and social environments play a vital role in promoting physical activity amongst young children so
It's our environment ... that we have set up. Materials, joining in with them, helping them ... help them to make social links, scaffolding. We always talk about 'scaffolding' play in childhood now ... the adult becomes the playmate to help a child to become involved and participate ... I think it goes with the set up too, have the things available and ready to go. The yard looks inviting and interesting ... safe. The inspiration for the children to be involved comes from what they see. When they see something that looks really interesting then they just naturally want to do it ... (Dwyer, Higgs, Hardy, & Baur, 2008).
Are there factors that inhibit children's play or other activities that are important to development?
Several factors can inhibit young children's development and well being. However during this specific exercise we recognized obstacles to physical activity contain parental safety measures relating to heavy roadside traffic and/or moving from one location to another location inside train carriage, size of the area of platform for doing any activity, safety policies about equipment model and use within the park, reservations about hygienic conditions throughout and unsuitable lighting in toilets.
During the excursion majority of the participants were concerned about their child's safety at both access routes to train station and inside park levels. Many participants recognized a fear of permitting their children to connect in activities that experienced the child's physical limits (e.g., when using ill structured playground equipment) for fear of the child supporting injury. However sometimes overprotective behaviour in parents impact negatively in young children.
Adult perceptions of environment enhances or restricts children's opportunity
Adult perceptions enhance opportunities: In the excursion the parents emphasised on their close supervision and less willingness to allow children alone to have exploration of either train station/carriage or park, therefore parental supervision is a key influence of physical activity.
Additionally parents also believe that safe access routes to play areas, suitable and safe play areas (in accordance with different age necessities), appropriate seating both for adult and children, satisfactory hygienic conditions and sufficient entry of fresh air in the surrounding environment. The availability of apposite playground equipments using by young children and suitable toilets having enough lighting system near playing areas. Further, since parents want to supervise closely their children therefore suitable sitting places would encourage parents to let their children for outdoor physical activity.
Adult perceptions restrict opportunities: Similarly the excursion identified that adult perceptions also restrict children's opportunities, which include excessive road traffic near train platform or Public Park was a important area of safety concern for most participants. As a result many parents would limit their children's outdoor play to backyard areas. When or whether to allow their children alone to walk to train station and park or to walk around their local neighbourhood was of immense concern for the parents. They might be aware that walking is a healthy activity but the apparent danger of injury was an obstacle to active transport. Likewise poorly designed playing instruments in neighbourhood would also restrain parents to allow their children to play with such instrument because of fear of sustaining injury.
I learnt from this activity firstly, that parental attitude and behaviour based on their perception about local environment notably influence children physical activity for instance safety concerns of parents would not allow children alone for any exploration activity. However overprotective behaviour in parents may box their child into fear and they (children) will lose self-confidence and may not let themselves in venture and try out things. Therefore, there is a need to educate families, parents and caregivers about the importance of creative outdoor play to support the child inbuilt nature to be active.
Secondly to take initiatives either in association with government or at community levels for creating healthy neighbourhood complements to children and parent needs in order to build safe play environments for children.