The importance of peers: Elementary school children's play following a playground painted lines intervention


Children's social and built environment interactions can affect physical activity. This mixed-methods study examined children's levels of and perceived physical activity and social experiences in response to adding painted lines in school playgrounds (e.g., four square). Grade 3-4 children were recruited from four elementary schools: three had received painted lines through a community initiative, and one was a control school. Children's physical activity was recorded through systematic observations and n=30 wore accelerometers. At the schools where lines were painted, n=31 children participated in photo-elicitation-based focus groups, and n=5 teachers completed interviews about their perceptions of the children's experiences with the lines. The control school and two schools that had received painted lines had valid accelerometer data. Contrary to expectations, children at the control school had significantly (Dunnett t-test; p < .05) higher weekday minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (M=184.16, SD=39.82) compared with those at schools with lines (MMVPA=139.19, SDMVPA= 40.76 for school A; MMVPA=153.23, SDMVPA=43.28 for school B). Steps per day results were similar. Children thought the lines were not extensively used due to school policies, group play preferences, confusion around how to use the lines, and perceived use of the lines by peers. Teachers reported no noticeable increase in physical activity as a result of the painted lines, but also noted their potential for physical activity and education. Children's ideas for increasing play included designs to facilitate group play, interactions with school policies, promoting popularity and uptake among the peer group, and appealing, clear, and durable designs.

Acknowledgments: This research is supported by funding from makeCalgary, Faculty of Kinesiology, and the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, University of Calgary.