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The Effect of Physical Activity During Outdoor Play on Children's On-Task Behavior During Group Time

Partially funded by the Jeffrey and Nancy Trawick-Smith Early Childhood Undergraduate Research Award

Principal Investigator:
Allison Lundy
Faculty Mentor: Jeffrey Trawick-Smith

The purpose of this investigation was to determine differences in children’s on task behavior during group time before and after engaging in physical activity during outdoor play. It was hypothesized that children who engage in the greatest levels of physical activity during outdoor play may demonstrate strong on-task behaviors during group time than those who display lower levels of physical activity.

A pre-observation of on-task behavior during group time was conducted in each participating classroom. Each child’s on-task behavior was coded every two minutes, for a total of 15 assessments. These two observations in each classroom were conducted one week apart and provided a baseline measure of on-task behavior during a typical group time session.

One week after the baseline observations, teachers in each classroom rearranged their daily schedules so that children would play on the playground for an hour prior to group time on two different days. Two observations during group time in each classroom, conducted two weeks apart, were conducted immediately after these playground periods. A researcher coded on-task behavior in these post-playground group times. These observations provided data on a potential change in on-task behavior following outdoor play. In addition, as children played on the playground during these specially scheduled sessions prior to group time, their activity level was coded.

Findings: 1) Outdoor play prior to learning resulted in greater on-task behavior for boys and children of low socioeconomic status. 2) Level of activity in play prior to a learning time was positively related to on-task behavior. (Future research on a larger, more diverse sample of children is recommended.)

Publication: Lundy, A. & Trawick-Smith, J. (2020). Effects of active outdoor play on preschool children’s on-task classroom behavior. Early Childhood Education Journal, 49, 463-471.


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