Q & A with Prof. Fulcher
Q: What effect does the lack of outdoor play have on children's cognitive, physical, and social development?
A: Well, there's a couple of different ways to look at that. One of the important things to think about is what they [the children] are doing indoors when they're not outdoors. Two big things that they're doing is playing on the Internet and watching TV. So, they're being much more sedentary when they're inside than when they're outside. We see an increase in childhood obesity, but also that medium is beginning to be associated with an increase in aggression, as well as with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] to some extent. And kids are more likely to play with other kids if they're outside than if they're inside.
Also they're more likely to be doing a lot of toy play when they're inside. And what we see is that toy play is becoming more and more scripted. Kids get toys that come with a story line, so they can only play that story line. When they're outside they're able to come up with their own story.
Q: Are there any positive effects of indoor play?
A: The Internet can be a great place for kids to be exposed to things that aren't local. TV also offers kids learning opportunities. In moderation it's okay.
Q: What benefits does outdoor play have over indoor play?
A: Kids play for a sustained amount of time when they are outside, meaning that they play at one thing for a longer time. They're more likely to play in big groups, so they're practicing social skills and negotiation. And they're more likely to be playing in imaginative play.
Q: Does Boxerwood Gardens provide benefits that other playgrounds do not?
A: We see some differences in kids playing in shrubbery and tree areas than on big playgrounds. Kids are more physically active and are using more imagination when they're in a place called a natural area.
It promotes more imaginative play, which we know is really important for both cognitive and emotional development. But it also seems to be important for kids to think about the environment. If they have this hands-on experience with environmental things they come to science class better equipped.
Q: What types of things should parents do to achieve this level of moderation?
A: Parents should limit the things that are really tempting to do inside. If there's going to be no TV, then kids are more likely to play outside. Finding a place like Boxerwood Gardens is a great way for kids to play in an unstructured and un-ruled environment. It's a place where parents can be sure that kids are safe and not going to run into the road. Then parents can step away and kids can learn to play together.
Produced by Washington and Lee journalism students.
Lead supervisor: Prof. Claudette Artwick
Technical supervisor: Michael Todd