Activity Preferences and Cognitive Development in Children: Effects of Children’s Preference for Active Outdoor Activities Versus Sedentary Indoor Activities on Cognitive and Literacy Scores

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Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown

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This study assesses children’s preferences for active outdoor and sedentary indoor play based on an outdoor science enrichment intervention for preschool children. Researchers analyzed the relationship between the children’s activity preferences and their cognitive and literacy scores. A previous systematic review was conducted about the relationship between sedentary behavior and cognitive development in early childhood. Included in this comprehensive review were 37 studies (either experimental studies or observational studies) that discussed how “optimal cognitive development” in early childhood is related to many different domains, including physical activity (Carson et al., 2015). A large majority of children engage in excessive sedentary behavior, which results in detrimental effects to cognitive development (2015). For the current study, participants were recruited from local preschools through partnership with the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway (ODCMG) in Holland, Michigan and the Kellogg Foundation. Participants were both male and female preschool students (ages 3-5). Preferences for active outdoor or sedentary indoor activities were examined using two items from a self-report interview measure designed for use with preschoolers. We expect that preference toward active outdoor play will positively correlate with higher cognitive and literacy scores. The Teaching Strategies GOLDTM instrument observes the overall development and capabilities of children prior to first grade. With this holistic approach, GOLDTM is used as a tool to identify and assess school success predictors in order for teachers and administrators to have an accurate account of each child’s readiness for school. The current study used the GOLDTM results to indicate cognitive and literacy capabilities among participants. Results of this study should encourage parents and teachers towards active outdoor play for their children and will guide recommendations for future research and planning.


This research was supported by the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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