The policies and practice of preschoolers' outdoor play: a Chinese perspective on greeting the millennium

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Date: May-June 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 3)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,838 words
Lexile Measure: 1490L

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Early childhood education and care (ECEC) scholars and health professionals worldwide share a common concern about the decline in children's physical development and activity due to lack of access to good quality outdoor environments. Early childhood education and care facilities across the world have been affected by trends that are limiting outdoor play, including large-scale migration of rural populations to industrial urban areas where access to the outdoors is limited. In China, this migration and other factors have resulted in dramatic changes to the nation's sociocultural fabric. The authors discuss policies and practices regarding outdoor play designed for millennial preschoolers in China. It presents a Chinese perspective on preschoolers' (3- to 6-year-olds) outdoor play and physical activity and provides recommendations to enhance a worldwide view of child development in the new millennium.

This article examines Chinese policies and practice in order to make recommendations for millennial preschoolers' outdoor play. First, what is the cultural tradition for children's outdoor play in China? Searching for an answer brings one back to the Tang (618 to 907 AD) and Song (960 to 1279 AD) dynasties of ancient China, in which renowned artists depicted children's outdoor play through yingxitu, a series of classic paintings depicting children's play (see Figure 1). Chinese children in ancient times are depicted as enjoying a variety of outdoor games: fishing, catching butterflies, playing chess and musical instruments, playing hide-and-seek, riding wooden horses, performing puppet shows, and even performing martial arts. These strikingly attractive paintings, all drawn in a peaceful tenor, highlight children's active engagement in social interactions and physical activities in natural outdoor environments.

Traditionally, Chinese children exercised their freedom to initiate preferred physical activities. In present day, early childhood education and care (ECEC) scholars and health professionals worldwide share a concern that children's physical development is in jeopardy due to a steady decrease in children's physical activities in quality outdoor environments (Clements, 2004; Hannon & Brown, 2008; Maynard & Waters, 2007; Niklasson & Sandberg, 2010; Pate, Pfeiffer, Trost, Ziegler, & Dowda, 2004; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 2000). Generally speaking, outdoor play is regarded as either free or structured physical activity taking place in an exterior environment. In Chinese preschools, outdoor play most frequently includes structured large-group morning exercises, physical education (PE) lessons, and free play.

Some believe free play in outdoor environments is the best way to promote physical development (Bullard, 2012; Clements, 1998, 2004; Frost, Brown, Sutterby, & Thornton, 2004) and address obesity management skills (Nelson, Carpenter, & Chiasson, 2006). Over the past few decades, Western research literature provided evidence on 1) the skyrocketing of childhood obesity (Ogden et al., 2006), and 2) a decrease in children's outdoor free play due to television and digital media exposure as well as parental concerns about crime and child safety when adult supervision is difficult (Clements, 2004). Chinese scholars (e.g., Chen, Hu, & Li, 2013; Leng, 2000; Zheng, 2010) share the above-mentioned concerns regarding the physical being of young children in the new millennium with international scholars (Clements, 2004; Dietze...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A369128874