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Playing for Life: Integrating Physical Activity into Preschool Programs

The Issue

Starting early with creating a lifetime habit of play and movement is critical. Research links overweight/obesity, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity to negative physical, academic, social, and psychological outcomes. While a constellation of factors contributes to weight gain in children and adults, one factor—inactivity—can be addressed through the integration of physical activity (PA) into daily schedules. "Easier said than done" is a comment frequently made. However, USDA-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) agencies are now engaged in strategies to integrate PA into their nutrition programs. This is part of recognizing that direct nutrition education, coupled with policy, systems, and environmental supports such as physical activity with hardscape reinforcements, help create a healthy lifestyle. Further, best practices advise that preschoolers receive at least 2 hours of both structured and unstructured physical activity daily to encourage competence in fundamental motor skills.

What Has ANR Done?

In Alameda County, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education, in partnership with Oakland Unified Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs is launching a district-wide playground stenciling effort for students aged 3-5 years old. Painting playground stencils and supporting teachers with structured physical activity curriculum that uses stenciled playgrounds is one way to increase opportunities for physical activity and support the development of healthy habits in low-resource school and community settings. Teachers are provided with the "Painted Playground Activities: A Guide for Grown-ups," adapted from the Orange County Department of Education. This guide offers age-appropriate games and activity prompts. California Department of Education information highlighting how stencils can meet certain Pre-K learning standards is also included.

The Payoff

Moving Forward: Play and Comprehensive Nutrition Education Programs for Preschool

In the past year, over 200 preschool students in three ECE schools began participating in the PA initiative. With the support of The Clinton Global Initiative, two schools received complete playground stencils and garden refurbishment. Sites couple playground activities with UC CalFresh Nutrition Education curriculum (“Go Glow Grow and Grow It! Try It! Like It!”) for garden-enhanced learning. Playground stencils will be provided district wide over the next 3 years, reaching 24 ECE sites and serving nearly 2,000 students.

Clientele Testimonial

“The kids really like the new playground stencils, they are finding all sorts of creative ways to engage with them”
- Teacher, Yuk Yau Child Development Center


Tuline Baykal, UC CalFresh Program Supervisor, Alameda County TNBAYKAL@UCANR.EDU

Mary Blackburn, PhD UC CalFresh Advisor, Alameda County MLBLACKBURN@UCANR.EDU

Andra Nicoli, UC CalFresh State Office, Program & Evaluation Analyst amnicoli@ucdavis.edu

Michele Byrnes, UC CalFresh State Office PA Manager mnbyrnes@ucdavis.edu