Health Department Releases Active Design Playbook to Promote Physical Activity in Early Childhood Settings

In New York City, less than half of three to five year olds get the recommended amount of daily physical activity

Active design in preschool or early childhood care can help children develop healthy behaviors early in life

June 5, 2017 — The Health Department today released the Active Design Playbook for Early Childhood Settings (PDF), a guide for early child care and education providers to increase physically active play and learning. The Active Design Playbook offers low- and no-cost ideas for creating spaces to support physically active play and learning, including examples of successful projects and supportive resources such as grant opportunities, experienced vendors and free services. In New York City, less than half of three to five year olds get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Given that children spend on average more than 30 hours per week in preschool or early child care, these settings serve as key intervention points to help children develop healthy behaviors early in life. active design playbook Through Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K for All initiative, the City has more than tripled the number of four-year-olds enrolled in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K. Pre-K for All programs offer children at least 50 minutes of physical activity every day, with additional opportunities for play. The City recently announced 3-K for All, a path to offer a free, full-day, high-quality education for every three-year-old, starting with hundreds of new, free, full-day, high-quality seats in District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville.

“Child care providers are in a unique position to encourage play and physical activity among young children,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “With this Playbook, early child care centers and preschools across New York City can consider and adopt proven strategies to give our youngest New Yorkers access to play spaces and enhance their health for years to come.”

The Active Design Playbook offers project ideas to promote the physical and developmental benefits of gardening, outdoor play and indoor play. Examples include:

  • Vertical planters on a fence or exterior wall add greenery and provide an area to learn about nature while saving space.
  • Shaded areas, such as trellises, shade sails or trees, protect children from the sun and allow them to play outside for longer, especially during the summer.
  • Ground markings with paint or brightly colored duct tape help children to develop gross motor skills, such as jumping and balancing.
  • Sand and water sensory tables in the classroom reduce children’s sedentary time while encouraging exploration, fine motor skill development and creativity.
  • An indoor obstacle course using paper circles for stepping stones, rope, cones or tunnels gets children crawling, hopping and climbing.
active design playbook

Play, or any spontaneous activity, has many benefits for children, including improved attention, competence and motivation in the classroom. Physically active play, whether structured or unstructured, social or solitary, indoor or outdoor, has the additional benefit of boosting healthy bone development and muscle development; reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases; and providing emotional and mental health benefits, including reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

“It has been an honor for Citizens Committee for New York City to collaborate with the Health Department on this important initiative to promote physical activity in early childhood settings,” said Arif Ullah, Director of Programs at Citizens Committee for New York City. “At a time when health conditions such as early onset diabetes and obesity have reached epidemic levels, it is critical that youth have opportunities to engage in play and exercise. The Active Design Playbook presents effective models and strategies that can be replicated in early childhood centers throughout the city, contributing to more healthful lives.”

“What I find most exciting about the Playbook is its focus on innovative ways to design active learning environments for preschool children using readily available and low cost materials,” said Cassie Landers of Columbia University’s Child Health Initiative for Learning and Development (CHILD). “The colorful examples and delightful photos provide a range of ideas to encourage children to learn through active exploration of the indoor, outdoor, and natural environments. The Playbook is a welcomed resource for caregivers, families and communities committed to enhancing both the quality and time for young children to explore and learn through physically active play.”

The Active Design Playbook for Early Childhood Settings was developed by the Health Department with valuable input and contributions from Brooklyn Forest School, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Columbia University’s Child Health Initiative for Learning and Development (CHILD), and Marpillero Pollak Architects.

This project is made possible with funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



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