Sonny Wallace and Billy Moore have fun in the sandpit. Picture: Nathan Edwards.
Sonny Wallace and Billy Moore have fun in the sandpit. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

How the sandpit keeps your child fit

THE GERAT Australian backyard has long been seen as the key to keeping Aussie kids active, but new stats now reveal the vital role sandpits, cubby houses and trampolines play in getting preschoolers moving even more.

With one in five Australian preschoolers now considered overweight or obese, the new study looked at home-based outdoor play in nearly 1600 preschool-age children on days when they were not in childcare.


Researchers found that when the kids weren't in childcare they spent just over an hour playing in their backyard. However, that time ­increased by an average of five minutes with every piece of fixed-equipment that was added to the yard.

University of Western Australia Associate Professor Hayley Christian, the senior author of the study, said it was the first time outdoor playtime at home had been comprehensively measured.

"The home yard space is crucial for providing opportunity for preschool kids to be active, as they are so dependent on their parents and don't have the independent mobility to get out and about on their own," Prof Christian said.

"We've found that within the yard space, having play equipment can make a big difference to the amount of activity they do each day."

Mother-of-three Belinda Moore, from Port Macquarie, said her four-year-old son Billy enjoyed being in the sandpit and playing around on the trampoline at their backyard.

"Television is not a big priority in our household because I grew up on a farm, and they don't have devices and barely go on our phones … I prefer him playing and doing something," Mrs Moore said. "We have a cubby house, swing, trampoline and chickens, and Billy from a young age has always wanted to be outside."

Cara Greenwell, from Port Macquarie Community Preschool, said the sandpit was used every day for learning activities at the centre.


Active outdoor play beats looking at an electronic device any day. Picture: iStock
Active outdoor play beats looking at an electronic device any day. Picture: iStock


"We are always encouraging the fundamental movement skills and we will often set up learning activities ­inside the sandpit and have strategically placed logs and rocks around the sandpit," Ms Greenwell said.

"They also measure sand, water and volume with our play-based learning educators who will be in there with them and working with them through play."

The study also found that despite the Australian government recommending preschoolers be physically active at least three hours a day, only a third of the children met the guideline.

"Backyard play is a much better option than screen time, considering all of the health and developmental benefits children get by playing outdoors and being physically active" Prof Christian said.

"As parents we may not have time to take our kids to the park each day, but they don't need to be in the house on a device. Why not allow them out in the yard?"

She said they also found that the current policies around high-density housings where homes may have limited or no private space must be changed to allow accessible preschooler-friendly space and equipment.

"In a changing Australian landscape, it is the size of the yard, the amount of fixed and portable play equipment as well as natural features … that can help to provide more ­opportunities for young children to play outdoors and be physically active."