Enhancing Children’s Fitness through Playground Research

Newswise — MOUNT VERNON, Iowa – Four Cornell College students are spending their summer researching playgrounds in Linn County.

In fact, they’re examining 114 playgrounds in fifteen cities within the county, including Mount Vernon and Cedar Rapids.

“We are doing a study across Linn County on playground equipment to see how it can help enhance the development of children’s physical fitness,” said senior exercise science major Kaylynn Sparks, who plans to become a physical therapist.

Sparks, along with senior Ani’ja Simmons, sophomore A’ryn Jackson, and junior Carissa Meis are working with Associate Professor of Kinesiology Lewis Kanyiba to identify if the playgrounds have equipment that can help children develop the four components of health-related physical fitness:

  • Aerobic capacity
  • Strength and endurance
  • Balance
  • Flexibility

“We call this ecological affordance,” Kanyiba said. “How does the ecology enable kids to learn how to move differently, especially develop their motor skills and physical fitness? If you look at the architecture and engineering of the playground, it’s very deliberate. It’s built to enhance physical fitness or motor skills in kids.”

The students used their kinesiology knowledge from their classes and worked with Kanyiba to develop the categories they explored during the eight-week Cornell Summer Research Institute (CSRI). They’re assigning each playground a rating of one to five stars, based on how many pieces of equipment the playground has that meet fitness goals.

“With strength and endurance, for example, you’ll see monkey bars, ladders, or wall climbs,” said Jackson, a kinesiology major. “Sometimes you’ll see zip lines, which help with strength and endurance. The slides help with balance and flexibility, and you have swings that we also look at too.”

The students work in teams of two to observe the playground and record what they see. Then, they come together to compare notes to make sure their observations are accurate for validity and reliability purposes. The team is also collecting video clips.

“We are taking this information and putting it in a chart,” said Simmons, a kinesiology major. “We hope to start a YouTube channel so it can help parents know where the parks are, and the characteristics of each playground. That way they can get their children out and active. We really want kids to get out and get fit.”  

The team also plans to share their results with city administrators and public school leaders, so they can make decisions on how to improve the playgrounds.

“We want to have a connection where the research from Cornell has an impact on policy development of local communities, and this is our small way of contributing, in terms of playground enhancement, for the benefit of kids who live in Linn County,” Kanyiba said.

The team worked together to design and implement each piece of this study, and they’re excited about how it will impact their plans in the future.

“After Cornell, I want to be an elementary education teacher. I honestly think doing this research will help me be a better advocate for children,” said Meis.

CSRI brings students together each summer in a variety of majors and fields to research topics for eight weeks. 

“I appreciate Cornell allowing me the opportunity to have these four students who are learning how to research and design a study, how to collect data, and how to authenticate their information,” Kanyiba said. “My hope is it will go beyond this project in their lives and in other classes that they are going to take. I hope they take meticulous steps, like when they write project papers, and scrutinize and double check the information they have, just like they’ve done in CSRI.”

About Cornell College:

Cornell College is a liberal arts college of approximately 1,000 students in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Cornellians have been living, learning, and teaching on the block plan, One Course At A Time, since 1978. Each 18-day course can take students and professors off-campus and even out of the country due to the block’s flexibility, and students fully immerse themselves in their topic of study, taking field trips, diving into research, creating an art exhibit, or exploring issues in the local community. With students from 47 states and 19 foreign countries, as well as renowned faculty, speakers, and entertainers, Cornell offers the world from its campus.


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