This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Impact of an 8-week active play intervention on child developmental outcomes




Spring, Katherine

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Background: Play is an essential component of early childhood education and is included in American preschool children's current physical activity guidelines. However, there is a lack of evidence about the effect of active play interventions on preschoolers’ developmental outcomes. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to examine the impact an 8-week teacher-guided active play intervention on physical activity levels, body composition, fundamental motor skills, and on-task behavior in preschoolers attending two private preschool centers located in the southeastern region of the United States. The secondary aim was to examine the feasibility and fidelity of the 8-week teacher-guided active play intervention. Methods: Participants were recruited from two local private preschool centers, and were randomly assigned to either the intervention or the control group. All measures were assessed at baseline (Weeks 0), post-intervention (Weeks 9 – 11), and retention (Weeks 30 – 33). During the school days, physical activity was assessed with an Actigraph GTX3 (Pensacola, FL) accelerometer worn on the non-dominant wrist. Researchers assessed percentage of time spent participating in physical activity inside (IPA) and outside (OPA). Bioelectrical impedance was used to assess body composition (fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM)). Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS, stationary skills (SS), locomotor skills (LS), object manipulation skills (OMS), and gross motor quartile (GMQ)) were assessed using the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, 2nd edition. A modified momentary time sampling technique evaluated On-task behavior. Lead teachers completed weekly checklists and Likert-style surveys to assess implementation fidelity, automaticity, and the habit formation level. The first author conducted informal interviews with the lead teachers to further evaluate intervention fidelity. Results: From baseline to post-intervention, there were significant group differences for IPA (F (1,40) = 13.59, p <.001, p2 = .254), but not for OPA (F (1,40) = 1.16, p = .288, p2 = .028). Similarly, from baseline to retention, there were significant group differences for IPA (F (1,33)16.84, <.001, .994), but not for OPA. Furthermore, there were significant increases in FM (F (1.626,63.432) = 15.048, p < .001, p2 = .278), FFM (F (1,640, 63.962) = 68.531, p < .001, p2 = .637) from baseline to retention for both groups. In addition, the intervention was successful at improving GMQ acutely (F (1,46) = 5.037, p = .030, p2 = .099), but improvements were not maintained at retention. The active play intervention did not show significant effects for On-task behavior. Teachers reported a mean difficulty of 1.35 for inside and 1.4 for outside activities. There were no statistically significant differences for indoor (2(5)=5.50, p = 3.58) or outdoor automaticity (2(6) = 9.363 p = .141). Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that this type of intervention is feasible and a pathway to improving gross motor skills and IPA in young children. However, while teachers seem to understand the importance of physical activity, it still comes second to "academic" material. Future studies should target teacher beliefs and attitudes regarding play and movement specifically.