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Researcher profiles:

What affects physical activity in school playgrounds?

Current school interventions designed to increase physical activity tend to focus on structured activities by providing equipment or staff. While both have value, there are also limitations in terms of longevity and cost.

Play that is challenging, stimulating, and involves some physical risk is important for healthy development. However, 'rough and tumble', or 'free-range' play has largely been replaced by structured physical activities for many children.

Free play at school Radio New Zealand National interview with Professor Rachael Taylor

Supervised vs free-range activity

The increased emphasis on academic success and structured supervised activity at the expense of explorative free-range play is thought to have the unintended consequence of impairing children's ability to manage risk. In turn, this is believed to increase their involvement in far riskier (than climbing trees) behaviours when they are older.

Explorative play and managed risk

Our play intervention aimed to increase activity and decrease bullying by developing inexpensive environments that stimulated explorative play (rolling hills, fallen logs) and implementing school policies that allowed children to experience reasonable levels of managed risk during play (climbing trees, bull-rush).

Sixteen schools and more than 900 primary-school aged children are involved in our PLAY randomised controlled trial.

A major focus of this research is to assess the community reaction to these changes; what do children, parents and school staff think about their new play space?


Vaipuna, T. F. W., Williams, S. M., Farmer, V. L., Meredith-Jones, K. A., Richards, R., Galland, B. C., Te Morenga, L., & Taylor, R. W. (2017). Sleep patterns in children differ by ethnicity: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses using actigraphy. Sleep Health. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2017.10.012

Farmer, V.L., Williams, S.M., Mann, J.I., Schofield, G., McPhee, J.C., & Taylor, R.W. (2017). Change of School Playground Environment on Bullying: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics, 139(5).  doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-3072.

Farmer, V. L., Fitzgerald, R. P., Williams, S. M., Mann, J. I., Schofield, G., McPhee, J. C., & Taylor, R. W. (2017). What did schools experience from participating in a randomised controlled study (PLAY) that prioritised risk and challenge in active play for children while at school? Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 17(3), 239-257. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2017.1286993

Farmer, V.L., Williams, S.M., Mann, J.I., Schofield, G., McPhee, J.C., & Taylor, R.W. (2017). The effect of increasing risk and challenge in the school playground on  physical activity and weight in children: a cluster randomised  controlled trial (PLAY). International Journal of Obesity, 41(5), 793-800. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.41

Taylor, R.W., Farmer, V.L., Cameron, S.L., Meredith-Jones, K., Williams, S.M., & Mann, J.I. (2011). School playgrounds and physical activity policies and physical activity policies as predictors of school and home activity. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (8), 38-43. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-8-38

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