A Toy Box of the Future

toddFall 2012

By Sally Graham

Elizabeth Taylor playing with children's toys

Elizabeth Taylor is coordinator for a project in rural southeast Arkansas that teaches parents about activities they can share with their children.

A pilot project in rural southeast Arkansas aims to beat childhood obesity before lack of exercise sets in as a habit for young children.

“We have a whole generation of young parents who were raised on video games,” said Martha Phillips, Ph.D., assistant professor of Epidemiology in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at UAMS. “They’ve watched a lot of TV, grown up with computers, video movies and games, and hand-held computer devices and that is how they spend their leisure time.”

Phillips emphasizes these parents are doing what they know to do and are taking good care of their children. But, “if you didn’t learn hopscotch or Duck, Duck Goose as a child, how do you teach these running and jumping games to your child?”

“Research shows that our younger children ages 3 to 4 are spending about 75 percent of their waking hours engaged in sedentary activity, such as playing video games,” said Phillips. “That is not establishing good health habits.”

Phillips is leading a feasibility study funded by the National Institutes of Health to measure how teaching parents about activities they can share with their children will be accepted by the community, and whether this kind of home-based intervention can improve the lives of young children. The project team includes Elizabeth Taylor, who serves as the project coordinator, along with Onie Norman and Christie Newton-Lindsay, who live and work in Dumas, where the program will be tested.

Already, they’ve got support from community leaders in Dumas who see the benefit of putting tools into the hands of parents to help them engage their preschool children. The pilot project’s planned enrollment is 25 families. Parents will meet once a week for eight weeks with a facilitator who will introduce a new set of activities that parents can play with their children in ten- or fifteen-minute blocks of time. At the end of the eight weeks, parents will have a toy box filled with tools for each activity to get their child moving.

Newton-Lindsay, who serves as deputy director at the Phoenix Youth and Family Services and is the mother of four-year-old twins, supports the project and is helping with it.

“Many moms are working two full-time jobs (employment + motherhood),” said Newton-Lindsey. “It is hard to fit physical activities in along with homework, taking care of the family, church, and other community activities. Oftentimes, mothers are exhausted at the end of the day. The activities provided through the toy box will inspire parents to become more active with their children, and at an important development period when they are developing motor skills and learning eye-hand coordination.”