Background: Participation in outdoor play has been extensively documented as beneficial for the health, well-being, and development of children. Canadian early childhood education centers (ECECs) are important settings in young children’s lives and provide opportunities to participate in outdoor play. However, there are barriers to the provision of outdoor play opportunities at ECECs, such as adverse weather conditions, poorly designed outdoor spaces, outdoor time policies, and early childhood educator comfort levels.
Objective: The PROmoting Early Childhood Outside (PRO-ECO) study is a wait-list control cluster randomized trial that evaluates the impact of the PRO-ECO intervention, an innovative outdoor play intervention, on children’s outdoor play behavior. The purpose of this paper was to provide a detailed overview of the pilot study protocol and the methods that will be used to develop, implement, and evaluate the PRO-ECO intervention.
Methods: A total of 8 ECECs delivering licensed care to children aged 2.5 to 6 years in the Greater Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada, and operated by the YMCA of Greater Vancouver (YMCA GV) are included in this study. Using a wait-list control cluster randomized trial design, we randomly allocated ECECs to either the PRO-ECO intervention arm (n=4) or the wait-list control arm (n=4). The primary outcome measures include changes in the proportion and diversity of observed outdoor play behavior during dedicated outdoor times at the ECECs as measured through observational behavior mapping. Secondary outcome measures include changes in educator attitudes; quality of ECECs’ outdoor play space; and children’s psychosocial strengths, physical activity levels, and social behaviors. A process evaluation of the acceptability of the PRO-ECO intervention in the 8 YMCA GV ECECs will also be assessed. Outcome data will be collected at baseline, 6-month follow-up, and 12-month follow-up. Mixed effect models will test the effect of the PRO-ECO intervention on quantitative outcomes. Baseline and postintervention data will be included in the analysis, controlling for the cluster design. Qualitative data will support quantitative findings and provide evidence for the acceptability of implementation.
Results: Participant recruitment for this study began in August 2021, and baseline data collection was completed at all 8 ECECs in November 2021. As of April 2022, a total of 130 children have been recruited to participate in this study.
Conclusions: The PRO-ECO pilot study will develop, implement, and evaluate the PRO-ECO intervention within 8 YMCA GV ECECs in the Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada. The findings of this study will be useful for early childhood educators, ECEC providers, and policy makers to consider means for enhancing outdoor play provision and assessing the sustainability of the intervention in ECEC settings.
Mark S. Tremblay
Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute