Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science


Health Promotion


Tucker, Trish


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the daily routines of parents and children. The primary aim of this study was to explore the influence of socioeconomic status (SES) and urbanicity on parents’ attitudes toward their children’s active play opportunities 6 months and 1.5 years into COVID-19. The secondary objective was to explore how parents’ attitudes at 6 months related to the structured and unstructured play opportunities that children returned to 1 year later, while moderating the effects of SES and urbanicity. A sample of 239 Ontario parents of children (< 12) completed two online surveys (August – December 2020; 2021). In general, parents in communities with urban features (e.g., densely populated areas), single-parents, full-time employed parents, and parents of lower-income were more hesitant to return their children to active play during the pandemic. Findings from this work highlight SES and urbanicity disparities that continue to exist during COVID-19.

Summary for Lay Audience

Physical activity is critical for children’s (0-12 years) overall health. However, many children are not engaging in sufficient levels of physical activity to obtain health benefits, including, but not limited to, strengthened muscles and bones, healthier bodyweight, and improved mental well-being. Children often accumulate physical activity through unstructured active play (e.g., playing in the neighbourhood) and organized sport (e.g., sport teams). In recent years, researchers have noted declines in children’s play, which might be linked to parental safety concerns or increased access to technology (e.g., screens). Furthering this decline, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced children’s opportunities for active play and sport, as spaces conducive to this behaviour (e.g., community centres, recreational facilities) were closed intermittently as a public health protection. However, all children are unique, and it is important to consider how the pandemic has affected families of different socioeconomic statuses (SES; i.e., income, education, employment) and urbanicities (e.g., the impact of living in urban areas). As such, it is important to consider the role of parents in supporting their children’s active play.

This study explored the influence of SES and urbanicity on parents’ attitudes toward returning their children to active play 6 months and 1.5 years into the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. This study also explored how parents’ attitudes towards active play at 6 months influenced the different structured (sport) and unstructured (neighbourhood play) activities that children returned to 1 year later. This study involved the use of two online surveys that parents filled out 6 months (August – December 2020) and 1.5 years (August – December 2021) into the pandemic. Overall, parents with a lower income, single-parents, and full-time employed parents, reported more hesitancy toward returning their children to active play opportunities. Differences were also noted regarding children’s return to structured versus unstructured play. In addition, parents in communities with more urban features (e.g., busy roads, densely populated areas) and parks nearby felt more hesitant toward their children returning to play. Going forward, it will be important to ensure appropriate supports are in place for parents to reduce inequities toward play that continue to exist.