Doctor of Philosophy
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
This dissertation explored parents’ and their children’s perspectives of returning to play/sport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada, and assessed how children’s physical activity levels changed during COVID-19. To understand the initial impact of the pandemic, Study 1 (August 2020) explored the influence of family sociodemographic factors (e.g., housing type) and risk tolerance (using the validated Tolerance of Risk in Play Scale) on parents’ return to play/sport attitudes. Via interviews with parents (n = 9) and children (n = 12), Study 2 (December 2020 – January 2021) gathered participants’ experiences of getting active during COVID-19. In Study 3, parent-reported data collected from both baseline and follow-up surveys (August 2021) were examined to understand the impact of the pandemic on children’s physical activity.
In Study 1, it was found that parents’ attitudes concerning their children’s return to play/sport varied by socialization, support, and safety-related attitudes; however, attitudes were most positive towards safety-related items. Specifically, parents reported that having their children at home with them during COVID-19 made them feel safe (M = 3.86, SD = 1.11). Qualitative data revealed that parents had mixed levels of comfort about their children’s return to play/sport. Parental risk tolerance did not influence attitudes.
In Study 2, children reported missing important people (e.g., coaches) as the main reason for wanting to return to play/sport, and children who had returned reported having no concerns with following COVID-19 protocols. Parents and children noted declines in children’s activity levels during COVID-19; however, they referenced getting active outdoors and virtual opportunities (e.g., YouTube) as common facilitators.
Results from Study 3 revealed decreases in the proportion of children achieving 60 minutes of physical activity/day during periods of lockdown (i.e., pre-lockdown: before March 2020; during lockdown: March 2020 – June 2020; January 2021 – May 2021; and post-lockdown: August – December 2021). Generalized linear mixed-effects models revealed that the proportion of children achieving 60 minutes of physical activity/day pre-lockdown (63%) declined during lockdown (21%) and then increased post-lockdown (54%). Several demographic variables (e.g., household income) moderated results suggesting family-level factors may have influenced children’s activity during COVID-19. In conclusion, findings from this study reveal the impact of COVID-19 on children’s play/sport and provide realistic strategies families can implement to increase activity during a pandemic.
Summary for Lay Audience
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted opportunities for children’s play/sport. In Ontario, parks and recreation facilities were closed to reduce the transmission of the disease. This was problematic, as physical activity during childhood offers numerous health benefits. To understand the implications of COVID-19 on children’s physical activity, this study captured parents’ and their children’s perspectives of returning to play/sport during COVID-19.
Via two online surveys and Zoom interviews with parents and children, three studies were conducted to: 1) understand parents’ attitudes regarding their children’s return to play/sport and identify if parental risk tolerance influenced their attitudes (Study 1); 2) qualitatively explore parents’ and their children’s perspectives of returning to play/sport during and post-COVID-19 (Study 2); and, 3) explore whether children’s physical activity levels changed during a period of COVID-19 in Ontario (Study 3).
In Study 1, parents completed an online survey during early COVID-19 (August – December 2020) that assessed their attitudes regarding their children’s return to play/sport. Parents also completed the Tolerance for Risk in Play Scale – a tool used to assess parental tolerance for their children’s risk taking. The highest scored attitude by parents was that having their children at home with them during COVID-19 made them feel safe. Overall, parents had mixed levels of comfort about their children’s future return to play/sport. Risk tolerance did not influence attitudes.
In Study 2, interviews were conducted with parents and children to further understand their perspectives of returning to play/sport during COVID-19. Barriers and facilitators to getting active during COVID-19 were also explored. The most common facilitator for dealing with children’s inactivity was getting active outdoors, and children’s desire to return to play/sport was mostly due to them missing their friends/sports coaches.
Study 3 explored the proportion of children achieving 60 minutes of physical activity/day during three timepoints (pre-COVID, during COVID lockdowns, and after COVID lockdowns). The proportion of children achieving 60 minutes of physical activity/day declined during COVID lockdowns but increased once lockdowns were lifted. Several sociodemographic variables (e.g., household income) impacted results. In conclusion, this study advances our knowledge of pandemic-associated impacts on children’s play/sport by sharing children’s and parents’ voices.
Szpunar, Monika B. Ms., "“Return to Play”: The Impact of, and Changes to, Ontario Children’s Physical Activity During COVID-19" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9443.