The Sydney Playground Project: popping the bubblewrap - unleashing the power of play: a cluster randomized controlled trial of a primary school playground-based intervention aiming to increase children's physical activity and social skills
Background In the Westernised world, numerous children are overweight and have problems with bullying and mental health. One of the underlying causes for all three is postulated to be a decrease in outdoor free play. The aim of the Sydney Playground Project is to demonstrate the effectiveness of two simple interventions aimed to increase children's physical activity and social skills. Methods/Design This study protocol describes the design of a 3-year cluster randomised controlled trial (CRCT), in which schools are the clusters. The study consists of a 13-week intervention and 1 week each of pre-and post-testing. We are recruiting 12 schools (6 control; 6 intervention), with 18 randomly chosen participants aged 5 to 7 years in each school. The two intervention strategies are: (1) Child-based intervention: Unstructured materials with no obvious play value introduced to the playground; and (2) Adult-based intervention: Risk reframing sessions held with parents and teachers with the aim of exploring the benefits of allowing children to engage in activities with uncertain outcomes. The primary outcome of the study, physical activity as measured by accelerometer counts, is assessed at baseline and post-intervention. Additional assessments include social skills and interactions, self-concept, after school time use and anthropometric data. Qualitative data (i.e., transcriptions of audio recordings from the risk reframing sessions and of interviews with selected teacher and parent volunteers) are analysed to understand their perceptions of risk in play. The control schools have recess as usual. In addition to outcome evaluation, regular process evaluation sessions are held to monitor fidelity to the treatment. Discussion These simple interventions, which could be adopted in every primary school, have the potential of initiating a self-sustaining cycle of prevention for childhood obesity, bullying and mental ill health.