Complex Physical Activities, Outdoor Play, and School Readiness among Preschoolers


  • Derek R. Becker Western Carolina University
  • Cathy L. Grist Western Carolina University
  • Lori A. Caudle Western Carolina University
  • Myra K. Watson Western Carolina University


Complex Physical Activities, Outdoor Play, School Readiness, Preschoolers


High quality educational settings play a crucial role in preparing a child to enter kindergarten, but little work has explored how outdoor play and complex physical activity outside school and childcare settings promote school readiness among preschoolers. To address this gap, the present study explored connections among school readiness with outdoor play and participation in complex physical activity. Parents (N = 107) reported the extent and frequency of time their child spent in outdoor play during a typical week, and what complex activities (e.g., soccer, biking, basketball) the child played over the last year. School readiness was assessed with parent reports on the Preschool Behavior and Emotional Rating Scale. Results showed participating in complex activities significantly moderated the relationship between time in outdoor play with school readiness, with time in outdoor play positively related to school readiness for children who participated in two or less complex activities. For children who participated in three complex activities, time in outdoor play was not related to school readiness. Findings offer support that encouraging both outdoor play and participation in complex physical activities could promote school readiness, particularly when opportunities for outdoor playtime are limited.

Author Biographies

Derek R. Becker, Western Carolina University

Derek R. Becker, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the
Birth-Kindergarten program at Western Carolina
University. He teaches a range of early childhood research
methods courses, along with math, science and
curriculum. His research focuses on connections among play,
physical activity, and sport participation with executive
function and early learning.

Cathy L. Grist, Western Carolina University

Cathy Grist, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Director
of the Birth-Kindergarten Program at Western Carolina
University. She has taught courses in assessment and
intervention for young children with disabilities in a fully
online program for the last 10 years. She is a licensed clinical
psychologist who provides psychological and behavioral
assessments, as well as interventions for preschool age
children in private practice.
Research interests include preschool personality,
assessment, social-emotional competence in young children,
behavioral issues, and online teaching strategies and

Lori A. Caudle, Western Carolina University

Lori Caudle, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the BirthKindergarten
program at Western Carolina University.
She teaches a range of early childhood methods courses,
including authentic assessment, literacy, environments, and
curriculum. Her research focuses on the professional
development of in-service and pre-service early childhood
teachers, with a particular focus on the use of digital tools
and/or collaboration to enhance learning.

Myra K. Watson, Western Carolina University

Myra Watson, MAEd, NBCT, is an instructor in the
Birth-Kindergarten Program at Western Carolina University.
She is a former prekindergarten and kindergarten teacher.