Novelty or reality?

There’s a rather old study of playground renovation that’s been re-circulating recently (via Twitter, via @drbengoldacre and @cebmblog) which claims to demonstrate that really fancy multicoloured markings in primary school playgrounds get kids moving much more.Well, the study did compare 4 schools that had the fancy upgrade with 4 who didn’t, they randomly selected pupils to measure and used fancy gadgets to judge activity levels. And the brightly painted school playgrounds encouraged importantly and significantly more exercise.


But …  it was the first two months back at school. What would have happened if the playground hadn’t been “painted in bright fluorescent colours that varied according to school preference, although castles, dragons, clock faces, mazes, fun trails, dens, hopscotch, letter squares, snakes and ladders, and various animals were consistently popular” and just repainted with a few black-and-white games of snakes and ladders, hopscotch and clock faces? Did the extra enthusiasm for play last into the summer?

Does this study support painting school yards fluorescent colours, or just painting school yards?

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  • It would be good if some major social ills were corrected by a bit of coloured paint, wouldn’t it? This is, however, such a great idea that it’s a real shame that nobody has taken it further and done the study.

    There’s a whole bunch of controversy/literature around how you measure activity; I’m not completely familiar with it, but the tendency now is to use accelerometers rather than heart rates.

    The devil is in the detail, and with these studies it’s really hard not to get into “Durham snake oil” situations: for further reading. You’d have to ensure that even in Bob’s black and white markings versus colour markings trials that your control group had input which hopefully enthused the teaching staff as much as the colour group, and so on, and so on. You end up, unfortunately, with dodgy trials “proving” things that everyone suspects and thus being accepted as dogma thereafter. Which, if you’re a school on a tight budget, and wondering if you should spend your limited cash on some new text books, some fish oil, some teaching assistants or some paint in the playground, leaves you in a really tricky position.