Background: Outdoor play is critical to children’s healthy development and well-being. Early learning and childcare centers (ELCCs) are important venues for increasing children’s outdoor play opportunities, and early childhood educators’ (ECE) perception of outdoor play can be a major barrier to outdoor play. The OutsidePlay-ECE risk-reframing intervention is a fully automated and open access web-based intervention to reframe ECEs’ perceptions of the importance of outdoor play and risk in play and to promote a change in their practice in supporting it in ELCC settings. We grounded the intervention in social cognitive theory and behavior change techniques.
Objective: The aim of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the OutsidePlay-ECE web-based risk-reframing intervention.
Methods: We conducted a single-blind randomized controlled trial in Canada between December 2020 and June 2021 to test the OutsidePlay-ECE risk-reframing intervention for ECEs. We recruited participants using social media and mass emails through our partner and professional networks. We invited ECEs and administrators working in an ELCC, who can speak, read, and understand English. We randomized consented participants to the intervention or control condition. The participants allocated to the intervention condition received a link to the OutsidePlay-ECE intervention. Participants allocated to the control condition read the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play, a 4-page document on research and recommendations for action in addressing barriers to outdoor play. The primary outcome was a change in tolerance of risk in play. The secondary outcome was goal attainment. We collected data on the web via REDCap (Vanderbilt University) at baseline and 1 week and 3 months after intervention.
Results: A total of 563 participants completed the baseline survey, which assessed their demographics and tolerance of risk in play. They were then randomized: 281 (49.9%) to the intervention and 282 (50.1%) to the control condition. Of these, 136 (48.4%) and 220 (78%) participants completed the baseline requirements for the intervention and control conditions, respectively. At 1 week after intervention, 126 (44.8%) and 209 (74.1%) participants completed follow-up assessments, respectively, and at 3 months after intervention, 119 (42.3%) and 195 (69.1%) participants completed the assessments, respectively. Compared with participants in the control condition, participants in the intervention group had significantly higher tolerance of risk in play at 1 week (β=.320; P=.001) and 3 months after intervention (β=.251; P=.009). Intention-to-treat analyses replicated these findings (β=.335; P<.001 and β=.271; P=.004, respectively). No significant intervention effect was found for goal attainment outcomes (odds ratio 1.124, 95% CI 0.335-3.774; P=.85).
Conclusions: The results of this randomized controlled trial demonstrated that the OutsidePlay-ECE intervention was effective and had a sustained effect in increasing ECEs’ and administrators’ tolerance of risk in play. It was not effective in increasing goal attainment.