Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A recent study carried out by the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, at the University of Jyväskylä, investigated the correlation between motor competence, the degree of physical activity and environmental factors including geographical location and the population density in which children are raised in Finland.

Surprisingly, the results showed that the higher the population density, the lower a child’s motor skills, which means that children raised in cities have lower motor skills than those raised in smaller towns. This is possibly a result of fewer outdoor facilities to enrich child development. Rural and urban areas didn’t make a difference, but rather the size of the town or city.

We interviewed Donna Niemistö, one of the authors of this research who currently works at the University of Jyväskylä.

What was your motivation for doing the study on this particular subject?

Internationally, on average, Finnish children tend to have good motor skills. In Finland, nearly 80 percent of the landscape is forest and so the environment is important. With this study, we were curious to find out if there were differences within the country, as there are locations that are more rural than others.  

On the other hand, we believe that different environments offer diverse opportunities for activities, a fact that was then seen also in the data; in Helsinki, more indoor hobbies were available while in the countryside children spent more time outdoors.

If given the opportunity, which recommendations would you give to the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture?

We would suggest emphasizing the importance of the yards in kindergartens, preschools and schools, as they are accessible for all and they offer good stimuli for motor development. At the same time, versatile and large yards with natural elements encourage children to move and play and increase their physical activity. In the context where the residential density is high, we would suggest having enough space for natural elements within cities. 

Are there future projects aimed at encouraging children to engage in more outdoor activities?

We encourage children to play outdoors. The fact that Finland has four seasons gives a range of stimuli during the year for children’s motor development. These skills (for example swimming or skating) are crucial for children to develop and become an independent individual in our country. Playing and moving outdoors is a great way of spending time with the whole family so everybody benefits from it.