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A System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) is a reliable and valid observation tool for assessing park and recreation areas, including park users’ physical activity levels, gender, age, and ethnicity groupings. It also collects information on park characteristics including accessibility, usability, supervision, and organization. The use of SOPARC in park monitoring would allow for more consistent and comprehensive monitoring of parks. The summary data (e.g. the number of park users, demographics, frequency by activity types) obtained using SOPARC is easily understood by practitioners, policymakers, and the public. SOPARC has been adapted to numerous studies to understand the role of park conditions on park use, compare park data, and inform park system planning and programming.
Traditionally, the park use patterns have been studied by direct observation - either in person or video recording. Compared to survey or interview of park users, the strength of direct observation is that it allow for the collection of data on large numbers of people in a relatively short period without placing a burden on participants. The observational method entailing the observation and description of subjects' behavior is a systematic investigation in behavioral science.
Dr. Thomas L. McKenzie, an Emeritus Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University, and his research team have developed several systematic observation tools for assessing physical activity in various contexts. In chronological order, they are (a) System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT), (b) Behaviors of Eating and Activity for Children’s Health: Evaluation System (BEACHES), (c) System for Observing Play and Leisure in Youth (SOPLAY), (d) System for Observing Play and Active Recreation in Communities (SOPARC), (f) System for Observing Children’s Activity and Relationships during Play (SOCARP), and (g) System for Observing Physical Activity and Recreation in Natural Areas (SOPARNA). These instruments deal with physical education lessons (SOFIT), homes (BEACHES), schools (SOPLAY), parks (SOPARC), playgrounds (SOCARP), and natural areas (SOPARNA).
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