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A comparative study of active play on differently designed playgrounds


A naturally-constructed playground yields longer play episodes than a more traditional playground

The focus of this study was on how differently designed playgrounds afford different kinds of play in kindergarten children. Researchers compared the play behavior of Kindergarten-aged children on a naturally-constructed play area with the play behavior of children on a contemporary playground. Both playgrounds were in an urban area in Bremen, Germany. Most of the play equipment on the contemporary playground was fixed and monofunctional — that is offering just one type of play behavior (slides for sliding, for example). The naturally-constructed playground featured a great deal of vegetation, diverse elevations, rock structures, and some playground equipment made with wood and ropes. The equipment was not fixed and could be moved about by the children.

A total of 59 field observations was conducted — 21 on the contemporary playground and 38 on the naturally-constructed playground. Each observation was 30 minutes in length, totaling 1770 minutes in all. For each observation, an individual child was randomly selected and followed for the entire 30-minute period. While the observer was a part of the observation setting, the observer did not take an active part in the children’s activities. A partly standardized observational protocol was used to collect data on the number of play episodes, the occurrence of different categories of play, the duration of play episodes, and the patterns of play episodes. This protocol also allowed for the inclusion of a written narrative about the play itself.

A significant finding of this study relates to the length of play episodes. Longer-lasting episodes of play occurred on the naturally-constructed playground than on the contemporary playground. More than half of the play episodes on the contemporary playground lasted less than five minutes, while some of the play episodes on the naturally-constructed playground lasted the entire thirty-minute observation period.


Luchs, A., Fikus, M., (2013). A comparative study of active play on differently designed playgrounds. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 13(3), 206-222.


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