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Creating an early childhood nature-based play space—A success story


Adult learning theories explain childcare center director’s motivation to act on schoolyard greening professional development

This article examined a childcare center director’s motivation to and process of designing and implementing a nature-based play space in a Canadian First Nation community early childhood center. The paper also explores the children’s and early childhood educators’ response to the play space changes. The renovation was primarily inspired by the director’s attendance at a one-hour seminar offered by the study author, which highlighted the benefits of nature-based play environments. However, the decision was also reinforced by the central role nature plays in the traditional beliefs of First Nation communities.

The center director’s design plans called for new grass, trees, and sand to be placed around the property. Architectural elements to promote physical activity included stepping stones, logs, a concrete tunnel, a bridge and a gazebo. A key consideration of the design not referenced in previous studies was the convenience of supervising adults. For example benches and seating areas were strategically placed around the space to enable oversight without disrupting children’s play.

The author examined the center director’s actions in light of the literature on professional development and adult learning, which typically demonstrate that one-off professional development experiences make little impact on practice. The author suggests that the director acted on the seminar content due to “horizontal transfer” (learning that occurs easily because of strong association between content received and preexisting skills and experience of a participant) and further examines this relationship in the context of the “zone of proximal development” as well as brain research and the role of emotion in learning.

With regard to impact of the nature-based play space on children and educators, teachers reported that children engaged in more complex, varied and independent play, which allowed teachers to relax at times. Teachers enjoyed the shade and seating integrated into the design. They reported however, that the new design had not resulted in taking the children outside more or for longer periods of time, and that they believed that adequate indoor time was needed for activities directly related to school success.



Munroe, E., (2013). Creating an early childhood nature-based play space—A success story. LEARNing Landscapes, 7(1), 249 - 267.


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