How matter comes to matter in children’s nature play: Posthumanist approaches and children’s geographies
The possibility that matter can act as an agent in the human/environment interaction may be helpful to researchers and practitioners in understanding and enhancing children’s nature play activities
The purpose of this study was to discern how young children, the material environment, and discourse intra-act in (or act within) nature play activities. While a combination of different data collection methods were employed (including photographs taken by children, drawings, interviews, and participant observations), video observations of children at play in a natural environment served as the primary data source. In analyzing the data, a distinction was made between sensorimotor play and play activities with symbolic content. The analysis of children’s play was also guided by the theory of agential realism – that is, the understanding that matter may act as an agent in the human/environment interaction. This understanding is in contrast to the idea of affordances which is generally considered to be the properties of an object that define its possible uses. The idea of affordances suggests a passive role of the physical environment in the human/environment interaction, while the idea of agential realism suggests a more active role.
The 42 children who participated in this study were between the ages of six and eight and attended two different Swedish schools with outdoor education programs. Children were observed playing in natural environments near the school and in green areas of the schoolyards. For both sensorimotor and symbolic play, natural materials and the environment were found to be agential in several ways. For sensorimotor play, the natural environments served as agents in prompting both fine and gross motor activities, setting “children’s hands and bodies in motion.” For symbolic play, natural materials and the natural environments were discursively agential as they were reminiscent of other objects children could use to represent artifacts and humans. Observations of children’s play indicated that they were using natural materials and natural environments in symbolic ways and that what they represented also reflected discourses from life outside the school, such as scenarios related to family life. In both sensorimotor and symbolic play, discourse among the children was also influential.
Implications of this study as presented by the authors include the following:
• The concept of intra-action can help researchers and practitioners gain knowledge about how matter ‘acts’ in encounters with children.
• The choice of environment and discursive practices both play a role in establishing the limits and possibilities of children’s nature play activities.
Änggård, E., (2015). How matter comes to matter in children’s nature play: Posthumanist approaches and children’s geographies. Children's Geographies, 14(1),