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Affordances of outdoor settings for children in preschool: Revisiting Heft’s functional taxonomy


Although requiring clarification, the concept of “affordances” is important in planning outdoor playspaces

The aim of this study was to find a practical way to describe and classify outdoor settings for children’s self-initiated activities in preschool, with a special focus on affordances. Affordances in this context refers to the possibilities of meaningful action afforded by the environment. The researchers used Heft’s functional taxonomy for children’s outdoor environment as the point of reference.

Children (age 3–6) in two different Danish preschools were observed during free play in their respective outdoor settings. One was a traditional preschool with a typical playground and the other a forest preschool using a number of sites in a nearby forest. Observations were conducted during 12 visits to each of the two preschools over a period of two winter months. The observations were one to two hours in length. Field notes and video recordings were made of children’s activities and environmental features used by the children.

The process of analyzing and interpreting the videotapes and field notes included looking for themes and trying to identify activities and features that seemed to be of value for children in preschool. The observed activities and affording features were then analyzed in relation to Heft’s taxonomy.

Most of the child-initiated activities in both the playground and the forest settings seemed to fit into Heft’s taxonomy. Additionally, each setting provided a number of opportunities for actions that seemed meaningful for preschool children. For example, flat, open surfaces afforded distinctive activities in both settings, especially running, driving vehicles, and walking. The researchers suggested the term “open ground” be used for this type of area versus “flat, relatively smooth surface” as used in Heft’s taxonomy. They suggested other changes in terminology, as well, in reference to the “classes” or types of areas. Their suggestions included open ground, sloping terrain, shielded places, rigid fixtures, moving fixtures, loose objects, loose material, water, creatures and fire. The authors suggested that this modified terminology would be more inclusive of important outdoor features serving as affordances for preschool children.

This study supports the idea that the affordance concept is valuable in planning, renovating and assessing playgrounds and green spaces used by preschool children but suggests some clarification is needed when using the term.


Lerstrup, I., van den Bosch, C.K., (2016). Affordances of outdoor settings for children in preschool: Revisiting Heft’s functional taxonomy. Landscape Research, 42(1), 47-62.


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