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The trends and influential factors of children's use of outdoor environments: A review


Individual, physical and social factors influence children’s place preferences and play behaviors in outdoor environments

The aim of this review was to identify (1) the trend of research focusing on children and their outdoor environments and (2) factors influencing children’s decisions and selections of where to play outdoors. The review process involved a computerized search of the academic literature published between 1985 and 2010. The 30 articles identified included theoretical, review, and empirical studies and represented a variety of disciplines including children’s geographies, children’s development, environmental psychology, environmental education, health and landscape architecture.

Findings indicated that the trend and concern of related research changed over time. Studies conducted prior to 1990 focused primarily on the design and safety aspects of the environments where children played, such as playgrounds and neighborhood streets. Researchers during this time emphasized the effects of design on children’s development. Later research included the wider environment of places where children played including schoolyards, the neighborhood, and natural spaces. This later research also addressed a wider range of concerns relating to children’s outdoor play, including demographic factors, public space designs and provisions, sociocultural factors, safety and level of children’s independent mobility. Most of the studies focused on children aged 6 to 11 and used interviews, questionnaires, and/or observations of children’s activity and behavior to collect data.

Influences on children’s outdoor place preferences and play behaviors are discussed in relation to individual, physical and social factors. Individual factors include age and gender, with older children and males displaying more independence in outdoor play. Other individual factors include children’s socioeconomic status and their experience playing outdoors. Children from low-income families and/or living in deprived neighborhoods tend to play in their immediate surroundings and thus have access to more limited play opportunities. Children from higher-income homes tend to play more often at parks, playgrounds, and indoor sport centers located further from their homes. Physical factors influencing children’s outdoor play include concerns about safety and the design of play spaces. Places with the greatest variety of affordances for active play tended to be more attractive to children; and places with a variety of vegetation and topography afforded more versatile play opportunities promoting children’s motor fitness. Social factors influencing children’s outdoor play included parental concerns about safety, the presence of other children to play with, and bullying behaviors of other children.

In addition to noting the importance of this research in identifying factors influencing children’s outdoor play, the authors also call attention to the fact that the traditional methods of research represented in this review tend to ignore the power imbalance between adults and children. They, therefore, call for different approaches where research is conducted with children rather than on children.


Aziz, N.F., Said, I., (2017). The trends and influential factors of children's use of outdoor environments: A review. Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies, 2(5), 97-108.


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