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Landscapes for play: Effects of an intervention to promote nature-based risky play in early childhood centres

Summary


Nature-based risky play can promote young children’s development

This study investigated the effects of an intervention designed to increase opportunities for young children to engage in nature-based risky play. Risky play, which offers children the thrill of uncertainty, is positively associated with physical activity, social health, and exploration and understanding of the world. A decrease in opportunities for risky play is of concern.

Two childcare centers in Canada participated in this study which involved assessments of children and their outdoor playspace before and after changes were made to each center’s outdoor environment. Changes to the outdoor environments were based on the Seven Cs playspace design criteria which prioritize use of natural materials. The Seven Cs assessment tool consists of 27 items rated on a five-point scale, yielding a maximum score of 135. Components of the Seven Cs include character, context, connectivity, clarity, change, chance, and challenge.

Early childhood educators from each center completed questionnaire packages for children participating in the study. Assessments in the packages focused on the child’s (1) sociometric status (relating to how dominant or influential and popular the child was), (2) social and emotional status and (3) social behaviors. Accelerometers worn by the children for five days provided information about the children’s physical activity levels while playing outdoors. Play observations were also conducted on 16 children – eight from each center representative of their peer group. During the observations, the researchers used spatial behavior maps to record the pre-selected children’s movements through the playspace. After the intervention, the researchers conducted focus groups with early childhood educators from each center to gather information about their perceptions of the changes to the playspace and their observations about changes in the children’s behavior.

Scores of the Seven Cs assessment for both centers changed dramatically from before to after the intervention. For one center, the change was from a score of 44 to 97; for the other center, 35 to 125. For the children, there were significant decreases in depressed affect, anti-social behavior, and level of physical activity. There were increases in play with natural materials, independent play, and prosocial behaviors. The early childhood educators also noted improvements in problem-solving, socialization, creativity, focus, and self-regulation and reductions in stress, boredom, and injury. The center with more playspace changes had better child assessment results. No significant differences were noted in risky play from before to after the intervention. The researchers suggested this may be due to teachers’ attitudes and practices relating to risky play.

These findings indicate that the Seven Cs criteria for playspace design can be a useful tool for improving affordances for play. These findings also suggest affordances for risky behavior can be enhanced through design, but that risky play may need to be encouraged through teacher training in the importance and management of risky play for young children.

Citation

Brussoni, M., Ishikawa, T., Brunelle, S., Herrington, S., (2017). Landscapes for play: Effects of an intervention to promote nature-based risky play in early childhood centres. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 54, 139-1550.

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