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Nature elements and fundamental motor skill development opportunities at five elementary school districts in British Columbia


Naturescape elements on schoolgrounds afforded opportunities for developing locomotor and stability skills, but opportunities to develop manipulative skills were limited

This study examined children’s access to nature on elementary school grounds and the opportunities afforded by those natural elements for motor skill development. Previous studies indicate that natural elements added to school grounds promote child development and wellbeing through increased affordances for creative and risky play. This study was designed to extend previous findings by examining the potential contribution of natural elements as specific features of a playground environment to fundamental motor skill (FMS) development. The study addressed two primary research questions: (1) What nature elements are currently available for child play on school grounds? and (2) What is the potential of these nature elements for providing motor skill opportunities for elementary children?

Observations were conducted on 99 primary schools in five British Columbia (Canada) districts representing a variety of geographic and demographic regions. Participating schools were in small, medium, and large population communities, primarily in urban/suburban settings. Demographic and socioeconomic data was extracted from existing population data sets obtained from the region or community where each school was located. A playground checklist, developed and pilot-tested by the researchers, was used to collect data about the natural elements available on each school’s playspace. The checklist was framed around predetermined categories of natural elements including forested area, boulders/logs, elevated area, trails, garden area, and natural playground. Two members of the research team visited every school and recorded the total number of each element present using the playground checklist. The study was conducted during the summer months when no children were present on the playgrounds.

The researchers – through negotiated consensus — identified potential FMS opportunities for each natural element. These opportunities were grouped into three categories: locomotor skills (walking, skipping, etc.); manipulative skills (catching, striking, throwing, etc.); and stability skills (balancing, dodging, twisting, etc.).

While there was access to all natural elements in each district, there was considerable variability from school to school. Additionally, built playground structure elements (balance beams, monkey bars, etc.) far outnumbered the average of nature elements. Of the nature elements, forest elements appeared more frequently than the other types of nature elements. This was followed by garden areas and boulders/logs, with natural playgrounds appearing rarely throughout all districts.

This study found that nature elements on schoolgrounds afforded opportunities for the development of some fundamental motor skills (specifically, locomotor and stability skills) and likely increased creative and risky play. Opportunities to develop manipulative skills, however, were limited. Adding more nature elements (trees, boulders, etc.) and/or providing more comprehensive multi-element naturescapes on schoolgrounds could promote children’s physical literacy and functional motor skill development.


Lim, C, Donovan, A.M., Harper, N.J., Naylor, P-J., (2017). Nature elements and fundamental motor skill development opportunities at five elementary school districts in British Columbia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14


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