A comparison of sociodramatic play processes of preschoolers in a naturalized and a traditional outdoor space
Preschoolers’ sociodramatic play is more complex in a naturalized versus traditional outdoor playspace
This study compared preschoolers’ sociodramatic play episodes in a traditional and a naturalized outdoor playspace to determine whether the sociodramatic play processes differed in the two spaces. Sociodramatic play includes pretend substitutions of objects, role play, imaginary transformations, persistence, interactions between players, and metacommunications to plan and organize play. Metacommunications are based on children’s ability to not only understand the non-literal elements of pretend, but to also demonstrate knowledge of their play partner(s).
Over 50 children — all attending the same Australian preschool with access to both a traditional and a naturalized outdoor playspace – participated in this study. A gate between the yards was open on the days data were collected allowing children to choose which yard they wanted to play in. Two researchers – both experienced in conducting observations in outdoor play spaces — recorded sociodramatic play episodes in each yard. A Dramatic Play Data Collection Tool, developed by one of the researchers, was used for collecting the data. Observations, totaling 276 minutes in each yard, were conducted over a six-week period during normal preschool sessions.
Findings indicated that children spent more time in sociodramatic play in the naturalized yard than in the traditional playspace. Additionally, the play episodes in the naturalized yard persisted longer, used more of the wider available space, and involved more fantasy role play than in the traditional playspace. Children in the naturalized yard also demonstrated significantly higher levels of object substitutions, imaginative transformations, and metacommunications.
Possible factors contributing to the longer and richer sociodramatic play in the naturalized yard include the greater affordance of open-ended materials, flexible playscapes, and a greater sense of seclusion and quiet. These findings are consistent with other studies suggesting that playspace designers should include both naturalized elements and open-ended materials in young children’s outdoor play areas. Such play areas could promote more complex sociodramatic play processes.
Morrissey, A-M., Scott, C., Rahimi, M., (2017). A comparison of sociodramatic play processes of preschoolers in a naturalized and a traditional outdoor space. International Journal of Play, 6(2),