Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Nature and Its Influence on Children's Outdoor Play

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Nature and Its Influence on Children's Outdoor Play

Article excerpt

Introduction

  I [Kellie] was observing children playing when a girl came over to
  me and tried to put a cape over her head and mine. I moved out from
  underneath the cape and she told me that it was raining and I needed
  to get underneath. I replied that I like the rain and asked her
  whether she likes the rain. She said no. Chris aged four was
  watching us and I asked him if he likes to go out in the rain. He
  says, "No ... you have to have an umbrella" (Observation, 15/4/10).

Based on the premise that nature and outdoor play have a significant impact on a young child's health and well-being (Gleave, 2009; O'Brien & Murray, 2006), this paper explores the effect of natural play environments in early childcare centres. Two urban preschool centres, Kids Kindy and Garden Grove (pseudonym provided for anonymity), were chosen due to their markedly different physical and aesthetic appearance and contrasting play environments. the first early childcare centre, Kids Kindy, was a renovated warehouse in an urban setting with no outdoor play area. The second urban centre, Garden Grove, had a sustainable education program and natural playground. Through behaviour mapping techniques, interviews with teachers and children, and observations of children's play and social behaviours, the key question investigated in this study was: How are children's play behaviours and social interactions influenced by the opportunities and materials present in their outdoor play environment?

Human-nature connection

Despite the wealth of research indicating the importance of nature for children's wellbeing, current outdoor trends in early childhood education demonstrate that these environments are becoming increasingly devoid of opportunities to access nature. Theorists such as biologist Edward O. Wilson (1984) have proposed ways to explore the human-nature connection. Wilson's biophilia theory emphasised the desire for humans to interact with nature and the positive impacts of such interactions. He argued development and what it means to be "human". As humans separate themselves from nature, this innate desire is not adapting to changing environments, but rather atrophying as each generation becomes more separate from nature (Kellert, 2005; Kellert & Wilson, 1993; Plotkin, 2008).

The cognitive benefits of contact with nature have been identified by various studies and indicate that nature improves awareness, reasoning, observation skills, creativity, concentration and imagination (White, 2004a & 2004b). Research has linked nature with physical benefits, including improved co-ordination, balance and agility (Fjortoft, 2001) and health benefits such as reduced sickness and a speedier recovery (White, 2004b).

Child-nature disconnection

Louv (2005) espouses that a child in nature is increasingly becoming an endangered species. Evans (2000,) referred to how "children are less involved in outdoor play today because their traditional playgrounds - the backyards, streets and vacant spaces - are now less accessible" (p. 35). This begs the questions: Why has childhood play and adventure been increasingly edited out of the modern-day experience? And, what are the consequences of this if evidence reveals that nature has an innate restorative capacity for adults and particularly for children? (Kaplan & Kaplan 1989; Taylor, Kuo & Sullivan, 2001).

The development of cities has limited children's access to nature. A number of other factors have also been attributed to this decline. Fear and safety issues have been highlighted as a major factor, particularly parental fears about traffic and stranger danger (Charles, Louv, Bodner & Guns, 2008; Gill, 2007; Kellert, 2005; Malone & Tranter, 2003a; White, 2004a). These fears have arisen as parents are often working longer hours and are unable to supervise their children, therefore confining children to the home where they are less likely to come to harm (White, 2004a). …

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