Learning Environments Research

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 281–295 | Cite as

Calm active and focused: Children’s responses to an organic outdoor learning environment

  • Sonya Nedovic
  • Anne-Marie MorrisseyEmail author
Original Paper


This study reports on children’s observed responses to natural features introduced in the redevelopment of a childcare centre garden. Using an action research approach, the redevelopment was based on the preferences of the director, staff and 18 three- to four-year-olds, as expressed through interviews, conversations, photographs and drawings. Adults and children overwhelmingly preferred natural elements. The kindergarten teacher and assistant observed children’s responses to the implementation of features including a teepee, mulch, greenery, flowers, and loose organic materials. In follow-up interviews, they reported positive child responses including: richer imaginative play; increased physical activity; calmer, more focused play; and positive social interactions. These findings provide further evidence of the importance of providing children with naturalized outdoor play spaces.


Early childhood Natural and organic learning environments Outdoor play spaces 


  1. Bilton, H. (2005). Learning outdoors: Improving the quality of young children’s play outdoors. London: David Fulton.Google Scholar
  2. Casey, T. (2007). Environments for outdoor play: A practical guide to making space for children. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Clark, A., & Moss, P. (2005). Spaces to play: More listening to young children using the Mosaic approach. London: National Children’s Bureau.Google Scholar
  4. Crook, S. (2005). Just improvise! Innovative play experiences for children under eight. Melbourne: Tertiary Press.Google Scholar
  5. Curtis, D., & Carter, M. (2003). Designs for living and learning. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.Google Scholar
  6. Elliot, S., & Davis, J. (2008). Why natural outdoor playspaces. In S. Elliot (Ed.), The outdoor playspace naturally for children birth to five years (pp. 1–14). Castle Hill, NSW: Pademelon Press.Google Scholar
  7. Fjortoft, I. (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 111–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fjortoft, I., & Sageie, J. (2000). The natural environment as a playground for children: Landscape description and analysis of a natural landscape. Landscape and Urban Planning, 48(1–2), 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Franklin, M. B. (2008). Words in play: Children’s use of language in pretend. In E. Goodenough (Ed.), A place for play. A companion volume to the Michigan television film “Where do the children play?”. Google Scholar
  10. Goodenough, E. (2008). Foreward. In E. Goodenough (Ed.), A place for play. A companion volume to the Michigan television film “Where do the children play” (pp. 65–83). Michigan: The National Institute for Play.Google Scholar
  11. Grahn, P., Martensson, F., Linblad, B., Nilsson, P., & Ekeman, A. (1997). Outdoors at day-care. City and Country, 145, 20–27.Google Scholar
  12. Greenfield, C. (2004). Can run, play on bikes, jump the zoom slide, and play on swings: Exploring the value of outdoor play. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 29, 1–5.Google Scholar
  13. Heft, H. (1988). Affordances of children’s environments: A functional approach to environmental description. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 5, 29–37.Google Scholar
  14. Herrington, S., & Studtmann, K. (1998). Landscape interventions: New directions for the design of children’s outdoor play environments. Landscape and Urban Planning, 42(2–4), 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hofferth, S. L. (2008). American children’s outdoor and indoor leisure time. In E. Goodenough (Ed.), A place for play. A companion volume to the Michigan television film “Where do the children play? (pp. 41–44). The National Institute for Play.Google Scholar
  16. Holly, M. L., Arhar, J., & Kasten, W. (2005). Action research for teachers: Traveling the yellow brick road. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  17. Kellert, S. R. (2005). Building for life: Designing and understanding the human nature connection. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (1988). The action research planner (3rd ed.). Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University.Google Scholar
  19. Kirkby, M. A. (1989). Nature as refuge in children’s environments. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 6, 7–12.Google Scholar
  20. Lambert, E. B. (2006). The outdoor learning environment: contextualised research. In E. B. Lambert (Ed.), Introducing research to early childhood students (pp. 31–61). South Melbourne, Vic: Thomson.Google Scholar
  21. Little, H., & Wyver, S. (2008). Outdoor play: Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits? Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33(2), 33–40.Google Scholar
  22. Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.Google Scholar
  23. MacDonald, A. (2009). Drawing stories: The power of children’s drawings to communicate the lived experience of starting school. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(3), 40–49.Google Scholar
  24. Moore, R. C., & Wong, H. H. (1997). Natural learning: Creating environments for rediscovering nature’s way of teaching. Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications.Google Scholar
  25. Perry, J. P. (2008). Children’s experience of security and mastery on the playground. In E. Goodenough (Ed.), A place for play. A companion volume to the Michigan Television film “Where do the children play”. The National Institute for Play.Google Scholar
  26. Richardson, G. R. (2008). Creating a space to grow: Developing your outdoor learning environment. London: David Fulton.Google Scholar
  27. Rivkin, M. S. (1995). The great outdoors: Restoring children’s right to play outside. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Google Scholar
  28. Tarr, K. (2008). Enhancing environmental awareness through the arts. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33, 19–26.Google Scholar
  29. Taylor, A. F., Wiley, A., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (1998). Growing up in the inner city: Green spaces as places to grow. Environment and Behaviour, 30(1), 3–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Titman, W. (1994). Special places: Special people: The hidden curriculum of school grounds. Toronto: Green Brick Road.Google Scholar
  31. Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behaviour, 32, 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wells, N. M., & Evans, G. W. (2003). Nearby nature: a buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behaviour, 35, 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. White, R. (2001). Moving from biophobia to biophilia: developmentally appropriate environmental education for children. Retrieved from Accessed 11 February 2013.
  34. White, R. (2004). Young children’s relationship with nature: Its importance to children’s development and the earth’s future. Retrieved from Accessed 11 February 2013.
  35. White, R., & Stoecklin, V. (2008). Children’s outdoor play and learning: returning to nature. Retrieved from Accessed 11 February 2013.
  36. Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Young, T. (2008). Creating specific features to foster nature connections. In S. Elliot (Ed.), The outdoor playspace naturally for children birth to five years (pp. 44–74). Castle Hill, NSW: Pademelon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, Faculty of Arts and EducationDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

Personalised recommendations