Nature and its Influence on Children’s Outdoor Play

Abstract

A growing body of literature indicates that humans need contact with nature for their wellbeing, however at the same time young children are becoming increasingly separated from the natural world as their access to the outdoors diminishes. The importance of school and prior-to-school settings in Connecting children with nature has been acknowledged. This study sought to find out how opportunities to engage with nature would influence children’s play and social behaviours. Two early childhood centres with contrasting outdoor environments were selected for the study, and twelve focus participants were observed over a twelve-week period in concert with interviews and field notes. The findings suggest that natural environments support children’s imaginative play, the development of positive relationships and allows for the environment to become a place of learning. The authors conclude that in order to make effective use of the outdoors, early childhood centres need to provide children with access to the natural environment and teachers who support children in developing a relationship with nature.

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Correspondence to Kellie Dowdell.

Additional information

Kellie Dowdell completed First Class Honours in the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in 2010. Her interest in outdoor play environments was heightened after noting toe number of early childhood centres with limited access to nature in the Sydney Metropolitan area. Kellie is currently teaching in the UK for twelve months.

Tonia Gray is an Associate Professor at me University of Wollongong in the areas of Outdoor, Health and Physical Education. She is the past editor of the Australian Journal of Outdoor Education (AJOE) and currently a review board member for the Journal of Experiential Education (JEE). Tonia’s research interests include: experiential learning in a variety of educational settings; risk taking; understanding the motivations and personalities of extreme sports participants; facilitation, leadership and management styles in adventure education. As of February, 2012 Tonia will be at the School of Education, University of Western Sydney as a Specialist in Secondary Pedagogy and Learning.

Karen Malone is Professor of Education at University of Western Sydney and researches and teaches around me areas of childhood sociology, natural learning, children’s environmental competence and the design of physical environments to support environmental learning, in primary and early childhood settings. She is currently Chair and Pounder of the UNICEF Child Friendly Asia Pacific network and African and Asia Pacific coordinator of a global study on Children’s Independent Mobility.

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Dowdell, K., Gray, T. & Malone, K. Nature and its Influence on Children’s Outdoor Play. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education 15, 24–35 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03400925

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Keywords

  • children
  • nature
  • environmental learning
  • play behaviours
  • social interactions