Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot ... children’s play preferences outdoors across a year in one private pre-school setting
Preschool children find ways to use the affordances of an outdoor setting through different seasons and various weather conditions
One way to view children’s play is through the lens of exploratory learning. This lens suggests that young children’s play is shaped, in large part, by the affordances of an environment. Affordances are action possibilities which encourage children to explore, investigate, and take risks while engaging in various forms of active play. This study examined ways in which preschool children use the affordances of an outdoor playspace in different seasons.
A privately-owned preschool in England served as the setting for this study. While approximately 50 children (age 2-4) are enrolled at this preschool, only 20 to 30 children attend at any one time. The outdoor playspace includes a grassed area, one or two raised flower beds, a mud kitchen, storage shed, playhouse, gazebo, and an area on a slope where wheeled toys are often used. In wet weather, a large puddle forms in an area by the gate of the setting. The children are free to access the outdoor area at any time and for as long as they choose. They choose their own activities and materials. The researcher conducted weekly observations of the children over the period of one academic year. Her field notes – completed across all types of weather and throughout the change of seasons -- included information about the weather, the number of children playing outdoors, and resources or loose parts the children were using. At times, the role of the adult was also noted. Children contributed to the study by reviewing photographs and video clips of play and offering their thoughts about them. Staff members shared their views about the children’s outdoor play through focus group discussions and through supporting children in reviewing photographs or short video sequences of play.
One or two children went outdoors only when encouraged by an adult, but most of the children played outdoors regularly in all types of weather. Children found ways to modify and adapt resources and activities according to different weather conditions. They discovered that each type of weather brings a new range of play possibilities.
This study found “a strong connection between the resources available to children in their play, the other players (including adults and their role in the play) and the seasonal changes in the weather.” While it’s generally assumed that children’s preferences are concerned with what’s available to them, the results of this study suggest that “it is choice that is important to children”. Inclement weather can be a barrier to outdoor play when adults make the decision to stay indoors. The adults in the study, however, encouraged children to go outside whatever the weather. Allowing the children to make this choice “enabled valuable learning to take place.”