Rural and metropolitan children have different place experiences affecting their play and physical activity

MacDougall, C., Schiller, W., & Darbyshire, P. (2009). What are our boundaries and where can we play? Perspectives from eight- to ten-year-old Australian metropolitan and rural children. Early Child Development And Care, 179, 189 - 204.

MacDougall and colleagues investigated metropolitan and rural children's perspectives on where they live and the boundaries that guide their experiences, with particular emphasis on the impacts on their play and physical activity. Part of the researchers' purpose, set within a framework drawing on the sociology of childhood, was to add evidence to the literature concerning “the social, cultural, experiential and temporal contexts that shape children's patterns of leisure and activity.”

Researchers interviewed 33 8- to 10-year-old children from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia and Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast. Children also drew maps or pictures about places and activities they discussed during their interviews and took photos using a disposable camera of places they played, people they played with, and what they did.

In analyzing the data, MacDougall and colleagues found that metropolitan and rural children had very different experiences of the places where they live. Researchers found that metropolitan children enjoyed gardens, parks, and playgrounds and organized activities, whereas rural children enjoyed large open spaces, the natural world, and freedom to explore the natural environment. In terms of negative aspects of their communities, MacDougall and colleagues discovered that rural children mentioned dangers from animals and water, as well as distance and traffic problems in getting places, whereas metropolitan children mentioned factories, safety, and danger. With regard to boundaries, researchers found that metropolitan children had tighter boundaries and required more adult supervision as compared to rural children, but that rural children relied heavily on adults to travel between distant locations. In addition, MacDougall and colleagues discovered that rural children negotiated with their parents about places they could go and most of the concerns were about managing safety and risks in the natural environment, whereas metropolitan children's movements were determined by their parents and often revolved around concerns about traffic and danger from people. Importantly, the researchers highlight the fact that children from both areas enjoyed their environments and experiences.

This study demonstrates the importance of context and taking children's own views into account when forming policies and designing places and programs to optimize their opportunities for both physical activity and social interaction in natural and built environments.


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