Challenging and Risky Play Outdoors in Preschool; Affordances of the Play Environment Ellen Beate H. Sandseter Assistant professor Department for Physical Education Queen Maud’s College for Early Childhood Education
Short background • children both seek and prefer risky play and it’s part of children's nature to be curious about themselves and their surroundings Apter, 1992; Rasmussen, 1996; Stephenson, 2003 • features in the play environment influences children’s play by affording certain kinds of play activities Gibson,1979; Heft, 1988
Short background • Some environments afford more risky play than others, - are we willing to let children play in these environments? • Playing in nature improve motor- and spatial skills(Grahn et al. 1997; Fiskum, 2004; Fjørtoft 2000) • The dilemma between risks and benefits: “In order for a child to ‘learn’ how to master a risk situation, he/she will necessarily need to somehow approach the situation, and thereby increase the risk” (Boyesen, 1997) • risk assessment / mastering risk situations –developing a sound sense of risk (Ball, 2002)
Research goals • Through focused video observations and interviews of children of 4 and 5 years and preschool staff I wanted to seek answers to • What kind of risky play do the children prefer? • Are there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas? • Are there differences in affordances for risky play between ordinary preschools and outdoor preschools?
The preschools • One outdoor preschool, spending most of their time outdoors in nature areas • One ordinary Norwegian preschool with a fixed playground surrounded by a fence • I followed them in their everyday life for five months (February – June 2006) • A total of nine days in each of the preschools
Results: What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? • Climbing in trees, on rocks, on fences, in hillsides, on buildings etc. • Jumping down from great heights • This was popular, but evaluated as scary both by children and the staff
What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? • Swinging with great speed was a popular activity, especially among the girls • The girls told me they LOVED to swing
What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? • A lot of play including HIGH SPEED – e.g. sliding down switchbacks and sledging on snow • The staff took part in this play
What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? • ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE play like wrestling, fighting, fencing with sticks is popular – but only among the boys • One of the activities that the staff restrict/forbid
Are there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas? • In both preschools there were more risky play outside the preschool’s playground (on hikes in new nature areas) than inside • This was the case even in the outdoor preschool where the playground had no fences (invisible fences) • New and unexplored (or seldom visited) nature areas afford more challenging and risky play than the “familiar” preschool playground • MORE of the children engaged in risky play outside the preschool playground
Are there differences in affordances for risky play between ordinary preschools and outdoor preschools? • Very good opportunities for risky play outdoors! • Risky play occur in: • free play • more outside the preschool playground than inside • somewhat more often in the outdoor preschool than in the ordinary preschool • The staff were consciously giving the children opportunities for exploration and challenge in both preschools, but the staff in the outdoor preschool more often arranged and engaged in risky play than in the ordinary preschool • The staff (in both preschools) rarely intervened in or constrained the children’s play – even though it was risky • The staff were scaffolding and affording children’s risky play
Reflections on the results • Overprotected children? • Norwegian preschools and their staff have a relaxed attitude to risky play • The staff have a positive attitude to the value of risky play, and scaffold and afford this kind of play • It seems that Norwegian children in preschool have good opportunities to engage in risk-taking activities and through that develop a sound sense of risk and learn how to master risky situations, and last but not least: to feel the thrill, the excitement and the fun of managing something they didn’t think they would dare to do!
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