learning library: play equipment and spaces studies

Effects Of Play Equipment And Loose Parts On Preschool Children’s Outdoor Play

Lorraine Maxwell, Mari Mitchell, Gary Evans
Department of Human Ecology, Cornell University, Children Youth & Environment

Research investigated, in two stages, the ways in which playground equipment and the addition of loose parts to the playground contribute to preschool children’s dramatic and constructive play behaviors.

In the first study, children attending a preschool were observed as they played on large multi-station play structures in order to identify design features of outdoor play equipment that encourage particular play behaviors and social interaction.
In study two there was a design intervention on the playground – loose parts were added that were suitable for constructing spaces.

Constructive play behavior increased in areas of the playground to which there were added loose parts. Children used the places they constructed for dramatic play activities. This second study confirmed that children like to act out dramatic play themes in small, enclosed spaces. In the second study, children were able to construct their own spaces, which not only encouraged dramatic play but also communication and negotiating skills as well.

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The Dissolution Of Children’s Outdoor Play : Causes & Consequences

Joe Frost
University of Texas

“Most people who care about child development know nothing about design, and most people who design know nothing about child development.” Shell, 1994

Play and recess are disappearing from many schools and neighborhoods – 40% of American schools are abolishing recess or denying recess time to prepare for academic tests.

By the year 2000 children’s spontaneous play has disappeared due to outdoor safety, increased use of technology, school academics in the school, and playground safety.

Professor Frost identifies 10 standards to recapture necessary play at home and in the schools. Also, in guiding development of next generation playgrounds Frost requests study regarding use of natural materials, loose play parts to induce creativity, and portable play stations versus static or stationary structures. Frost encourages experts from the fields of education, child development, architecture, physical education, anthropology, psychology, kinesiology, manufacturing and medicine to collaborate and provide for innovative, creative play solutions that focus on the developmental needed of children.

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Enriching The Outdoor Play Experience

Michael Hennger
AECI, Association For Childhood Education International

There was a time when playgrounds were ignored as venues for child learning. Aside from the physical and motor development offered by outdoor play – and specifically on playground equipment – there are significant opportunities to improve social interaction through social and intellectual play.

Outdoor play—and that on outdoor play sets—are as effective as indoor play in facilitating young children’s development. This environment should enhance every aspect of child development – motor, cognitive, social, emotional – and their correlates – creativity, problem-solving, and just plain fun.

Playgrounds can move from their current sterile status to more stimulating, creative spaces for children. Most playgrounds would benefit by more variety in available materials and spaces. Movable toys and equipment can have a greater effect on their environment – objects and materials driving solitary play, dramatic play, and construction play are needed to enrich the variety and complexity of a playground.

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The Benefits of Playgrounds to Children Aged 0-5

Duerr Evaluation Resources
Shasta Children & Families Foundation

Children’s free play on playgrounds is not just about fun and games. The act of play is a crucial component in the successful growth of the brain, body, and intellect. Playing promotes brain development and lays the neural grid for a successful mind through repetitive play actions that reinforce that grid. Playing promotes physical success by allowing the child to explore, test, and expand the limits of a growing body. And playing promotes social, intellectual, and oral skills by allowing the child to interact with their peers and their environment.

Playgrounds are more than just grounds to play – they provide a safe environment designed specifically to foster and enhance opportunities for play alone, with a caregiver, or with other children. Given the importance of playground play in the development of a child, any space which gives a child free rein is crucial to a child’s life. Playground equipment and space meet the needs of children by allowing for engagement in developmental play. Playgrounds are fun for children and this fun will have a lasting, positive effect on their development.

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The Natural Environment As A Playground For Children : The Impact Of Outdoor Play Activities

Ingunn Fjortoft
Early Childhood Education Journal

The study begins by citing a disquieting tendency that children are becoming more sedentary as they move toward adolescence – television, video entertainment, etc.

Four out of ten children wished for more physical activity time – but feel they lack suitable areas for play and free time activities, such as climbing, building dens, sliding. It is discussed that play in a creative, natural environment gives children a genuine understanding of reality.

Playground studies confirm the significance of diversity in play equipment on a child’s behavior. The better equipped, the more versatile and creative was the play behavior observed. The repertoire of children’s behavior broadened enormously with the increase in physical diversity of the play environment.
This study focused more on play in a natural, outdoor environment – but did draw conclusions related to a child’s physical development in creative external settings.

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Neighborhood Safety, Outdoor Play, Television Viewing & Obesity In Pre-School Children

Hillary Burdette, MD; Robert Whitaker, MD
American Academy of Pediatrics

Reduced outdoor play and related indoor activity – meaning watching television, playing on computers, etc – has increased the incidence of childhood obesity. Some levels of increased indoor and decreased outdoor activity is also driven by the perception of mothers that outdoor play is increasingly unsafe.

This study was at odds validating relationships between safety, outdoor play, indoor activity, and childhood obesity. However, Burdette and Whitaker suggest that in the face of the childhood obesity epidemic, it is intuitive to provide a prescription for parents to turn off the television (game console, computer) and to encourage their children to play outdoors. It becomes equally intuitive that parents will have a hard time acting on this if they feel their children are not safe outdoors.

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School Recess & Group Classroom Behavior

Romina Barros, MD, Ellen Silver PhD, Ruth Stein, MD
Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Children need free play at home and at school. During free play, children increase their imagination and creativity, organize their own games, develop their own rules, learn problem solving skills, and practice leadership.

In school recess represents an opportunity for free play. Recess provides discretionary time and opportunity for children to engage in physical activity. Post recess – after an opportunity for free play – young students (ages 8-9) were able to better focus attention on teachers and assigned tasks and were less fidgety in the classroom. A break of at least 15 minutes daily increased proper classroom behavior and boosted academic scores.

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Children in the Junkyard

Malka Haas
Children Education Magazine

While a classroom plays supervised in a junkyard the following occurs:

Children build what is reported to be a “potato harvester” using oil drums and cast off machinery, and using stones as potatoes.
Children pound handmade “hammers” on old clay jars until they turn to dust
Children make elaborate mud pies (from dirt and water) for a “wedding buffet”

These children are actively exploring the world which is fundamental to development of thought – using a junkyard as a makeshift playground.

This action takes place in Sdeh Eliahu – located halfway between Tiberias and Jerico in the Jordan Valley.

Each school group consists of 22 to 24, three to six year olds who are supervised in this environment – which teaches children safe play but more important promotes free and creative play.

The dialectic between structure and freedom comes into full expression in the junkyard. The clearly demarcated boundary around the yard gives children security that this is their won micro-world in which they may freely express their feelings. Play in this “playground” environment involves the whole person – muscles and senses, emotion and intellect, individual growth and social interaction. It is believed the junkyard makes an important contribution to a child’s readiness for elementary school – creating foundations on which they can build more abstract learning in years to come.

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watch a video: imagination playground at the aspen ideas festival