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Natural Playground

Natural Playground Research Project

Play Behaviors Before and After a Natural Playground Installation In an Early Childhood Setting

Lisa Kuh Ph.D., Iris Chin Ponte Ph.D., Clement Chau A.B.D.
Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, Tufts University

Discussion

Duration of Play Episodes
This study found that with the advent of a natural playground, the duration of children's play episodes was extended. Children were drawn to new elements of the playground, especially in the Shed and Sand areas, leading to prolonged play experiences. What children were doing in these areas accounts for their prolonged engagement and can be characterized by the ways in which children participated in construction and cooperative play. One goal of natural playgrounds is to extend the length of time that children engage in various activities, especially those that require concentrated efforts and engagement in play scenarios with peers, or even quiet focus on nature and the world around them (Keeler, 2008). This study found that with the advent of a natural playground, the duration of children's play episodes was extended. Children were drawn to new elements of the playground, especially in the Shed, Swing, and Sand areas leading to prolonged play experiences.

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Construction and Cooperative Play
In the Shed and Sand areas children were afforded the opportunity to build with blocks, play with sand and water activities which lend themselves nicely to cooperative group efforts. Indeed, children in these areas were regularly found collaborating on a large-scale stream and dam project, or building a structure for play on the deck surrounding the shed. Opportunities to combine construction with natural and prefabricated materials that children had ready access to seemed a perfect recipe for the kind of cooperative play educators hope children will engage in (Dalhberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999).

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General Gross Motor Activity
In Phase I, not surprisingly, the Climber had the most incidents of climbing. This decreased in Phase II with the removal of the Climber and construction of the Treehouse. However, the Treehouse became a locus of construction and cooperative play, moving from a functional feature to one that promoted more complex play. The Swing area saw a drastic increase in biking episodes and in the duration of those episodes. This accounts for the increases in gross motor activity from Phase I to Phase II across the Climber, Swing, and Shed areas, around which the pathways now flow. In addition, the nature of children's biking activity as connected with other play behaviors and the extent to which the pathways afforded children a broader area of play will be discussed in subsequent sections. Gross motor such as running also decreased in the Sand area but was replaced by lifting, shoveling, and concentrated constructive activities.

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Natural Play
Not surprisingly incidents and frequency of natural play occurred where there were sand and water. While children may be drawn to sand and water play, of importance here is the duration of play, increase in play episodes, and the cooperative and constructive elements. Children's connections with nature fulfill not only notions of strengthening connections with the environment, but also play an important role in children's development (Keeler, 2008).

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