Implications for Children's Development and Learning in Outdoor Environments

Literature Review

Background Literature

According to Smith (1998), defining play is essential, particularly the quandary in acquiring one all-embracing meaning for play. Fisher et al. (2008) offers his support for this perspective by saying that the lack of a single definition of the term opens playful activities to other different interpretations. Consequently, it is possible to argue that there is a form of play known as risk play. This type of play is what this research will analyse. Blackwell (2017) conducted a survey on the risk and the importance of play in a forest school program for development and learning as well as the effect of such in the overall health of children. She discovered that children need skills and learning which will ready them for their adult life. It is further explained in her research that the input by adults and the relationship children have with the outdoor environment as well as how they understand outdoor risk play is linked to their social behavioural and intellectual development.


This finding is similar to those postulated by Gill (2007) that outdoor play is essential and should be made compulsory for children to access and high-quality pre-schooling should be one associated with better social-behavioural and intellectual development. Therefore, providing opportunities for children in an environment that is controlled where they can manage their risks as they play has been associated with the mentioned benefits (better social-behavioural and intellectual development).

According to Reilly (1974), play is usually overlooked by parents and practitioners as the key which helps children unlock the window to learning. Reilly (1974) claim that play is providing children with the opportunity not only to encounter but also to create unpredictability, potential hazards and uncertainty as part of the play and according to England (2007), it does not mean putting them at risk of serious harm. Sandseter (2009) points out that hazards and good risk in the provision of play involve those who challenge and engage children as well as support their development, learning, and growth.

According to Sandseter (2011), there are various reasons why children love and need risk play. The first reason is because of fear. This individual claims that fear might be looked at as a negative experience that should be avoided as much as possible. However, children love risky ways which combine freedom with some right amount of fear to get an exhilarating blend called thrill. Sandseter (2011) put the risky play into six categories which all appear to attract young people everywhere as they play. The first category is great heights where children tend to climb trees among other structures to heights which are scary from where they can have a birds-eye view of everything down there and have that thrilling feel as they celebrate that they did it!

The second category according to Sandseter (2011) is rapid speeds where children like swinging on ropes, playground swings, vines, playground slides, skates, skis, sleds as well as shoot down rapids on boats or logs, ride their skateboards or bikes among other devices which can move quick enough to get the thrill of almost losing control but still being in control. Another category involves dangerous tools where depending on their culture, they can play with arrows and bows, farm machinery (which combine play and work), and knives or any other tools deemed as potentially dangerous.

Sandseter (2011) say that children get a great deal of satisfaction when they are trusted to be able to handle these types of tools, and they also have some thrill when controlling these tools while they are aware that any mistake could lead to harm. Another category includes dangerous elements where children like playing with fire and around or in deep water bodies that pose a significant danger. Additionally, Sandseter (2011) says that children love to tumble and rough play where they chase each other around as well as fight playfully while preferring some typically very vulnerable positions. These positions consist of the most risk of getting hurt and needs a lot of skills to overcome. The last category includes getting lost or disappearing where little children take part in hide and seek as they feel the thrill of scary, temporary separation from the other kids taking part in the game. Meanwhile, older children venture off away from their parents or adults and on their own into places which are new to them and that are full of imagined dangers including the excitement of getting lost.

The early years foundation stage (EYFS) (2008) elaborates and links the outdoor and indoor learning environment to providing children with the freedom or opportunity to shift between these environments (Department for Children, Schools and Families., 2008). However, EYFS (2008) explain that delivering a smooth curriculum between outdoor and indoor learning environments can be challenging. According to Bilton (2010), there are several difficulties which are usually aired by practitioners as to why outdoor and indoor activities prove challenging to plan, in the promotion of its continuous provision. This individual says that usually, the challenges raised by the practitioners include issues of time needed to plan the activities, issues of space, supervision, and weather. Time has mainly been considered as a challenge when there is no time to set up various activities or even go outside.

Tovey (2007) elaborates how important it is for children to have time to engage in play activities and plentiful opportunities of learning without practitioners or parents imposing time restrictions or slots on their access to outdoor activities. Tovey (2007) says that by allowing children to move freely between outdoor and indoor activities, a relaxed approach towards play is promoted. According to this individual, flexibility and organisation of the parents and practitioners are crucial to providing children better outdoor provisions.

Ouvry (2000) discovered various assumptions which practitioners make for them to avoid outdoor activities. The first assumption or excuse is the weather, which practitioners usually claim is the main reason to avoid allowing children to engage in outdoor activities, out of their concern for the children’s wellbeing and health. However, there is evidence that allowing children to experience different weather offers them a chance to get a rich experience of learning. For instance, Mirrahimi and colleagues (2011) say that nature affects children’s learning, emotional and social intelligence when they undergo outside learning. These researchers say that outside learning provides them with the opportunity to learn by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and touching. Therefore, outdoor activities provide children with a significant stimulation which encourages inspired learning. The Department for Education Studies or DfE (2010) found that positive steps should be established which promotes outdoor learning and that practitioners should be allowed to access outdoor play in various forms of weathers. Therefore, it can be said that practitioners need more training to be more experienced in outdoor play and learning to promote and encourage excellent outdoor provision.

Risky play allows young children to dose themselves a significant amount of fear as they practise to behave adaptively and keep calm under situations of fear. These young children learn to overcome or manage their fear and in the process come out excited. In tumble and rough play for instance, children may feel anger when one player is accidentally hurt. However, to keep playing and continue the fun, these young people need to overcome the anger. These children know that lashing out would end the game. Therefore, LaFreniere (2011) claim that in the theory of emotion regulation, play provide children with a means to learn how to control anger and fear to encounter dangerous real-life situations as well as interact with other people without being subdued with negative emotions.

According to Sandseter (2011) in her journal of Evolutionary Psychology, heightened neuroticism psychopathology may be observed in a society where children are prevented from engaging in age sufficient risky play. This concept is supported by Gray (2011) who has indicated that in the past 60 years, the human culture has witnessed a gradual, continuous and dramatic decline in the opportunities of free play for children, where there is no adult control particularly engaging in risky play. Moreover, over the same period, a gradual, continuous and dramatic increase in various types of mental disorders, particularly emotional disorders have been witnessed.

The two researchers highlight that in the 50s, young children played regularly in all the six categories of risk play listed above while adults permitted and expected such play to go on even when they were not so happy about the risks involved. Today, there is a possibility that parents who allow their children to engage in such types of risky play will be considered to be negligent by the state authorities or their neighbours (Gray, 2011). However, despite these limitations, there is still a likelihood that children will still engage in risky play when left alone to play outside without supervision. Therefore, this study intends to find out if Outdoor Play Support Risk Play in Children.

Literature Review

Research conducted by Morrongiello and Lasenby-Lessard (2007) found that children possess a natural propensity to risky outdoor play. These individuals claim that some children have a higher appetite for risky outdoor activities. According to Kennair, Mellor and Brann (2011), this propensity for some level of risky play seems to be global. Sandseter (2009) claim that naturalistic pre-school observations where children take part in free-play, outdoors, show a deliberate exposure of the children to risks like playing at high speeds and heights. It has been demonstrated by Sandseter (2009) that those children who engage in risky play know their competencies as well as the amount of risk to take and moderate the risk play within these boundaries. They also know and accept that their peers have varying levels of ability and comfort.

In a survey conducted by Little and Eager (2010) with Australian children of age 48 months to 64 months using interviews and making observations, information on 38 children showed that when they were given a choice, 74% of the participants preferred using more challenging and risky playground equipment. Additionally, 21 to 34 percent of the children experienced high-risk tools like a tubular slide, space net, and flying box while 70 to 90 percent showed the desire to use this form of equipment. Morrongiello (2004) discovered a correlation between the real behaviour of taking risks and children’s willingness to take part in behaviours of risk-taking. Animal research by Spinka, Newberry, and Bekoff (2011) show a propensity to take a risk in play across various species.

For instance, they found that primates deliberately engage in moderately risky situations during play where they frequently lose and gain control of their movements. Pellis, Pellis, and Bell (2010) also found similar results where rats preferred riskier, emotionally and physically difficult subordinate positions. Further, similar results were seen in a study conducted by Grundy et al. (2002), in which it was discovered that children thought they were not getting interesting and challenging opportunities of risky play within public areas and thus they looked for these opportunities in other places. These researchers conducted their study with 1,973 young children of age 11 years to 14 years in an area of England that is deprived. They found that 4% of the children visited quarries, abandoned buildings, rivers, underpasses, building sites and wastelands to play. These children also had a higher chance of sustaining injuries while playing. Thus, this study in children highly recommends that there should be places made much safer with more exciting activities which children can engage. Furthermore, it is apparent that the risk and danger of injury of children’s chosen play is as a result of the limited choice regarding the desirable and available play spaces (Grundy et al., 2002).

An additional study by Herrington et al. (2007) provides evidence which supports existing concerns that the lack of opportunities for risky outdoor opportunities will likely make children to avoid physical activities. This survey recorded pre-school children’s application of play tools in at least 16 health centres and discovered that only 13% of the study time was used by children to play with equipment and was used in the right way for only 3% of the entire period. Copeland et al. (2012) found that the U.S child healthcare providers had concerns about the overly strict levels of parents and practitioners which made outdoor play places uninteresting and challenging to children thus making them avoid physical activities.

Moreover, the participants in the survey found that when given the chance to use play risky play equipment, a number of children applied the equipment in ways that were not safe. Manwarring and Taylor (2006) also discovered in a research done in the United Kingdom on the effect of imaginative play within the school environment that uninterrupted activities of play benefited young people’s learning. These researchers found that free play within a natural environment adds to the child’s development which includes learning as well as their emotional and physical well-being. Similarly, Niklasson and Sanberg (2010) commented on the outdoor play cognitive benefits. These two individuals found that children showed endurance and became involved when they had access to the natural environment.

Niklasson and Sanberg (2010) quoted the claims by Piaget and Smilansky who reflected the benefits that children obtained from outdoor play cognitively in stages of play where children moved from sensorimotor play to games with rules as well as from functional to games with rules thus indicating the process of cognitive development enhanced by risky outdoor play. Therefore, children who take part in risky outdoor play have the potential to achieve more cognitive development as compared to those who are not engaged in these types of play (Manwaring and Taylor, 2006). From a medical perspective, Burdette and Whitaker (2005) say that outdoor play benefits children by keeping them healthier as compared to those who do not take part in outdoor activities. In their research, Whitaker (2005) analysed the link between obesity and outdoor play. They concluded that in the face of the current epidemic of obesity, it is very intuitive to encourage practitioners and parents to allow children to play outdoors and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

Moreover, Thomas and Thompson (2004) argue that psychological and emotional wellbeing is another benefit which can be ripped from outdoor play. These individuals described the outdoor play as running and shouting, letting off steam and a quiet reflection, being with pets and family members as well as confiding in other people. To support this point, Casey (2005) say that outdoor play is considered to boost children’s emotional stability and the disposition to engage and learn about the positive use of their social skills. Regarding social skills, Casey (2005) says that outdoor play provid children with the chance to engage their peers in settings that are less formal and where they are inclined to take part in spontaneous communication with their age mates. In this setting therefore, they experience social inclusion, language development, social friendship as well as group and individual identity formation.

In research conducted in 2003 about play deprivation by Hughes (2003), it was demonstrated that children who suffer from deprivation of outdoor play showed decreased social skills and repressed emotions. Such children become anti-social, less prolific in their communicating with peers and violent as compared to their counterparts who take part in the outdoor play. Moreover, outdoor play deprived children produce generally adverse play behaviours (Maudsley and Lester, 2007). In this context therefore, outdoor play is crucial and plays a significant role in developing children’s social skills required for interaction later in life.

Burssoni et al. (2012) showed how UK parents perceive outdoor play. These individuals found out that more than 1000 parents in the United Kingdom (43%) believe that young children below 14 years should not play outdoors unsupervised. Furthermore, half of that number believed that these children should not play unsupervised until when they are at least 16 years old. Their analysis also demonstrated that at least 5 to 8 times more young children today are affected by high levels of depression and anxiety than it was in the 50s.

According to Hyman (2009), play must be free, not coerced, safe, not pushed by practitioners or not managed. This individual says that even though they are likely to engage in risky lay, they are more likely to get injured in adult-directed play than in one which they have chosen freely and which they are self-directed. Hyman (2009) says that the reason behind this is that an adult’s competitive nature and encouragement of play lead to more risk-taking where they can hurt themselves or others. Also, when they are encouraged by adults to specialise, they tend to overuse specific joints and muscles. This researcher says that when children play to enjoy themselves, they rarely specialise and they enjoy various play activities. Therefore, they avoid hurting themselves, or they change the game when it’s no longer suitable for them or is hurting. Furthermore, they avoid hurting their playmates. Hyman (2009) concludes by saying that when adults intervene and get wrapped up in making their children win, maybe with the hope of getting a scholarship, they work against preventing damage.


Children are usually motivated to engage in risky outdoor play. They also are good at understanding their capacity as they avoid too much risk which they cannot manage, either emotionally or physically. Children know better than adults when and what they are ready to engage. Adults or Physical education practitioners for children need to understand this so that they allow children to have free play and avoid too great a challenge which can cause shame and trauma to these young people. Instead, they should help children to experience activities such heights and learn how to climb so that they can get the courage to take sufficient risk and avoid experiences which might turn them away from these adventures. Children also know the right dose of fear to operate and be in control of their play.

The decline in free play has worsened making children experience high rates of psychopathology. Currently, children are being deprived of risky, free play as adults are becoming obsessed with protecting them from being hurt. However, this set the children up for mental problems. It is evident from the research that children are by nature risk takers in play and they are capable of developing emotional resilience by themselves through emotion-inducing ways. Therefore, depriving children of risky free play endangers them even more.

Research Methodology


This research analysed a sample of nature-based preschool directors and teachers, and how the schools integrate environmental education and child development in teaching children. I was of the idea that an understanding of such practises can offer teachers in nature preschools with the equipment/tools needed to establish excellent standards for childhood education and consistency in all programs. To illuminate the study, this research addressed if outdoor play support risk play in children. The methodology used in this study will be analysed. First, the rationale and assumptions for the qualitative approach will be assessed. Additionally, a rationale for the case study approach will be provided as well as a description of those who participated in the study, the data collection methods, the data analysis approach, the verification methods and the ethical consideration in the study.

Rationale and assumptions for the qualitative approach

Qualitative research comprises various defining characteristics which is empirical, holistic, empathetic and interpretive (Stake, 1995). Its holistic nature is because it resists reduction as well as it is somewhat non-comparative. It seeks to offer an understanding of its object. The qualitative approach is empirical because it is naturalistic and field oriented. It emphasises the things which are observed and the data obtained from informants. The approach is interpretive because the researcher depends on intuition more than on facts. The interaction between the researcher and the subject is also a component of the study. The approach is empathetic because the procedure is emergent, progressively focused and responsive.

Moreover, qualitative research has an orientation away from effect, explanation and cause and toward qualitative inquiry and personal interpretation. Furthermore, it is unique because it encourages a holistic treatment of all phenomena. The qualitative researcher applies naturalistic observations a basic or primary acquaintance medium. The researcher can ask those who have witnessed an event when they cannot see the events themselves. Moreover, they can explore formal records or documents. From their personal involvement and experiences, they can also pass their naturalistic accounts to readers. Therefore, the entire research becomes a search for consistency and patterns (Stake, 1995).

The rationale for the design of the study

Within the qualitative approach design, this research was braced for a case study approach. In this research, the bounded system was nature-based programs in pre-schools. The issue was how outdoor play supports risk play in children. According to Yin (2009), case studies are mostly preferred when why or how questions are posed, the researcher has no or little control of the events, and the research is focused on the contemporary phenomenon in real-life situations. Stake (1995) reiterates that the situation of interest in social service and education are programs and people and that people are interested in these areas for both their commonality and uniqueness. According to this individual, nature-based preschool programs such as outdoor play and how they support risk play in children are yet to be fully studied.

Participants’ Description

This research used a procedure of purposeful sampling to choose a sample for the research. According to Merriam (1998), purposeful sampling is considered the best qualitative methodology for a case study to produce the most data on the research problem.

The assumption in purposeful sampling is that the researcher wants to find or discover and understand as well as gain insight. Therefore, the researcher must choose a sample which can offer the most understanding. The criteria employed for the selection of participants in this research is that all of them must had been based in preschools as directors or teachers for at least 3 years in the United Kingdom. Nine directors and two teachers of the UK preschools were requested to participate in this survey. The sample was chosen to allow their perspective from their unique experiences, the longevity and size of outdoor activities to be analysed. Factors which were included in the criteria include the directors and teacher experiences on environmental/outdoor and early childhood education. Every participant was given an informed consent letter to sign before any interview was done. Confidentiality was upheld by altering the participant’s names and their preschool sites.

Procedures of data collection

According to Merriam (1998), holistic description and intensive analysis of the case studies requires both depth and breadth of information collection. Qualitative research uses several data triangulation and collection methods to obtain a clear understanding of the subject matter (Creswell, 2007). This survey used several methods of data collection such as document review, observations and in-depth interviews. The qualitative research backbone involves thorough data collection from various information sources (Creswell, 2007). The main approach used to collect information in this research was in-depth interviews. Interviews are usually the most typical data collection technique employed in qualitative research. Interviews are applied when researchers are not able to make observations about people’s feelings or when they are not able to interpret people’s experiences. Furthermore, interviews are applied to discover past experiences elements (Merriam, 1998).

The form of interviews involved in this research contained semi-structured interviews conducted face-to-face in the selected preschools. The semi-structured interviews used both open-ended and structured questions thus allowing the research to be formal as well as follow-up through being responsive to the participant’s answers (Rubin and Rubin, 2005). The face-to-face interviews offered a chance to visit every preschool and make observations in actual outdoor risk play. According to Rubin and Rubin (2005), responsive interviews tackle problems in their natural settings. The interview questions for this survey were constructed around the main research questions. I used probes to elicit follow-up questions and details and to explore ideas which emerged during the process of interviewing the participants.

The initial interview was used as pilot questions. No alterations were made on the interview questions. Therefore, the interview was included in the analysis of data. The participants were reminded of the scheduled date of the interview to provide them with ample time to ponder over the questions and think about how their outdoor programs support risk play in children as well as allow them to put together or gather possible documentation regarding their preschool activities programs.

Data analysis procedures

Case analysis was conducted after the transcription of the interviews. I sent the interview transcriptions back to the participants to review and check their accuracy. Some participants sent their additional information and comments back. Then, I read through each interview transcripts and coded them through highlighting important statements and emerging themes. Crabtree and Miler (1992) proposed various data analysis approaches. Of the approaches, I chose the immersion approach which is the most interpretive; the least structured and emphasizes the researcher's creativity, intuition, and insight (Bloomberg and Volpe, 2008).

I used this approach to find emerging themes. The areas which had more questions or required more information were sent back to the survey participants for better clarification. I applied the same coding category procedures for the observations. I then did content analysis which is a simultaneous raw material coding and the development of categories which capture appropriate features of contents in a document or literature (Merriam, 1998). I used content analysis to review the gathered literature and documents. I then listed the compiled categories and emerging themes using the constant comparative approach comparing each data set to develop categories which captured several recurring patterns across all the data.

I then merged the various categories into a single list for every case. All the statements that were highlighted from the interview transcripts were put under every interview question in a fresh document. The organisation aided the researcher (me) to understand the data and every participant’s answers to the provided questions. I jotted my findings into a single case report by organising each category for each interview transcript, observation notes and document or literature review. The generated photographs, documents or literature were then employed in describing outdoor risk play. I reviewed each document and report and coded them in themes. According to Merriam (1998), data analysis as a process is very intuitive where the researcher cannot always explain where an insight came from and how the connection between data was detected.

The verification method

Bloomberg and Volpe (2008) say that the methods of verification in qualitative research usually are known as trustworthiness issues. The purpose of the trustworthiness issues is to deal with traditional quantitative issues of reliability and validity. Specifically, the level to which something estimates the thing it purports to estimate and its consistency over time.

The method applied in this research to confirm the credibility of the data collection comprised of the triangulation of information sources, methods of data collection, analysis of data, transcripts checking, final assertions, identified practises, peer debriefing and a review of the final assertions and the discovered quality practises. Triangulation of information sources comprised interviewing the directors and teachers of the preschools. The data collection method triangulation comprised of interviews of both the teachers and the directors at the preschool site, class observations for activities such as child/teacher interaction as well as both outdoor and indoor risk play as well as a review of documents and literature linked to outdoor play like preschool handbooks, written curricula, newsletters, lesson plans, marketing brochures, generated photographs, peer-reviewed articles, natural artefacts and the research photographs of outdoor and indoor environments.

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The data analysis procedures triangulation consisted of producing assertions using different methods such as applying merged findings for producing assertions, emphasising case findings for producing assertions and the initial researcher produced assertions. Additionally, member-checking involved sending the interview transcripts to all the participants to get their revisions and feedback. Moreover, the final assertions, as well as preliminary set of quality practises, were sent to all the participants. Review and peer debriefing consisted of presenting all quality practises and assertions to the preschool directors and teacher with the intention to get some feedback from them.

Ethical Consideration

With regard to the participants in this survey, ethical issues were an essential matter. Therefore, it was my responsibility to ensure that I protected the rights and privacy of all the people who took part in my study.

This is mainly because the participants accepted to take part in this survey voluntarily. Generally protecting participants in this research basically refers to how data was gathered and stored despite there being no likelihood of harm connected with this study. Confidentiality or privacy was of utmost significance in this study because I was handling issues related to preschool settings. First, each participant was given an informed consent form or letter which he or she signed before taking part in the interview. All of the participants agreed earlier enough to the researcher’s (my) visit which comprised of the interview processes, making observations on the outdoor and indoor settings and reviewing any necessary documents. All of the participants gave me permission to take some photographs of the outdoor and indoor environment.

Furthermore, when it was necessary to make a choice concerning data reporting and dissemination, the participants’ interests and rights were considered as being of primary importance. The names of the preschools and those of the participants as well as any other important identification factors associated with them or the preschools were altered appropriately to keep this information confidential. I took safeguarding measures to protect the storage of the material related to this research and only my research or dissertation committee or advisor and I were allowed to access the information.

Basically, this research followed Article 12 and 3 of the United Nations Convention rights for children who say that all firms must do their best for all children to safeguard and protect them and their setting during the process of research. I, therefore, endeavoured to protect the wellbeing of all people who took part in this research and this remained paramount during the study. Moreover, the 1998 Data Protection Act and the 2000 Freedom of Information Act was used to store all data appropriately (Shepherd and Ennion, 2007).


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