Understanding the outdoor play environment for preschool children in child care: should we just let 'em go?
Christine C. Cook
The purpose of this study was to understand the outdoor play environment provided for preschool children in an inclusive early care and education center. This qualitative examination sought to determine what children and teachers do when they are outside and how the indoor and outdoor curricula are integrated. Supports and barriers for a quality outdoor play environment were identified. In addition, opportunities for development of self-determination in the outdoor environment were studied. This research sought to determine the opportunities children are provided to make choices, practice overcoming challenges, and develop friendships during outdoor play and learning.;The importance of an outdoor play area with numerous settings for play is accepted as the standard in the field of early care and education, however, outdoor play is arguably the most neglected aspect of these services. An emphasis on providing a natural setting for outdoor play is important since greenspace has been found to have beneficial influences on behavior and emotions.;Self-determination is the ability to make meaningful life decisions. This study examined self-determination opportunities for young children in the outdoor environment of an inclusive early care and education center.;The findings suggest that children are actively engaged while outdoors and have opportunities to make choices among a variety of different types of play and learning activities provided by teachers and the planned environment. A significant concern for safety has resulted in the exclusion of opportunities to overcome physical challenge, such as climbing on boulders or overhead ladders. Other opportunities, like playing on swings, are also not available as a result of concerns for safety. Opportunities that support interactions between peers encourage the development of friendships. The environmental design provides play settings that accommodate small groups or pairs in a variety of types of play, are completely accessible, and support children moving from play setting to another with ease. The indoors and outdoors are connected through planned materials and activities. Teachers' provision of high quality services outdoors are supported by the administration through fiscal planning. Barriers include teacher workload, lack of training, and low prioritization of the outdoor environment by stakeholders.