Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Play environments; Play; Outdoor recreation for children;


The earliest early childhood programs were thought of as a garden for children or kindergarten (Snider, 1900). The father of kindergarten, Frederick Froebel (1885), considered the garden space critical in early childhood programs. While there is an understanding of the importance of outdoor play for young children, many current issues and challenges have drastically reduced the amount of time children spend in the outdoor environment (Kuh, Ponte, & Chau, 2013). Much of the time children do spend outside is devoted to physical movement, often in environments with traditional manufactured playground equipment (Czalczynska-Podolska, 2014). Outdoor play holds potential for multi-dimensional (Nedovic & Morrissey, 2013) and rich play episodes (Luchs & Fikus, 2013).

The overarching goal of this study was to investigate types of children’s play in early childhood programs and how the environment is related to children’s play during outdoor play time. Using a mixed methods design, the type of social play and emotional engagement in play pre-school children exhibit in outdoor play environments was investigated. Children’s engagement in play was based on the general social and emotional affect of children during play as well as the active play children engaged in during the play episodes. The research questions for this study were:

  1. What types of emotional affect are observed in traditional and multi-dimensional outdoor play spaces?
  2. What types of play behaviors are observed in traditional and multi-dimensional outdoor play spaces?

The results of this study indicate that in the multi-dimensional spaces children engaged in more positive play, assessed in both social and emotional domains of development, relative to play in the traditional spaces. Additionally, children engaged in more constructive play behavior in the multi-dimensional spaces, with more functional play occurring in traditional spaces.

The results of this study may help equip teachers and administrators with knowledge that supports the design, construction and use of multi-dimensional outdoor play environments. The findings can also inform future discussions among administrators, legislators and policy makers regarding the policies, procedures and practices that are needed to facilitate high quality outdoor learning spaces.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Linda Fitzgerald, Committee Co-Chair

Second Advisor

Mary Donegan-Ritter, Committee Co-Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 95 pages)



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