Presentation on theme: "My name is Ellen Beate Sandseter"— Presentation transcript:
1 Challenging and Risky Play Outdoors in Preschool; Affordances of the Play Environment My name is Ellen Beate SandseterAssistant professor at The Department for Physical Education at Queen Maud’s College for Early Childhood EducationAnd PhD student at The Department for Psychology at The Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyandThis presentation is about children’s risky play in two Norwegian preschools and how the play environment afford this kind of playBy risky play I mean thrilling and exciting forms of play that involves danger for physical injury.Ellen Beate H. SandseterAssistant professorDepartment for Physical EducationQueen Maud’s College for Early Childhood Education
2 Short backgroundchildren both seek and prefer risky play and it’s part of children's nature to be curious about themselves and their surroundings Apter, 1992; Rasmussen, 1996; Stephenson, 2003features in the play environment influences children’s play by affording certain kinds of play activities Gibson,1979; Heft, 1988My interest for studying risky play lies in the assumption that children both seek and prefer this kind of play.According to Michael Apter it’s part of children's nature to be curious about themselves and their surroundings, and through play children discover what is safe and what is not.Children unconsciously test possibilities and boundaries for action within their environment.And several studies have shown that children preferplay that challenges the vestibular function,noisy play where fighting and physical strength are tested,and dangerous games that involve overcoming risk.And children enjoy and seek out experiences for physical risk-taking.Still, features in the play environment influences children’s play by affording certain kinds of play activities.Gibson’s theory of affordances states that the physical environment we live in affords different actions and behaviours.The affordances of the environment are what it “invite” us to do…..the concept of affordances includes both the environment and the person: meaning that the affordances are unique for each individual, and correspond with the individuals seize of body, strength, skills, courage, fear etc.For instance can a small tree afford climbing for a 4 year old child, while it affords sitting on the lowest branches for the 12 year old.Harry Heft (1988) elaborated Gibson’s theory and argued that children’s outdoor environment affords different kinds of play, and that children perceive the functions of the environment as invitations for certain activities.One of the examples Heft uses is that trees often are identified by children in terms of their climbing-tree-quality - As opposed to the usual adult description of environment on FORMS, children rather describe their environment on FUNCTIONS.In view of this theory, not only children’s innate urge for risky play, but also the play environment and its affordances also seem to be very important to enable children’s risky play.
3 Short backgroundSome environments afford more risky play than others, - are we willing to let children play in these environments?Playing in nature improve motor- and spatial skills (Grahn et al. 1997; Fiskum, 2004; Fjørtoft 2000)The dilemma between risks and benefits: “In order for a child to ‘learn’ how to master a risk situation, he/she will necessarily need to somehow approach the situation, and thereby increase the risk” (Boyesen, 1997)risk assessment / mastering risk situations –developing a sound sense of risk (Ball, 2002)Doing risky play is, naturally, not done without exposing oneself for hazard, and the play safety discussion have been a hot discussion throughout Europe the last years. Some environments afford more risky play than others, - are we willing to let children play in these environments? This is an important discussion:A psychiatrist in Sweden says that the Swedish community are frightened safety narcotics that have started to “prohibit the undangerous”, and Professor Gunnar Breivik in Norway has said that it’s a child’s human rights to get some bruises, to break a leg, to freeze a little, and to be hungry now and thenThe safety focus on children’s play and playgrounds has continuously grown, but recently there has also been a discussion about the benefits of risk taking playActually, letting the children engage in explorative and challenging play can not only result in hazard and injuries, but also have some beneficial effects - Results from several Scandinavian research projects have concluded that children playing in nature areas (so called outdoor preschools) show improved motor skill development and spatial skills compared to children playing on fixed playgrounds. Thus, letting the children take risks would make them more competent in managing risks.The dilemma between risks and benefits is that In order for a child to ‘learn’ how to master a risk situation, he/she will necessarily need to somehow approach the situation, and thereby increase the riskThis was one of the conclusions in a doctorate dissertation called “The impending danger of safety” (Marit Boyesen, Norway)In England, David Ball in his report “Playgrounds – risks, benefits and choices”, has expressed that through risk taking in play, children learn risk assessment and how to master risk situations – they develop a sound sense of risk.This could also be viewed in the light of Vygosky’s concept of scaffolding children in their “zone of proximal development”.In the zone of proximal development children engage in activities and tasks that lies on a level slightly higher than their competence and what they usually master.In these situations, adults should scaffold the children in their effort to solve the task rather than restrict them from doing it (in the case of risky play because it could be harmful), and they should even give advices to help them succeed.As a boy in a Norwegian research project told the interviewer: “The most fun and cool things to do, is the things that I almost don’t dare to do!”Letting children play in environments that afford a fair amount of challenging and risky play is important for a beneficial development. As Gibson describes: Our environment afford benefit or injury, life or death, and this is why the affordances need to be perceived– a cliff affords walking along or climbing, but also falling off and possible injury.The child must learn to perceive both the positive and negative affordances in their environment.
4 Research goalsThrough focused video observations and interviews of children of 4 and 5 years and preschool staff I wanted to seek answers toWhat kind of risky play do the children prefer?Are there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas?Are there differences in affordances for risky play between ordinary preschools and outdoor preschools?In this study I wanted to seek answers toWhat kind of risky play do the children prefer?Are there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas?Are there differences in affordances for risky play between ordinary preschools and outdoor preschools?
5 The preschoolsOne outdoor preschool, spending most of their time outdoors in nature areasOne ordinary Norwegian preschool with a fixed playground surrounded by a fenceI followed them in their everyday life for five months (February – June 2006)A total of nine days in each of the preschoolsThe preschoolsOne of the preschools was an outdoor preschool, spending most of their time outdoors in nature areas. The outdoor preschool was situated in a forest and did not have a fixed playground or any fences surrounding it. The other preschool was an ordinary Norwegian preschool with a fixed playground with swings, climbing tower, a “play hut”, switchbacks and several climbing trees. The playground in this preschool was surrounded by a fence.I followed the two preschools in their everyday life over a period that stretched from winter to summer (February – June 2006). This was to get a better impression on how children’s risky play differs during seasons and weather conditions. I spent a total of nine days in each of the preschools, participating in all their outdoor activity during the selected days.
6 Results: What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? Climbing in trees, on rocks, on fences, in hillsides, on buildings etc.Jumping down from great heightsThis was popular, but evaluated as scary both by children and the staffWhat kind of risky play do children prefer to do?The observations showed that the far most popular activity was climbing.They climbed trees, climbing towers, big rocks, rocky walls, fences, small roofs etc.Related to climbing, also jumping down from high places occurred.The attraction of climbing was also expressed through the interviews as this was the “number one” answer (with a few exceptions) on what they liked to play outdoors.Also jumping was mentioned as great fun.Climbing and jumping down from great heights were also some of the few things they thought was scary.In the interviews the children expressed that they feared great heights and loosing control in high speed.The staff also told in the interviews that climbing great heights was one of the activities where they feared injuries,And the children told me that the staff now and then intervened and made boundaries in their risky play, but almost only on the matter of climbing too high
7 What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? Swinging with great speed was a popular activity, especially among the girlsThe girls told me they LOVED to swingSwinging in normal swings or zip-lines (rope-slides) was also observed as a very popular activity, especially among the girls.This was confirmed in the interviews as all the girls told they loved to swing.I observed boys swinging as well, but far fewer boys than girls mentioned this as a favorite activity in the interview.I observed that it was often combined with jumping off in motion, giving the jump an extra element of unpredictability.
8 What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? A lot of play including HIGH SPEED – e.g. sliding down switchbacks and sledging on snowThe staff took part in this playAnother activity I observed was sliding down switchbacks and sledging on snow. This includes high SPEED, and was very popular.This was one of the activities where I sometimes observed the staff as taking part in the children’s play, especially sledging on snow in the winter.Both the children and the staff expressed in the interviews that this was an exiting activity, but that it include a danger for collisions.
9 What kind of risky play do children prefer to do? ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE play like wrestling, fighting, fencing with sticks is popular – but only among the boysOne of the activities that the staff restrict/forbidI observed some situations of ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE play such as wrestling, fighting and fencing with sticks.This was observed only among the boysand in the interviews with the children the boys expressed a joyful fear of doing this.Oppositely, the girls snorted when I mentioned this kind of play, and told med that was something only the boys were interested in.This was also one of the few activities where the staff had intervened and restricted the activity.In one of the preschools the staff had even forbidden this kind of play because it had gotten completely out of hand.
10 Are there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas?In both preschools there were more risky play outside the preschool’s playground (on hikes in new nature areas) than insideThis was the case even in the outdoor preschool where the playground had no fences (invisible fences)New and unexplored (or seldom visited) nature areas afford more challenging and risky play than the “familiar” preschool playgroundMORE of the children engaged in risky play outside the preschool playgroundAre there differences in the kind and occurrence of risky play on the preschool’s playground compared to the nature areas?In both preschools there were more risky play outside the preschool’s playground (on hikes in new nature areas) than insideThis was the case even in the outdoor preschool where the playground had no fences. It seemed like the children in the outdoor preschool experienced that there were “invisible fences” surrounding the preschool, even though the interviews showed that there were very few rules on where they were allowed to play and move around.This indicate that the preschool playground that the children are used to and familiar with, is perceived less exciting than new and unexplored (or seldom visited) nature areas they visited on their hikes.The nature areas afford more challenging and risky play than the “familiar” preschool playground, or at least, the children perceive them to do so maybe because they have “completed” exploring the various affordances in their preschool playground.This is in accordance with Gibson’s assumptions that a natural environment affords more intense and varied physical activity than an standardized playground.The various affordances the children perceived in the same environment were also different according to season and climate. The environment's characteristics and affordances changed for instance when it was covered with snow.The children perceived different functions in a long steep hill covered with snow, it usually became a popular snow-sledging hill, than when it was covered with rocks in the summer and became a great rock-climbing hill. In this sense, the shifts in climate contributed to create “new” and “unexplored” affordances in “old” play areas.Another interesting observation was that MORE (a higher number) of the children engaged in risky play outside the preschool playground.The children highly engaged in risky play inside the preschool playground were naturally also highly engaged in risky play when visiting other nature areas,but the children that more often chose to play calm activities, for instance like playing in the sandpit, suddenly were found roughhousing, climbing trees, sliding steep slopes, and jumping off big rocks!There were more climbing trees to choose between, there was a larger and more varied space to play on, and this seemed to engage MORE of the children than usual in more challenging physical activity play and risky play!This stresses the importance of preschools bringing the children out in various, new and unexplored nature areas to play.It will give more of the children a better chance of acquiring the developmental benefits as mentioned above,such as a improved motor and spatial skills, improved risk assessment and risk management, and a better risk perception/ sense of risk.
11 Are there differences in affordances for risky play between ordinary preschools and outdoor preschools?Very good opportunities for risky play outdoors!Risky play occur in:free playmore outside the preschool playground than insidesomewhat more often in the outdoor preschool than in the ordinary preschoolThe staff were consciously giving the children opportunities for exploration and challenge in both preschools, but the staff in the outdoor preschool more often arranged and engaged in risky play than in the ordinary preschoolThe staff (in both preschools) rarely intervened in or constrained the children’s play – even though it was riskyThe staff were scaffolding and affording children’s risky playThe observations generally showed very good opportunities for the children to do risky play outdoors in both preschools!Risky play most often occur in free play, and more outside the preschool playground than inside, thus occurring somewhat more often in the outdoor preschool than in the ordinary preschool – the outdoor preschool visited nature areas that afforded risky play more often than the ordinary preschoolThe staff were consciously giving the children opportunities for exploration and challenges in both preschools,This was in accordance with the staff’s interviews where all answered that they were consciously giving the children good opportunities for exploration and challengesThey argued that this was because they thought it was important for the children’s developmentBUT the staff in the outdoor preschool more often arranged and engaged in risky play than the staff in the ordinary preschoolThe staff (in both preschools) rarely intervened in or constrained the children’s play – even though it was riskyThese results show that the staff in both preschools were scaffolding the children in their attempts to explore and try out risky play afforded by their play environment. The staff in this project were clear on the matter that they never helped a child for instance to climb a tree that was too difficult for them, but rather gave them advices and tips on how to manage it.Other individuals do, in Gibson’s view, also offer affordances to us.In this sense, the staff in this project afforded risky play by having a positive attitude to this kind of play and often positively commenting the children doing it.In the outdoor preschool, the staff in addition often actively afforded risky play to the children by arranging this kind of play and often engaging in this kind of play WITH the children.In this view the staff was both scaffolding and affording children’s risky play
12 Reflections on the results Overprotected children?Norwegian preschools and their staff have a relaxed attitude to risky playThe staff have a positive attitude to the value of risky play, and scaffold and afford this kind of playIt seems that Norwegian children in preschool have good opportunities to engage in risk-taking activities and through that develop a sound sense of risk and learn how to master risky situations, and last but not least: to feel the thrill, the excitement and the fun of managing something they didn’t think they would dare to do!The results in this project show that children love to engage in risky play, and that the staff in preschools highly value and give the children opportunities for this kind of play. Still, nature areas outside the preschool playground seem to afford more risky play than the familiar preschool playground, and this means that the children in outdoor preschools experience more affordances for risky play than the children in ordinary preschools. Still, both types of preschools offered a high amount of opportunities for risky play.These results are in contrast to the assumption that today's western society overprotect children from risks in general and risks on playgrounds in particular. It seems that, at least Norwegian preschools and their staff have quite a relaxed attitude to risky play and rather emphasizes the importance of this kind of play than trying to reduce it – (still, there are individual differences from staff member to staff member, and some acknowledge the importance of risky play more than others.)In my opinion these are positive results for Norwegian preschools. It seems that Norwegian children in preschool experience a variety of different play environments that offer a magnitude of affordances, including affordances for risky play, and that the staff in the preschools scaffold the children's attempts to explore these affordances rather than restricting them as a result of maintaining play safety and avoiding accidents. It seems that Norwegian children in preschool have good opportunities to engage in risk-taking activities and through that develop a sound sense of risk and learn how to master risky situations, and last but not least: to feel the thrill, the excitement and the fun of managing something they didn’t think they would dare to do!
13 ReferencesApter, M.J. (1992). The Dangerous Edge: The Psychology of Exitement. New York : The Free Press, Macmillian Inc.Ball, D. (2002). Playgrounds – risks, benefits and choices. HSE contract research report 426/2002. London: Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Middlesex UniversityBoyesen, M. (1997). Den truende tryggheten. Barneulykker, foreldres forebygging og risikoopplevelse. Doctoral dissertation, Norway, Trondheim: The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)Breivik, G. (2001). Sug i magen og livskvalitet. Norway, Oslo: TidenEberhard, D. (2005) I trygghetens Sverige ska det ofarliga förbjudas. DN.Debatt. Available from: [Accessed 11th September 2005]Fiskum, T. (2004). Effekt av barnehagemiljø på motorisk og spatial kompetanse hos barn. En tverrsnittstudie av den motoriske og spatiale kompetansen hos barn i en friluftsbarnehage og barn i en tradisjonell barnehage. Master thesis, Norway: Nord-Trøndelag University CollegeFjørtoft, I. (2000). Landscape and Playscape: Learning effects from playing in a natural environment on motor development in children. Doctoral dissertation, Norway, Oslo: Norwegian School of Sport SciencesGibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.Grahn, P., Mårtensson, F., Lindblad, B., Nilsson, P., Ekman, A. (1997). Ute på Dagis. Sweden, Alnarp: The University of Agriculture in SwedenHeft, H. (1988). Affordances of children’s environments: A functional approach to environmental description. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 5(3),Linden, N. (2003). Scaffolding children's learning. Bergen: Caspar forlag.Phillips, D. C., & Soltis, J. F. (1998). Perspectives on learning (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.Rasmussen, T. H. (1996). Orden og kaos. Elementære grunnkrefter i lek. Denmark: ForsythiaSandseter, E. B. H. (2007). Categorizing Risky Play - how can we identify risk-taking in children’s play? European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 15(2).Smith, S. J. (1998). Risk and our Pedagogical Relation to Children: on playground and beyond. New York: State University of New York Press.Stephenson, A. (2003). Physical Risk-taking: dangerous or endangered? Early Years, 23(1), 35-43