By Cheryl Greenfield
Optimal outdoor environments have the potential or power to promote and sustain meaningful relationships.
Bullard’s (2010) book Creative Environments for Learning uses the term ‘optimal’ when describing outdoor playgrounds that are functional, safe, and provide increased learning opportunities and improve social interactions.
The environment we place children in strongly influences the behaviour and learning that occurs there and the child’s sense of self (Greenman, 2005; Tovey, 2007).
Spaces are not neutral, they give a message to the children and the adults who inhabit the space. Space is the backdrop to play, supplying the context, content and meaning; it provides possibilities or limitations to adults and children as to what can be done here.
The location of spaces and equipment, and how welcoming the outdoor area is for adults, along with the aesthetics are highly influential on what children do. Poorly designed and maintained environments can be detrimental to children’s development.
This article focuses on the characteristics of optimal outdoor environments within a New Zealand context and is based on the findings of the qualitative research I have done over the years on early childhood outdoor environments.
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