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Early childhood educator perceptions of children’s physical activity and the outdoors

Full reference
Wishart, L. (2018). Early childhood educator perceptions of children’s physical activity and the outdoors. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 21(1), 1–16. Retrieved from https://www.childforum.com/research/2018-nz-international-early-childhood-education-journal/1557-educator-perceptions-of-childrens-physical-activity-outdoors-natural-environment.html

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Original Research Paper
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Early childhood educator perceptions of children’s physical activity and the outdoors

Llewellyn Wishart
Deakin University & University of New England, Australia



The importance of young children’s physical activity, movement development and outdoor experience has been highlighted in recent years in the context of worldwide trends of sedentary living, reduced nature contact and risk minimisation. It is understood that early childhood educators can be influential in young children being physically active, outdoors and connected to the natural world. This paper explores early childhood educator perceptions of the importance of children’s movement development in naturalised outdoor learning environments. More specifically, this paper investigates how early childhood educators perceive the natural features outdoors influencing children’s movement development and physical activity. Six early childhood educators were interviewed as participants in a qualitative doctoral research study. The data were analysed and coded thematically using a perspective taking framework based on Wilber’s All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) integral theory model (Esbjoèrn-Hargens, 2010; Wilber, 1998). An analysis of the results of the study revealed a spectrum of views of physical activity and the outdoors of lesser to greater complexity, highlighting differences in how educators’ perceive associations between children’s movement development, physical activity and outdoor environments

Key words: Movement development, physical activity, naturalised outdoor environments.



The importance of young children’s physical activity (PA), movement development and outdoor experience has been highlighted in recent years in the context of worldwide trends of sedentary living  (Tremblay et al., 2016) reduced outdoor and nature contact (Charles & Wheeler 2012; Dowdell, Gray & Malone, 2011; Little & Wyver, 2008) and discourses of risk minimisation and challenge (Bundy et al. 2009; Little & Eager 2010). Early childhood educators are considered influential in encouraging children to move, be physically active, outdoors and connected to the natural world (Brown, Googe, McIver, & Rathel, 2009; Dyment & Coleman, 2012; Gehris, Gooze & Whitaker, 2015; Mikkelsen, 2011). Copeland, Kendeigh, Saelens, Kalkwarf and Sherman (2012) report that early childhood educators act as highly influential gatekeepers to the outdoors and potentially mediate children’s physical experiences outdoors regardless of whether the environment is rich or poor in affordances for active play. With these considerations in mind, early childhood educators’ perceptions of children’s movement development and physical activity outdoors are worthy of further investigation.

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