‘The way in which you move and use your body in an outdoor environment has more of an impact on the children than what you say verbally during physically active play’, according to researcher Kathrine Bjørge.
She has been an observer at three kindergartens in Norway. She has also interviewed kindergarten teachers and assistants about outdoor physical activities in kindergartens. Her results indicate that adults and children influence and help develop each other.
An adult who likes to slide and jump is a positive influence. Such actions invite others to join in the play.
Waiting one’s turn to use playground equipment is not as inspiring as playing together.
Playground equipment may limit play
‘The design of an outdoor environment has a strong bearing on whether children enjoy playing outside’, says Bjørge.
She suggests that conventional playground equipment in kindergartens may actually limit children’s play.
‘They often allow only one particular way of moving. It is not uncommon for there to be just one way to use a climbing frame or to slide down a slide.’
Fun to play together
‘There is a knock-on effect here, too’, smiles Bjørge.
‘Children are social, and they inspire each other to be active. Sliding down a broad sledging hill where there is room for others usually makes children more active than if they have to stand in queue to slide alone.
‘Waiting one’s turn to use playground equipment is not as inspiring as playing together. On a broad hill, where children can slide down beside each other, they challenge each other to move in different ways. This creates variation in their patterns of movement’, she observes.
Bjørge is of the opinion that this knowledge should be taken to heart by those who manufacture playground equipment.
‘They should focus more on developing, adapting and making equipment that allows more children to play together’, suggests the researcher.
Forests and slopes invite play
Bjørge’s study also indicates that the topography of kindergarten playgrounds has a significant impact on the pleasure the children take in physical play. Topographical variation invites movement and appeals to the imagination. If an outdoor area offers trees or slopes, the children have more fun playing there.
Field trips generate enthusiasm
Not all kindergartens are able to have a well-diversified outdoor playground. The environment outside the kindergarten’s perimeter often offers more opportunities for variation. City parks or forests may allow children to make their own choices about how to use the terrain.
A majority of the kindergarten personnel Bjørge interviewed reported that outdoor excursions generate enthusiasm, positive feelings and motivation. Staff feel a greater sense of freedom and that they have more time to forge closer ties with the children. They also experience that the children are more curious when they are outdoors enjoying nature. There are also more challenges, surprises and spontaneous moments.