Title

Play and playspaces: Exploring the outdoors and natural heritage among children aged 5 to 12

Location

New River Room A

Start Time

2-10-2015 9:00 AM

End Time

2-10-2015 11:00 AM

Session Type

Research Paper

Abstract

Statement of purpose:

A growing body of research shows that play patterns among children are changing: children are growing up differently than in the past with fewer links to the natural world. This development has been a major concern, with researchers talking about the ‘shrinking horizons of childhood’ (Gill, 2005), play deprivation (Bundy et al, 2011), and ‘nature deficit disorder’ (Louv, 2005). There has been a growing concern that child-nature connection is under threat. Furthermore, lack of access to natural spaces infringes on children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Consequently, in 2014, the Irish Heritage Council commissioned a research team from University College Cork to conduct a review of contact with the outdoors and natural heritage among children aged 5-12. The research team consisted of members from law, education and occupational science.

Description of method

The first objective of the research project was to review literature around children’s relationship with the outdoors and natural heritage from a children’s rights perspective. This included reviewing trends, barriers, and benefits to connecting with nature, and identifying gaps in the research, particularly in the Irish context. The second objective was to conduct a qualitative study with children aged between five and twelve years. 123 children participated: from a rural, a town, and a city environment to include the views of a broad range of children from different socio-economic and geographic backgrounds. Mixed methods were used to maximise the children’s participation: a whole-class art project on the theme of ‘what I do in my free time’ was conducted in each class, and nine focus groups were carried with 39 children (18 girls, 21 boys). Discussions were audio recorded, transcribed, and analysed together with the artwork, using a qualitative analysis software package.

Report of results

Findings show that there are significant health and well-being benefits to contact with outdoor environments. Play occupations are central to these benefits, specifically where play is inclusive of risk, challenge and flexibility. However, the review of policy and legislation shows that in Ireland, children’s relationship with the natural environment has received little attention or support. Particular groups, including children with disabilities face specific challenges in this regard. However, children report preferences for playing outdoors rather than indoors. Location, weather and having friends nearby are strongly linked to the attractiveness of outdoor play.

Discussion and implications

Overall, this research evidences the changing nature of children’s lives in Ireland and demonstrates that the child-nature connection is under threat. Key implications were identified in this project including issues related to policy, public awareness, and future developments necessary to address the needs arising. Examples of outdoor play initiatives are proposed as a way forward, with consideration given to developing a children’s rights framework for evaluating children’s contact with the outdoors. This study demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary working for integrating a rights-based perspective in occupational science and studies of the physical environment. Discussion will focus on the challenges of interdisciplinary working and the benefits of working together.

References

Bundy, A. C., Naughton, G., Tranter, P., Wyver, S., Baur, L., Schiller, W., Bauman, A., Engelen, L., Ragen, J., Luckett, T., Niehues, A., Stewart, G., Jessup, G. & Brentnall, J. (2011). The Sydney playground project: popping the bubblewrap - unleashing the power of play: a cluster randomised controlled trial of a primary school playground-based intervention aiming to increase children's physical activity and social skills. BMC Public Health, 11, 1-9

Gill, T.(2005). If you go down to the woods today. The Ecologist, 35, 63-69

Kilkelly, U., Lynch, H., O’Connell, A., Moore, A., Falcini, U. & Field, S. (2015). Children and the outdoors: Contact with the outdoors and natural heritage among children aged 5 to 12: current trends, benefits, barriers and research requirements. Irish Heritage Council.

Louv, R. (2008) Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder, Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Oct 2nd, 9:00 AM Oct 2nd, 11:00 AM

Play and playspaces: Exploring the outdoors and natural heritage among children aged 5 to 12

New River Room A

Statement of purpose:

A growing body of research shows that play patterns among children are changing: children are growing up differently than in the past with fewer links to the natural world. This development has been a major concern, with researchers talking about the ‘shrinking horizons of childhood’ (Gill, 2005), play deprivation (Bundy et al, 2011), and ‘nature deficit disorder’ (Louv, 2005). There has been a growing concern that child-nature connection is under threat. Furthermore, lack of access to natural spaces infringes on children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Consequently, in 2014, the Irish Heritage Council commissioned a research team from University College Cork to conduct a review of contact with the outdoors and natural heritage among children aged 5-12. The research team consisted of members from law, education and occupational science.

Description of method

The first objective of the research project was to review literature around children’s relationship with the outdoors and natural heritage from a children’s rights perspective. This included reviewing trends, barriers, and benefits to connecting with nature, and identifying gaps in the research, particularly in the Irish context. The second objective was to conduct a qualitative study with children aged between five and twelve years. 123 children participated: from a rural, a town, and a city environment to include the views of a broad range of children from different socio-economic and geographic backgrounds. Mixed methods were used to maximise the children’s participation: a whole-class art project on the theme of ‘what I do in my free time’ was conducted in each class, and nine focus groups were carried with 39 children (18 girls, 21 boys). Discussions were audio recorded, transcribed, and analysed together with the artwork, using a qualitative analysis software package.

Report of results

Findings show that there are significant health and well-being benefits to contact with outdoor environments. Play occupations are central to these benefits, specifically where play is inclusive of risk, challenge and flexibility. However, the review of policy and legislation shows that in Ireland, children’s relationship with the natural environment has received little attention or support. Particular groups, including children with disabilities face specific challenges in this regard. However, children report preferences for playing outdoors rather than indoors. Location, weather and having friends nearby are strongly linked to the attractiveness of outdoor play.

Discussion and implications

Overall, this research evidences the changing nature of children’s lives in Ireland and demonstrates that the child-nature connection is under threat. Key implications were identified in this project including issues related to policy, public awareness, and future developments necessary to address the needs arising. Examples of outdoor play initiatives are proposed as a way forward, with consideration given to developing a children’s rights framework for evaluating children’s contact with the outdoors. This study demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary working for integrating a rights-based perspective in occupational science and studies of the physical environment. Discussion will focus on the challenges of interdisciplinary working and the benefits of working together.