Title

Play and play spaces: Listening to children’s voices on designing for play in an Irish school setting

Location

New River Room B

Start Time

3-10-2015 1:00 PM

End Time

3-10-2015 2:30 PM

Session Type

Research Paper

Abstract

Statement of purpose:

Evidence is emerging that children experience fewer opportunities for outdoor free play both at home and at school than in previous generations. This has been thought to be a contributor to childhood obesity and the increase in mental health difficulties for children. Consequently research has begun to focus more on outdoor play settings in relation to health and wellbeing. For example, in Australia, researchers have shown that when loose parts are introduced in school yards, levels of teamwork, constructive and creative play increased, along with reports in social skills and self-concept improvements (Bundy et al, 2009; Bundy et al. 2011). However, children have been excluded from having a say in designing their play environments (NCO, 2004) and studies have argued for the need to adopt a child-centred approach in planning and designing playspaces for children (Australian Heart Foundation, 2013). This study aimed to research outdoor playspace design from a child-centred approach: to explore the perspectives of children from a primary (elementary) school in Ireland on their ideal play space and its affordances.

Description of method:

A qualitative ethnographic study was conducted to explore children’s ideas about their play spaces and play preferences. A mosaic approach was used to generate data in one city school, of missed gender children aged from four to 12 years. All children engaged in an art project to share ideas about their favourite play landscapes. Focus groups were carried out with groups of children representing each class in the school: children outlined what they considered to be important for play. The researchers observed the different age groups at play during break (recess). Field notes were kept to record data from meetings with teachers, parents’ council members and the project manager. Data were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

Report of results

Data were categorised into 3 key themes: 1) a diverse range of natural and built affordances that provides 2) challenging and sensory rich experiences where the children have the opportunity to engage in a range of social and solitary outdoor and 3) a sense of ownership over the schools play space and their outdoor play experiences. Key findings demonstrate the complex requirements of the schools outdoor play environment for children that go beyond the need for physical activity play.

Discussion and implications

The study offered new insights into what children perceive to be the most important constituents of a school playspace. It also indicated that a number of factors were important for creating an outdoor play space. These included natural and built features that incorporate risk and challenging design features, allowing for spaces for social play and varying sensory experiences. This informed the transformation of the school’s bare concrete yard to a dynamic play space offering diverse play experiences. The importance of the occupational context is identified as a core factor in enabling play.

This study helps inform occupational therapists about the importance of occupational context, and incorporating a rights-based approach when working with children and schools, in designing health promoting playspaces.

References

Australian Heart Foundation (2013). Space for active play: Developing child-inspired playspace for older children. Melbourne: National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Bundy, A. C., Luckett, T., Tranter, P. J., Naughton, G. N., Wyver, S. R., Ragen, J., & Spies, G. (2009). The risk is that there is ‘no risk’: A simple innovative intervention to increase children’s activity levels. International Journal of Early Years Education, 17(1), 33-45.

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 randomized controlled trial of primary school playground -based intervention aiming to increase children’s physical activity and social skills. BMC Public Health, 11(680), 1-9.

Malone, K., & Tranter, P. (2003). Children’s environmental learning and the use, design and management of school grounds. Children, Youth and Environments, 13(2), 87-13.

National Children’s Office. (2004). Ready, steady, play! A national play policy. Dublin: The Stationary Office

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Oct 3rd, 1:00 PM Oct 3rd, 2:30 PM

Play and play spaces: Listening to children’s voices on designing for play in an Irish school setting

New River Room B

Statement of purpose:

Evidence is emerging that children experience fewer opportunities for outdoor free play both at home and at school than in previous generations. This has been thought to be a contributor to childhood obesity and the increase in mental health difficulties for children. Consequently research has begun to focus more on outdoor play settings in relation to health and wellbeing. For example, in Australia, researchers have shown that when loose parts are introduced in school yards, levels of teamwork, constructive and creative play increased, along with reports in social skills and self-concept improvements (Bundy et al, 2009; Bundy et al. 2011). However, children have been excluded from having a say in designing their play environments (NCO, 2004) and studies have argued for the need to adopt a child-centred approach in planning and designing playspaces for children (Australian Heart Foundation, 2013). This study aimed to research outdoor playspace design from a child-centred approach: to explore the perspectives of children from a primary (elementary) school in Ireland on their ideal play space and its affordances.

Description of method:

A qualitative ethnographic study was conducted to explore children’s ideas about their play spaces and play preferences. A mosaic approach was used to generate data in one city school, of missed gender children aged from four to 12 years. All children engaged in an art project to share ideas about their favourite play landscapes. Focus groups were carried out with groups of children representing each class in the school: children outlined what they considered to be important for play. The researchers observed the different age groups at play during break (recess). Field notes were kept to record data from meetings with teachers, parents’ council members and the project manager. Data were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

Report of results

Data were categorised into 3 key themes: 1) a diverse range of natural and built affordances that provides 2) challenging and sensory rich experiences where the children have the opportunity to engage in a range of social and solitary outdoor and 3) a sense of ownership over the schools play space and their outdoor play experiences. Key findings demonstrate the complex requirements of the schools outdoor play environment for children that go beyond the need for physical activity play.

Discussion and implications

The study offered new insights into what children perceive to be the most important constituents of a school playspace. It also indicated that a number of factors were important for creating an outdoor play space. These included natural and built features that incorporate risk and challenging design features, allowing for spaces for social play and varying sensory experiences. This informed the transformation of the school’s bare concrete yard to a dynamic play space offering diverse play experiences. The importance of the occupational context is identified as a core factor in enabling play.

This study helps inform occupational therapists about the importance of occupational context, and incorporating a rights-based approach when working with children and schools, in designing health promoting playspaces.