The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children
Landscape description, landscape analyses and suitability criteria for natural playscapes.
Ingunn Fjørtoft and Jostein Sageie
Department of Teacher Education/ Department of Computer Science and Mathematics
Telemark University College, Norway.
There is growing concern about children spending too much time sitting indoors instead of playing outdoors. Recently focus has been on how the natural environment affords possibilities and challenges for children to explore their own abilities for exercise and mastering. Studies have shown how children's play in the natural environment stimulates their motor fitness. Other learning effects on linguistic and conceptual context, spatial perception, and biological knowledge have also been noticed. An experimental study was carried out with five-year-old and six-year-old pre-primary school children. The experimental group (N=46) was given motor training through playing in the natural environment. The physical landscape, vegetation, and topography were the arena for activities and free play. The natural playground was mapped and analyzed by the GIS. The experimental group visited the arena one to two hours every day when they attended kindergarten. The reference group (N=29) was similar to the experimental group in age and living conditions. The reference group participated in normal kindergarten activities, but visited the natural environment only occasionally. The study lasted for nine months. The groups were tested before and after the implementation of the study. As testing methods the EUROFIT Motor Fitness Test was applied. Results: Preliminary results show a better improvement in motor fitness in the experimental group compared to the reference group. Significant differences (p<.01) were found in coordination, balance skills, and agility. Age-related and maturation-related competencies such as body strength and flexibility improved in all groups but did not show similar significant differences between the groups. It was also noticed that the amount of free play in the experimental group increased. There was also a considerable increase in the children's interest in and knowledge of nature. Conclusion: By playing and activities in the natural environment the children's motor fitness is improved. Nature affords possibilities and challenges for the children to explore their own abilities. The children feel more comfortable by being in the natural environment and their knowledge about nature increases. The study indicates that the natural environment is a stimulating arena for mastering and learning processes in pre-primary school children.
Use of GIS is rapidly increasing in various disciplines. In this part of the presentation we'll show how geographic data and related attributes (descriptive data in text and figures) can be organized in a GIS database, how children's activity can be mapped and documented by use of videos and digital images, how these databases can be used for interactive visualization of the landscape and related activities, and how GIS can be used for landscape and suitability analysis (where do the children play, what type of landscapes are suitable for different types of play). In a GIS, real-world phenomena such as viewpoints, topography, activity areas, vegetation types, tracks, buildings, and roads are represented by use of the geometric primitives points, lines, and polygons. The position is defined in coordinates in a common Cartesian reference system. Related attributes to the geographic information are organized in a relational database system and linked to the geographic information. This gives us opportunity for flexible symbolization of the geometric data and the possibility to select data based on its attribute values (e.g., find areas where the activity is skiing and shade these areas in red). Linking videos or digital images to the geometric data can then be used for visualization of the activities and landscape. According to defined criteria, suitability analyses can be done based on attribute values and spatial relations. Functionality as buffer (find areas in a specific distance from a phenomenon) and overlay (find correlation between two or more sets of data) are typical in GIS analysis. Methods from landscape ecology and geomorphology are used to analyze and describe the landscape. We use ArcInfo, FRAGSTATS*ARC, and ArcView GIS for this analysis and presentation. By using GIS as a tool to describe and analyze the natural environment as a playground (play habitat) for children, it is possible to visualize and document how the landscape, the topography, the vegetation, and its physiognomy have an impact on children's learning through the natural environment. Explicitly this project focuses on how the natural environment is a challenge to children's ability for mastering and how it directly has an impact on their motor development.
Purpose of the study
For this presentation we have concentrated on the description and analyses of the landscape as a playground for children based on the affordance (Gibson 1979) of the landscape for versatile play. It was hypothesized that variation and diversity in the landscape corresponded with diversity in play activities. The main objectives were 1) to describe and analyze a woodland area as a playground for children, and 2) to describe, analyze and visualize how children’s play was related to important landscape elements such as vegetation and topography, and 3) to focus on some basic suitability criteria of natural playscapes for children, and to exemplify how such criteria can be applied for selection of potential playscapes.
In this study we have explored methods from landscape ecology and geomorphology for description, analysis and visualization of landscape characteristics as important elements in playscapes for children, implemented in GIS (Fjørtoft and Sageie 2000). Use of GIS is rapidly increasing in various disciplines. In this part of the presentation we will show:
·How geographic data and related attributes (descriptive data in text and figures) can beorganized in a GIS database.
·How children’s activity can be mapped and documented by use of videos and digital images.
·How these databases can be used for interactive visualization of the landscape and related activities.
·How GIS can be used for landscape- and suitability analysis: (Where do the children play, what type of landscapes are suitable for different types of play?).
In a GIS, real world phenomena as viewpoints, topography, activity areas, vegetation types, tracks, buildings, roads and so on are represented by use of the geometric primitives point, lines and polygons. The position is defined in co-ordinates in a common Cartesian references system.
Related attributes to the geographic information are organized in relation database system, and linked to the geographic information. This gives the opportunity for flexible symbolization of the geometric data, and possibility to do selection of data based on their attribute values. (Ex.: Find areas where the activity is skiing, and shade these areas in read).
Linking videos or digital images to the geometric data can then be used for visualization of the activities and landscape.
According to defined criteria, suitability analyses can be done based on attribute values and spatial relations (Fjørtoft and Sageie in preparation). Functionality as buffer (find areas in a specific distance from a phenomena), and overlay (find correlation between two or more sets of data), are typical GIS analysis.
Methods from landscape ecology (Forman and Godron 1986, Forman 1997) and geomorphology (Burrough 1996, Tomlin 1990, Worboys 1995) are used to analyze and describe the landscape. We used ARC-INFO, FRAGSTATS*ARC and ArcView for this analysis and presentation.
Landscape metrics were computed and presented in statistical figures and thematic maps. The topography analysis results are presented as profiles, slope map, roughness map and statistical figures. The criteria for suitability are presented in tables and thematic maps. The actual playscape used daily by the kindergarten comprised a total area of 6.8 ha. The vegetation was mapped and the physiognomy of trees and shrubs were important for the children’s selection of play habitats. Topography was measured as slope and roughness.
Suitable areas for specific types of play where derived from the base map, the thematic maps as well as from the reference areas for different forms of play. Another example of suitability criteria for play habitats is the distance from kindergarten exemplified in. Distance from kindergarten to habitats in reach is defined as 100 meters for the closer habitats, while most of the total area is within reach of 200 meters.
By using GIS as a tool to describe and analyze the nature as a playground (play habitats) for children it is possible to visualize and document how the landscape, the topography, the vegetation and its physiognomy have an impact on children's play (Fjørtoft and Sageie 2000). Furthermore, the suitability criteria of a natural playscape focused on the correlatives of features in the landscape and the affordance for play (Fjørtoft and Sageie in preparation). Security and the level of risk were discussed. Explicitly, this project focus on how the natural environment is a challenge to children's ability for mastering and how it implicitly have an impact on their motor development (Fjørtoft in press).
Burrough, P.A. 1996. principles of Geographic Information Systems for Land Resources Assessment. University of Utrecht, Netherlands. Cambridge University press.
Forman, R.T.T. and. Godron, M. 1986. landscape Ecology. John Wiley, New York.
Forman, R.T.T. 1997. land Mosaics. The ecology of landscapes and regions. Cambridge University Press, reprint.
Fjørtoft, I. and Sageie, J. 2000. The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children. Landscape description and analyses of a natural playscape.
Landscape and UrbanPlanning VOL. 48 NOS 1-2, pp. 83-97.
Fjørtoft, I. and Sageie, J. Natural Environments as Playgrounds for Children. Potential suitability criteria for natural playscapes. In preparation.
Fjørtoft, I. 2000. The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children. The impact of out-door play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education. In press.
Gibson, J. L. 1979. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
Tomlin, C. D. 1990. Geographic Information Systems and Cartographic Modeling.
Worboys, M.F. 1995. GIS: A Computing Perspective. Taylor & Francis.
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Address: Department of Teacher Education
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Address: Department of Computer Science and Mathematics
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