Young Children’s Preferences: What Stimulates Children’s Cognitive Play in Outdoor Preschools?

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A number of studies have identified childcare environments as significant resources for children’s development, learning through play, and contact with nature. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how, from a child’s perspective, specific outdoor physical environments in preschools stimulate children’s cognitive play.

Emphasizing on the value of listening to children, this study reports the perspectives of twenty-two 4- to 5-year-olds. The study context was an outdoor preschool with natural, mixed, and manufactured settings. A combination of photo preferences and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate children’s perception of preferred settings and cognitive plays.

The results identified that children mainly enjoyed functional and dramatic play. They mostly preferred mixed behavior settings that incorporated ranges of natural and manufactured elements. Compared to other settings, children found mixed settings provided the most opportunities for functional, constructive, dramatic, and game with rules play. The outcomes of this study have implications for the design of outdoor preschools, suggesting a balanced integration of nature with manufactured play features to enhance cognitive play experiences.

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