Early Childhood Education Journal

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 439–446 | Cite as

Affordances for Risky Play in Preschool: The Importance of Features in the Play Environment



The purpose of this article is to qualitatively explore the affordances for risky play in two different preschool outdoor environments, an ordinary preschool playground and a nature playground, based on Gibson (The ecological approach to visual perception, 1979) theory of affordances and Heft’s and Kytteä’s (Heft in Children’s Environ Qual 5(3) 29–37, 1988; Kyttä in J Environ Psychol 22:109–123, 2002, Kyttä in J Environ Psychol 24:179–198, 2004) extended work on this theory. Observations of risky play in two Norwegian preschools, one ordinary preschool (where play took place on an ordinary playground) and one nature and outdoor preschool (where play took place in a nature area) were conducted. In addition, the children were interviewed about their actualized affordances of risky play, their mobility license, and the constraints on risky play. The results show that both play environments afford an extensive amount of risky play among the children, and that the degree of mobility license tolerated by the staff is an important factor for the children to actualize these affordances. Differences in the qualities and features in the two play environments were found to have an impact on the degree of riskiness in the play situations. As such, the nature playground afforded a higher degree of risk in children’s risky play.


Risky play Affordances Preschool Play environments Children 


  1. Ball, D. J. (2002). Playgrounds—risks, benefits and choices (Vol. 426/2002). London: Health and Safety Executive (HSE) contract research report, Middlesex University.Google Scholar
  2. Berg, B. L. (2007). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  3. Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary Issues Early Child, 5(1), 68–80. doi: 10.2304/ciec.2004.5.1.10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Coffey, A., & Atkinson, P. (1996). Making sense of qualitative data. Complementary research strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Fjørtoft, I. (2000). Landscape and playscape. Learning effects from playing in a natural environment on motor development in children. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Norwegian School of Sport Science: Norway, Oslo .Google Scholar
  6. Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.Google Scholar
  7. Gill, T. (2007). No fear. Growing up in a risk averse society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.Google Scholar
  8. Heft, H. (1988). Affordances of children’s environments: A functional approach to environmental description. Children’s Environment Quality, 5(3), 29–37.Google Scholar
  9. Hughes, B. (1990). Children’s play—a forgotten right. Environment Urbanization, 2(2), 58–64. doi: 10.1177/095624789000200207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jambor, T. (1998). Challenge and risk-taking in play. In D. P. Fromberg & D. Bergen (Eds.), Play from birth to twelve and beyond. Contexts, perspectives and meanings (pp. 319–323). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc./Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  11. Kaarby, K. M. E. (2004). Children playing in nature. Paper presented at the CECDE conference: Questions of quality, Dublin Castle.Google Scholar
  12. Kyttä, M. (2002). Affordances of children’s environments in the context of cities, small towns, suburbs and rural villages in Findland and Belarus. Journal of Environment Psychology, 22, 109–123. doi: 10.1006/jevp.2001.0249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kyttä, M. (2004). The extent of children’s independent mobility and the number of actualized affordances as criteria for child-friendly environments. Journal of Environment Psychology, 24, 179–198. doi: 10.1016/S0272-4944(03)00073-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lee, S. H. (1999). The cognition of playground safety and children’s play—A comparison of traditional, contemporary, and naturalized playground types. In M. L. Christiansen (Ed.), Proceedings of the international conference of playground safety. State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University: Center for Hospitality, Tourism & Recreation Research.Google Scholar
  15. Lester, S. (2007). Risky play, risky playwork. Conference proceedings, Spirit of Play Conference 2007, SkillsActive South East England’s annual conference, Accessed 1 November 2008. Retrieved from http://www.playworksoutheast.org.uk/extrainfo/stuartnotes.pdf.
  16. Merriam, S. B. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Examples for discussion and analysis. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  17. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  19. Sandseter, E. B. H. (2007). Categorizing risky play—How can we identify risk-taking in children’s play? European Early Child Education Research Journal, 15(2), 237–252. doi: 10.1080/13502930701321733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sandseter, E. B. H. (in press). Characteristics of risky play. J Adventure Educ Outdoor Learn.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical EducationQueen Maud University College of Early Childhood EducationTrondheimNorway

Personalised recommendations