Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education

A special issue of Education Sciences (ISSN 2227-7102). This special issue belongs to the section "Early Childhood Education".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2023) | Viewed by 36464

Special Issue Editors

Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment and Behavioural Research in Education, University of Stavanger, 4036 Stavanger, Norway
Interests: quality and effects of ECEC-service; bullying in ECEC; curriculum research in ECEC; endangered children and competency development; organization and pedagogical use of the physical environment in ECEC institutions; psychomotor learning and development; health, wellbeing, and psychosocial outcomes of physical activity
Department of Physical Education and Health, Queen Maud University College, Trondheim 7044, Norway
Interests: outdoor play; risky play; wellbeing; physical activity; play environments; learning environments
Department of Physical Education and Health, Queen Maud University College, Trondheim 7044, Norway
Interests: early childhood; play; physical activity; wellbeing; physical environment; risky play; children’s health and development

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues, 

There is a growing consensus contends that physical environments play an essential role in children’s development and learning. Children learn best in environments that provide them with meaningful contexts for learning and a diversity of choices and possibilities for following their interests. Factors concerning the educational environment, such as early childhood education and care institutions’ (ECECs) physical features, are important for children’s play, wellbeing, participation, health, development, and learning outcomes. Research clearly indicates that the environment’s physical factors greatly influence children’s perception and utilization of both indoor and outdoor physical environments.

The aim of this Special Issue is to gather and disseminate contemporary and high-quality research on how physical environments, spaces, and materials in early childhood education influence child outcomes such as their development, learning, play, wellbeing, and social relations. The understanding of learning spaces and the physical environment in this Special Issue covers a broad sense of the concept, such as various landscapes and places, buildings, outdoor and indoor environments, interior design, furnishing, equipment, installations, and play material.

We welcome manuscripts with a focus on, but not limited to:

  • The interconnection between physical environments and children’s everyday lives and play in ECEC physical environments;
  • The relation between physical environments in ECEC and children’s wellbeing, development, and learning;
  • The ECEC institutions’ pedagogical work for utilizing and developing learning spaces;
  • Children’s perceptions, experiences, actions (play), and learning in relation with their physical environment in ECEC;
  • Teachers and practitioners’ perceptions, experiences, actions, and pedagogical practice in the ECEC’s physical environment;
  • Teachers and practitioners’ competence and professional development regarding the creation of inspiring and supportive ECEC physical environments;
  • Architects, public authorities and ECEC owners’ work on planning and developing learning spaces in ECEC.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Moser
Prof. Dr. Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter
Dr. Ole Johan Sando
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Education Sciences is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • physical environment
  • furniture
  • toys and artefacts
  • landscape
  • learning space

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

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13 pages, 458 KiB  
Article
The Role of Play and Objects in Children’s Deep-Level Learning in Early Childhood Education
Educ. Sci. 2023, 13(7), 701; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13070701 - 10 Jul 2023
Viewed by 2174
Abstract
This research investigates the significance of the physical environment in early childhood education and care (ECEC) institutions as a facilitator of deep-level learning. Building upon Laevers’ concept of deep-level learning, this study explores the interplay between objects in ECEC settings, children’s play, and [...] Read more.
This research investigates the significance of the physical environment in early childhood education and care (ECEC) institutions as a facilitator of deep-level learning. Building upon Laevers’ concept of deep-level learning, this study explores the interplay between objects in ECEC settings, children’s play, and their deep-level learning. The primary objective is to examine the potential mediating role of play in the relationship between objects and deep-level learning. The research methodology involves the analysis of a sample consisting of 928 two-minute video observations collected from eight ECEC institutions in Norway. The results demonstrate a positive association between children’s engagement in play, their utilization of objects, and deep-level learning. The findings suggest that constructive and symbolic play partly mediate the positive relationship between deep-level learning and object utilization. These outcomes highlight the pivotal role of play in early childhood education and emphasize how elements within the physical environment can effectively support children’s learning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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15 pages, 2801 KiB  
Article
Optimising Early Childhood Educational Settings for Health Using Nature-Based Solutions: The Microbiome Aspect
Educ. Sci. 2023, 13(2), 211; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13020211 - 16 Feb 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 4247
Abstract
Early childhood is a time of rapid physiological, cognitive, and social development, affected by various environmental factors. The physical environment, including the environmental microbiome (the entire consortium of microorganisms and their theatre of activity in a given environment), plays an essential role in [...] Read more.
Early childhood is a time of rapid physiological, cognitive, and social development, affected by various environmental factors. The physical environment, including the environmental microbiome (the entire consortium of microorganisms and their theatre of activity in a given environment), plays an essential role in childhood development and can be shaped in ways to support health and wellbeing. In this Perspective article, we present considerations for early childhood education settings that wish to shape their outdoor and indoor environments to optimise human and ecosystem health. This is done in line with the latest evidence base on optimising health-supporting interactions between humans and environmental microbiota, but also in pedagogically and developmentally appropriate ways. Based on the Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure (MIGI) principles, the considerations presented here not only support health through human–nature interactions and a healthier natural environment, but also promote a closer, reciprocal relationship between children and their natural environments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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13 pages, 1046 KiB  
Article
A Follow-Up Review on the Impact of a Participatory Action Research Regarding Outdoor Play and Learning
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(10), 679; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12100679 - 05 Oct 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1560
Abstract
The aim of the study is to examine educators’ reflections on their practices and views regarding outdoor play and learning (OPL) and unveil the impact and sustainability of participating in participatory action research (PAR). The study draws back on the findings of a [...] Read more.
The aim of the study is to examine educators’ reflections on their practices and views regarding outdoor play and learning (OPL) and unveil the impact and sustainability of participating in participatory action research (PAR). The study draws back on the findings of a PAR conducted three years ago in two different school units that aimed to support children’s OPL. In the current research, we return to the research field, and with the participating educators we attempt to shed light on their experiences after the formal research came to an end. The research has a socio-cultural perspective on outdoor play and learning with references to participative and active relationships between cultural, social, spatial, and psychological factors. Participating in research where all participants were agents of the change (PAR) enabled the educators to enrich their pedagogical agendas and respect children’s need to play outdoors; it further helped them feel confident and develop competencies in designing outdoor activities. However, the findings unveil the challenges that educators face in creating sustainable outdoor landscapes due to the lack of sufficient supervision and governmental support. The study adds new data regarding the release of sustainable long-term changes both in outdoor pedagogies and settings. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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19 pages, 9595 KiB  
Article
“It’s about Taking the Risk”: Exploring Toddlers’ Risky Play in a Redesigned Outdoor Space
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(10), 677; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12100677 - 05 Oct 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3337
Abstract
Physically challenging, risky play is a natural part of children’s outdoor play behaviour, yet risky play is often limited by the environmental affordances as well as educators’ reluctance to allow this type of play due to safety concerns. This case study explored the [...] Read more.
Physically challenging, risky play is a natural part of children’s outdoor play behaviour, yet risky play is often limited by the environmental affordances as well as educators’ reluctance to allow this type of play due to safety concerns. This case study explored the influence of the redesign of the outdoor environment on 18–26-month-old children’s play behaviours and their educators’ attitudes and responses to the children’s risky play. Video recorded observations examined the children’s play behaviours and adult interactions with the children during their usual outdoor play time. Interviews with educators explored their conceptions of risk-taking and attitudes towards the risky elements included in the redesigned space, whilst their attitudes towards children’s risky play and personal risk-taking behaviours were examined using the Tolerance of Risk in Play Scale and Attitudes Towards Risk questionnaire. Findings indicate that despite initial concerns, educators were supportive of the children’s risky play in the new environment and the environment afforded opportunities for diverse play including risky play. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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13 pages, 1076 KiB  
Article
The Relationship between the Quality of Kindergartens’ Outdoor Physical Environment and Preschoolers’ Social Functioning
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(10), 661; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12100661 - 28 Sep 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2396
Abstract
The ability to initiate and engage in relationships is a critical landmark and predictor of children’s development and well-being. In kindergarten, children exhibit greater social participation outdoors rather than indoors. Indeed, the physical environment influences preschoolers’ social proximity. In this study, we examine [...] Read more.
The ability to initiate and engage in relationships is a critical landmark and predictor of children’s development and well-being. In kindergarten, children exhibit greater social participation outdoors rather than indoors. Indeed, the physical environment influences preschoolers’ social proximity. In this study, we examine the relationship between the quality of kindergartens’ outdoor physical environment and preschoolers’ social functioning. Two kindergartens in Gondomar, Portugal, were selected to participate according to different levels of their physical environment outdoors (poor and fair quality) and measured by a specific physical environment rating scale. Twenty-six children (aged 3–6, 10 boys) participated in this study. Children’s social proximity at the playground was measured through Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID). Mann–Whitney statistical tests were used to compare social proximity between groups. Our results showed that in the higher quality outdoor area, children spent less time alone and more time in social proximity with their peers in smaller groups (one or two children). More time was also spent in social proximity with different genders. Our study emphasizes the critical importance of reviewing kindergartens’ outdoor physical environments to support preschoolers’ social needs in a more challenging and diverse setting. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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36 pages, 36132 KiB  
Article
Rewilding Play: Design Build Interventions
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(10), 653; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12100653 - 27 Sep 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2227
Abstract
Research on physical interventions installed in outdoor environments and their impacts on children’s play and development is a growing area of study. This paper focuses on the design and installation of outdoor interventions at early childhood education centres in Vancouver, Canada and the [...] Read more.
Research on physical interventions installed in outdoor environments and their impacts on children’s play and development is a growing area of study. This paper focuses on the design and installation of outdoor interventions at early childhood education centres in Vancouver, Canada and the impact that theses interventions had on play affordances. With the aim of intervening with inexpensive natural materials and loose parts, graduate students designed, built, and installed interventions and using the Seven Cs evaluation form they scored the play spaces pre- and post-installation. Design methods included the Seven Cs design guidelines and the Two-Eyed Seeing model. Students also sought the insights of Early Childhood Educators, maintenance staff, licensing officers, the British Columbia Cancer Agency, and an Indigenous herbalist/educator. They also examined and addressed solar modifications to create dappled light. To understand the impacts of the student interventions researchers compared the pre- and post-intervention Seven Cs scores, which increased by 20 to 30 points. Researchers seeking to replicate this type of project in their own institutions should carefully consider the impact of climate change on construction timing and material selection, and sensitivity to the diversity of socio-cultural values embedded in the community and within design decisions and the interventions themselves. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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17 pages, 584 KiB  
Article
Implementing an Empowerment Framework: The Significance for Children’s Play Environments and Reflective Practice
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(8), 556; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12080556 - 16 Aug 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 4213
Abstract
This paper examines implementing a unique way of observing children’s play through an empowerment framework; considering children’s choices, decisions, and interactions through an empowerment lens. The study considers the different ways children are empowered through their play environments using participation, voice, and ownership [...] Read more.
This paper examines implementing a unique way of observing children’s play through an empowerment framework; considering children’s choices, decisions, and interactions through an empowerment lens. The study considers the different ways children are empowered through their play environments using participation, voice, and ownership as three guiding themes and the challenges of recording children’s empowerment for practitioners. Five nested case studies in two different UK-based childcare environments form the basis of the research. Thematic analysis scrutinised the data that were generated from observations of children’s play, interviews with practitioners and a focus group with both settings. A phenomenological theoretical framing allowed a layered picture of empowerment to emerge. Practitioners made subjective yet informed judgements about children’s empowerment in their observations, drawing on knowledge and understanding of children’s personalities. Empowering experiences were recorded under prompt questions focusing on the way in which and the influences of how children were experiencing empowering moments. Observing through an empowerment framework has changed practice and the way practitioners think about the opportunities provided for children in their play environment. The main challenges for practitioners relate to anxiety around moving away from outcome-based observations and time limitations on producing meaningful narratives around children’s empowerment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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12 pages, 763 KiB  
Article
Australian Preservice Early Childhood Teachers’ Considerations of Natural Areas as Conducive and Important to Include in Educational Experiences
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(7), 481; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12070481 - 12 Jul 2022
Viewed by 1231
Abstract
Understanding preservice early childhood teachers’ perspectives on education in nature is important in the context of risk aversion and the future of education for sustainability. In the present study, 296 early childhood preservice teachers examined 16 photographs of outdoor areas from four categories: [...] Read more.
Understanding preservice early childhood teachers’ perspectives on education in nature is important in the context of risk aversion and the future of education for sustainability. In the present study, 296 early childhood preservice teachers examined 16 photographs of outdoor areas from four categories: park with fence, park without fence, grassy area, forest. They the selected photographs depicting areas they most preferred and least preferred. They then selected photographs depicting areas the considered most or least conduciveness to education. The participants also completed a series of questions related to their beliefs about education in nature ant the benefits for child development and health. There were clear associations between the areas participants preferred and those they considered educationally conducive. Likewise, there were associations between areas participants least preferred and their ratings of least conducive. The belief that nature experiences belong within school settings was the strongest predictor of perceived educational and developmental benefits. The findings suggest more opportunity to spend time in a range of natural environments and a belief in the importance of nature experiences should be emphasised in early childhood preservice teacher training. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
14 pages, 1061 KiB  
Article
A GoPro Look on How Children Aged 17–25 Months Assess and Manage Risk during Free Exploration in a Varied Natural Environment
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(5), 361; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12050361 - 21 May 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 6679
Abstract
Research indicates that risky play has positive effects on children’s development, learning and health, and ability to assess and manage risk, but there is a lack of knowledge on how toddlers engage in risky play. This study aims to investigate how toddlers assess [...] Read more.
Research indicates that risky play has positive effects on children’s development, learning and health, and ability to assess and manage risk, but there is a lack of knowledge on how toddlers engage in risky play. This study aims to investigate how toddlers assess and manage risk in free exploration in a varied natural environment and was conducted within an explorative qualitative approach. Observations were collected through head-mounted GoPro cameras while seven toddlers freely explored a natural environment. The results show that toddlers are able to assess and manage risks in challenging natural environments. They develop their own risk management skills and assess risks directly and indirectly. The results also show that practitioners sometimes perform risk assessment/management on behalf of the child and thus override the child’s own actions. The findings suggest implications for an early childhood education and care (ECEC) practice where children even as young as 17–25 months should be allowed to explore challenging environments and learn how to assess and manage risks. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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16 pages, 324 KiB  
Article
Barriers and Facilitators to Toddlers’ Physical Activity during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as Perceived by Teachers, Principals and Parents: A Challenge for the Early Childhood Educational Environments
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(5), 349; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12050349 - 17 May 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2201
Abstract
The aim of our study was to explore the barriers and facilitators that teachers, principals, and parents face when adapting to COVID-19 pandemic scenario in terms of promoting toddlers’ physical activity (PA). Thirty-four (20 teachers and principals, and 14 parents) semi-structured qualitative interviews [...] Read more.
The aim of our study was to explore the barriers and facilitators that teachers, principals, and parents face when adapting to COVID-19 pandemic scenario in terms of promoting toddlers’ physical activity (PA). Thirty-four (20 teachers and principals, and 14 parents) semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted from October 2020 to March 2021. The socioecological model has enabled the identification of barriers and facilitators, some of which are related to the pandemic and others which are not. The main results suggest that upon reopening the ECEC institutions, regarding environmental barriers, educators mentioned the impact on the use of space, and parents, the modification of daily activities generated by COVID-19. However, educators also considered that the presence of suitable spaces in the school for practicing PA was a facilitator. At the intra- and interpersonal level, facilitators of PA that were unrelated to the pandemic included, for parents, the predisposition of children to be physically active and their own function as role models, and for educators, the curricular practices themselves. At an environmental level, the risk of danger in the traditional classroom plus bad weather were considered barriers by educators, while parents mentioned difficulties accessing outdoor space and the poor suitability of indoor spaces. Our results suggest the simultaneous analysis of the perceptions of different actors in the educational environments offers a broad vision of the ecological alternatives for offering children opportunities for PA in these difficult times. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
12 pages, 224 KiB  
Article
Children’s Perception and Utilization of ECEC Physical Environments
Educ. Sci. 2022, 12(2), 88; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12020088 - 26 Jan 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2507
Abstract
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) institutions play an important role in many young children’s lives. Child-oriented research about the role of the physical ECEC environment in children’s play is scarce. The present study aims to develop knowledge about what children consider crucial [...] Read more.
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) institutions play an important role in many young children’s lives. Child-oriented research about the role of the physical ECEC environment in children’s play is scarce. The present study aims to develop knowledge about what children consider crucial elements in the physical ECEC environment. Seventy-one children (3–6 years old) were interviewed to gain insight into their perspectives on the physical ECEC environment. This study indicates that children desire a physical ECEC environment with various affordances supporting different play possibilities and that the social context influences how children may interact with the physical environment. The design of the physical ECEC environment is crucial to children’s everyday play experiences while in care. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)

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16 pages, 761 KiB  
Systematic Review
Early Childhood Teachers’ Support of Children’s Play in Nature-Based Outdoor Spaces—A Systematic Review
Educ. Sci. 2024, 14(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci14010013 - 22 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1031
Abstract
Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) places value and benefits on children’s play in nature-based outdoor spaces. However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding teachers’ support of play in environments with rugged terrains and natural materials. Therefore, this systematic review aims to [...] Read more.
Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) places value and benefits on children’s play in nature-based outdoor spaces. However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding teachers’ support of play in environments with rugged terrains and natural materials. Therefore, this systematic review aims to locate, present, and discuss research literature on how teachers in ECEC settings can support children’s play in nature-based outdoor spaces. According to the review, teachers’ support of children’s play was described in the literature as encouraging children’s free and unstructured play through facilitating actions addressing the children’s perspectives and the opportunities offered by the physical environment. Furthermore, teacher support was also described as teacher-led and teacher-guided interactions where teachers and children communicate or collaborate in playful situations. Differences and overlapping elements of types of teacher support are discussed, and implications for researchers, practitioners, and ECEC teacher education are provided. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Space and Environment of Early Childhood Education)
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