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The importance of preschool children's play in the natural environment for learning early science

Martina Mohorič (2017) The importance of preschool children's play in the natural environment for learning early science. MSc thesis.

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    Play is essential for all domains of a child's development during the preschool period. However, the modern way of life has increasingly resulted in limiting play to indoor spaces that offer children diminished possibilities to explore the world. We are forgetting, though, that nature is a diverse playground and learning environment where numerous unstructured materials and objects can be found. Children attribute symbolic meaning to these, using them as toys that encourage free play. Non-living, and mainly living things in nature motivate children to play and explore, and are a source of scientific knowledge. Therefore, we can bring nature closer to children simply by offering them the opportunity to play, explore and learn in it. In my master's thesis, I was primarily interested in the impact of preschool children’s play in the natural environment on their learning of early science. In the theoretical section, I define the concept of play, with particular focus on the progress that the children made in different domains of learning through play. In the continuation I describe how their learning through play is influenced by the natural environment and which areas were positively affected as identified by the experts. I was also interested in what the role was of adults in these activities. I describe modern approaches that foreground learning in its close relation with spending free time in the nature. The empirical study examines the views of play from the child's perspective, using video cameras that were attached to each child’s waist and that automatically recorded image and voice during their play. The children were also given a camera with which they could take pictures, as well as being given drawing utensils. Expert workers continuously observed what was going on and recorded the children's conversations. This enabled us to explore the impact of play in the natural environment on the child's learning. Moreover, data analysis was used to determine gender differences related to the children's play. Twenty-one children aged 4 to 6 were included in the study. The research results have shown that children acquire early science knowledge and skills by playing outside in the natural environment and using all their senses. In their play, the children used the most elementary scientific procedures and, with help from an adult, some more demanding ones. The positive effect of play in the natural environment was not only observed in the domain of natural science, but also in all other domains of the curriculum: physical movement, society, language, art and mathematics. Safety and risky play were two domains that were given special attention. After some time in the natural environment, the children acquired a sense of how to take risks and take on new challenges within safe boundaries. While playing in nature, boys were braver and took up challenges in very diverse activities, such as climbing, sliding down a hill, construction and chasing each other. Girls more often engaged in quiet symbolic activities, such as 'playing house’. In time, the difference between the genders slightly diminished. During their play, the children used a wide variety of natural materials, most often a stick, which took on a functional (such as helping to walk uphill) or symbolic (the magic wand) role in their play. The findings of this study are relevant for educational work with children and show that much more time and opportunities should be offered to preschool children for play, in particular in natural environments, to enhance their development through free play. In saying this, I wish to emphasize the value of free play. Rather than being considered inferior to other planned activities, free play in the natural environment is at least equal to those activities and enables better use of the potentials of the natural environment.

    Item Type: Thesis (MSc thesis)
    Keywords: play, natural environment, early science, preschool child
    Number of Pages: 87
    Language of Content: Slovenian
    Mentor / Comentors:
    Mentor / ComentorsIDFunction
    doc. dr. Marcela Batistič ZorecMentor
    viš. pred. dr. Marjanca KosComentor
    Link to COBISS: http://www.cobiss.si/scripts/cobiss?command=search&base=50126&select=(ID=11509065)
    Institution: University of Ljubljana
    Department: Faculty of Education
    Item ID: 4428
    Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2017 13:09
    Last Modified: 11 Apr 2017 13:09
    URI: http://pefprints.pef.uni-lj.si/id/eprint/4428

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