Free play is important in early childhood and offers physical and mental health benefits. Outdoor play offers opportunity for children to use natural elements and promotes physical activity, among other health benefits, including exploring their environment and taking risks. Risky outdoor play may involve challenges, heights, speed, and the potential for injury, but has been associated with increased physical activity levels, decreased sedentary behaviour, improved mental health, and social benefits. The integration of loose parts, or open-ended, unstructured materials, into play environments, has been associated with positive social behaviours, creativity, and improved problem-solving, confidence, and resilience. As opportunities for risky play in early childhood are determined by adults, including early childhood educators, it is important to understand their perspectives on these types of play. The purpose of this study was to explore early childhood educators’ perspectives of risky play, in the context of the Physical Literacy in the Early Years (PLEY) intervention. PLEY was a mixed methods study that aimed to evaluate a loose parts intervention in early childcare settings. This paper used Qualitative Description to explore educators’ perspectives. Data were collected from 15 focus groups with early childhood educators. Four themes were identified through thematic analysis. The first explains how risky play with loose parts contributes to evolution in educator perceptions; the second describes how educators’ perceptions of risk are connected to institutions and systems; the third illustrates how educators developed strategies to facilitate risky play with loose parts; and the fourth demonstrates how educators perceive risky play as beneficial for children’s healthy development. This project highlights societal shifts in play and how loose parts and risky play fit into the ongoing evolution in play, from the perspectives of early childhood educators.
Rebecca A Spencer, Nila Joshi, Karina Branje, Naomi Murray, Sara FL Kirk, Michelle R Stone. Early childhood educator perceptions of risky play in an outdoor loose parts intervention[J]. AIMS Public Health, 2021, 8(2): 213-228. doi: 10.3934/publichealth.2021017