- •Children express interest in plant species that offer affordances to their play.
- •Children prefer the natural settings located along the edges of main play spaces.
- •The boundaries around the natural settings influence children’s play types in them.
- •Children are sensitive to the condition of plants and prefer them well-maintained.
- •Children do not often experience conflict of activities in natural settings.
Children have less opportunity for contact with nature in our increasingly urbanised lifestyle yet natural environments play an important role in children’s health and development. Children spend considerable amount of their daily time at school hence school grounds are recognised as crucial settings that can increase children’s interaction with nature. However, little is known about the children’s preferences for the physical characteristics of various natural settings in schools. This qualitative study used walking tours, focus groups and behaviour mapping to identify the types of natural settings that primary school children preferred in three Australian school grounds. The study also documented children’s age and gender and the differences and similarities between the ways they used these settings. Thematic analysis revealed multiple physical characteristics of natural settings preferred by children in the school environments. These characteristics include physical features of different plant species, spatial location of the natural settings, their physical boundaries, and their condition. The results showed that children’s preferred natural settings featured elements that offered affordances to their play; were located along the playground edges; were often marked with boundaries that defined their play areas; and were well-maintained. This paper argues that vegetation in school grounds is important, but its presence is not enough to boost children’s interaction with natural environments. The type, context, and condition of natural settings should also be considered for children’s increased engagement with nature and be taken into account in the design and management of school grounds.
School of Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, 2052, Australia