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Learning theories guiding outdoor education: Playful learning theory

This is an excerpt from Outdoor Education-2nd Edition by Ken Gilbertson,Alan Ewert,Pirkko Siklander & Timothy Bates.

In the early years of outdoor and environmental education, it was commonly believed that children under 3rd grade (9 years old) were simply too young to be able to learn about nature. That notion has changed dramatically, and a fast-growing body of research has developed into a subdiscipline called “nature play” or “young children with nature.” This section addresses how nature play—or playful learning—is a critical component of outdoor education and how to teach young children about and through nature. We now provide outdoor educational learning experiences for children as young as 2 years old. Some key terms that apply more commonly and specifically to young children and nature are the following:

  • Agency means seeing children as active participants in society. Specifically in nature play, agency refers to the child’s ability to interact with, contribute to, and develop themselves within the social circle in which they are participating (James 2009). While agency is used often in nature play literature, it is also known as efficacy or one’s self-belief when working with teens through adults.
  • Affordance involves the opportunities in nature that the teacher provides for their students, such as a nature play site (figure 3.3) or a small stream to explore. These affordances are referred to as the setting for older children and adults.