How does a manmade outdoor area in a large, urban kindergarten afford physical activity to 5-year-old children.

Løndal, K.
Norbeck, K.B.
Thoren, A.H.
Children, Youth and Environments 25(2), 1-18.


The purpose of the study is to examine if and how a manmade outdoor area in a large urban kindergarten (barnehage) affords physical activity for 5-year-old children. A manmade outdoor area is an area consisting of different types of artificial equipment, such as playground installations.


Overall, the results show that the manmade outdoor area allowed for very different kinds of physical activity for the seven children. The authors therefore conclude that similar outdoor areas/playgrounds have the potential to encourage physically active play.


The outdoor area/playground consists of distinct manmade areas. The authors identify three overall areas: (1) places on the ground, (2) places to climb, and (3) places with loose parts and/or loose materials. The authors divide these three categories into subcategories. Places on the ground are divided into (a) large open areas, (b) small, well-defined areas, and (c) paths. Places to climb are divided into (a) climbing areas, and (b) stairways and ladders. Places with loose parts and/or materials are divided into (a) areas with loose materials or movable play objects, and (b) areas with loose substances.


The authors observed that the large open areas offered the child a range of possibilities for physical activity, such as running. In these areas the children engaged in chasing pigeons or running zig zag, for example. In the small well-defined areas, the children played alone or in smaller groups. The small well-defined areas included small nooks surrounded by buildings or playground installations. The study shows that these places enabled the children to hide and withdraw from others. The paths were used as routes between areas and often offered the children the possibility to run. Furthermore, the study showed that the climbing areas could, for instance, consist of a climbing pyramid made of rope, on which the children can use their balancing and climbing skills. The authors found that ladders and stairways had the same function as the paths, i.e. they were used to move from place to place. Furthermore, ladders and stairways allowed the children to push with their legs and hold on with their arms. Finally, the study shows that places with loose materials or movable play objects comprise areas with balls, bicycles, scooters, swings etc., whereas places with loose substances could be, for instance, sandpits. The authors point out that play objects which allow the children to move around are particularly popular, and that loose substances (sand) allow the children to become absorbed in digging, building and 'baking'.


The study was conducted in a large urban kindergarten with a manmade outdoor area. Qualitative data material, consisting primarily of individual observations of selected children, but also conversations with the selected children and with the staff, was collected by one researcher in the autumn of 2012. The observations focused on the following questions: What is the child’s location in the outdoor area? What is the child doing there? Furthermore, knowledge about the outdoor areas in the kindergarten was obtained, e.g. maps, pictures and descriptions from the architect. Seven 5-year-old children (four boys and three girls) were selected for participation in the study. The children were selected on the basis of the researchers’ assessment that the children would use the outdoor areas in different ways, and that the children would be able to provide useful information to address the research questions.


Løndal, K., Norbeck, K.B. & Thoren, A.H. (2015). How does a manmade outdoor area in a large, urban kindergarten afford physical activity to 5-year-old children. Children, Youth and Environments 25(2), 1-18.

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