Secret spaces for children in outdoor learning environments



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The built environment affects children’s behavior (Berris & Miller, 2011; Weinstein, 1977) and has an essential role in children’s socio-emotional development. However, providing an outdoor learning environment that supports children’s socio-emotional development needs is challenging because they perceive environmental factors differently than adults and to varying degrees. Besides, there has been a general lack of understanding of how environmental design features are essential in outdoor learning environments. This study aimed to investigate the importance of physical design features in secret spaces as an indicator of socio-emotional development. This descriptive, non-experimental study adopted the qualitative approach to determine the importance of physical design features in the secret spaces’ functionality. The primary data gathering techniques for this study were focus groups and a set of comprehensive design analyses. A purposive sample of 8 early childhood educators and graduate students in childhood education was selected for the focus groups, and 30 secret space settings studied and evaluated in the design analyses. The study’s finding illustrated that the most critical design features and functions of the secret space are having control over the environment by children and feeling safe and private, and supervision and access by the teachers and caregivers. The findings indicated that the physical design features, which contribute to identifying and functionality of the secret space, are flexibility, structure, and affordances. In conclusion, the study found a significant impact of the design features on secret spaces.

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Secret space, Environmental design, Affordance