Play Based Natural Environments and Language Development in Young Children
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In order to dispute the assumption that learning and cognitive development only happens indoors, in classrooms and in early childhood centres, this thesis explores the relationship between play based natural environments and language development in young children. Natural settings are gaining increasing recognition as important learning environments because of the associated benefits such as health, fitness, and environmentalism. The three concepts of play, nature, and natural outdoor environments are intertwined. Through play, children adapt to and shape their environments, while the context influences the nature of their play, and their talk. Nature based outdoor environments are dynamic settings, providing multiple clues and meanings for new words to be learnt within that context. This thesis examines the current literature, along with examples from 40 years of experience in early childhood centres in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which is uniquely placed for international curriculum leaders, to contribute to the worldwide understanding of education in the outdoors. Historically, children worldwide grew up learning in the outdoors, but somehow, we have come to perceive learning and development as something that happens in special buildings. Human learning and performance is far more situation specific than has been presumed, therefore, context affects our capacity to learn. Different environments offer different opportunities for learning and impacts on language development. Multi-sensory experiences in natural settings help children to develop the theories necessary for constant intellectual growth, through stimulating imaginations and affording an ideal environment for resourcefulness, inventiveness, and language development. Both in the literature and in my experience the benefits of play relative to other strategies is that children can be more focused, imaginative and innovative, which allows for further practice and for them to play utilising newly developing language. When learning a language combined with playing in the outdoors children are learning much more than words. They are learning about life itself and how their world works. From this thesis future research should include intervention studies comparing groups of children, controlling for factors such as language, and language usage, and type and situation (within a centre, at home and/or in natural outdoor environments). Studies could investigate the affordances in the environment and how they influence, benefit and affect language development. The role of the adult and the types and use of adult language used in differing environments should be analysed in order to see how this supports language development. The findings from this study ought to accentuate the value and importance of play based outdoor ECE programmes to politicians and Ministry of Education officials, for them to become better informed, and enable these programmes to become mainstream and accessible to all children in Aotearoa/New Zealand.