Master of Science
Geography and Environment
Dr. Jason Gilliland
Parks can offer an optimal play environment for supporting childhood development by encouraging the engagement of adventurous and diverse play. This study examines how park design influences children’s park use and play behaviours with the aim of identifying what features can be improved to better facilitate child engagement in adventurous play and diverse play types. Using London, Ontario as a case study, nine 1.5-hour observational sessions of behaviour mapping were conducted in each park. 248 play events were observed in Lorne Avenue Park, a hybrid natural park and 310 play events were observed in Carriage Hill Park, a traditional park. The location and prevalence of risk-related behaviours, outdoor play types, physical activity intensity levels, and environmental interactions were determined, revealing existing features in each park that support positive risky play and diverse play types. This study reveals key features that can inform the design of balanced, safe, and challenging play spaces within a Canadian context.
Summary for Lay Audience
High-quality and challenging play spaces have a crucial role in supporting the cognitive and physical development of children. In Canada, since there is no standard park design required by law, there is the unique opportunity to create meaningful and adventurous play spaces that prioritizes children’s overall health and development. To create these environments, there needs to be an understanding of how children interact with play structures and their natural surroundings. Adventurous play, which is when the child directs themselves, has a level of risk that benefits the child’s health and development. In policy and academic literature, there have been concerns raised about the existing designs of Canadian parks and playgrounds being too restrictive and unsupportive of adventurous play, which may be a barrier to childhood development (Sandseter, 2009; City of Toronto, 2016; Sandseter & Kennair, 2011; Brussoni et al., 2012). This study examines the relationship between how children play and the design of parks in London, Ontario, Canada to identify existing features that encourage children to engage in adventurous play and diverse outdoor play types.
Behaviour mapping was used to observe children’s play in outdoor spaces, which was done by capturing their behaviour while recording their geographical location. Two types of parks were explored and compared in this study: Lorne Avenue Park, a natural hybrid park and Carriage Hill Park, a traditional park. The location and frequency of risk behaviours, outdoor play types, physical activity intensity levels, and environmental interactions were determined. Both parks were found to have existing features that support positive risky play and diverse play types but can be modified to further increase opportunities for these types of play. Results from behaviour mapping suggest that parks with more loose natural elements such as branches, open green space, sand play, hills, features encouraging slower-paced movements, and separate play areas supported more positive risky play behaviours and diverse play opportunities, thus better facilitating adventurous play.
Improving existing features in Canadian parks is a simple and economical way to create a balanced play environment that prioritizes the overall health and development of children. The research offers recommendations for future park design and planning projects in Canadian cities.
Aglipay, Alyssa O., "Examining the Relationship Between Park Design and Children's Park Use and Play Behaviours in London, Ontario using Behaviour Mapping" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9575.