The hidden value of in-between spaces for children’s self-directed play within outdoor school environments



The value of self-directed play for children’s healthy development has been recognised for the past decades (Fromberg and Bergen, 2012Frost et al., 2001Hughes, 2010). However, the nature of spaces that support this play type within school grounds is not sufficiently known. This study by Aminpour (2017) is an investigation of in-between spaces within outdoor school environments and their very little-known value for children’s self-directed play. It explores these spaces from children’s perspectives to identify their environmental characteristics that their values are generally overlooked by school designers and school administrations.

This study is the first examination of in-between spaces that provides a comprehensive framework of the social, physical and organisational characteristics of these spaces and their dynamic relationship. The central argument is that for children to be able to establish their self-directed play, all the environmental dimensions of a play space should be supportive. Children’s preference for in-between spaces is not only associated with the physical opportunities that support their activities but also linked to the capacity of these spaces to let children have more control over their social interaction and the impact of the school’s rules.

This paper offers multiple examples of in-between spaces within Australian school grounds and children’s self-directed play activities that these spaces support. It draws on the gendered use of school grounds and how in-between spaces facilitate gender balance in the use of outdoor school environments over recess time periods. The paper offers recommendations for school design and school policy to recognise these spaces for their spatial value for children’s play in schools. 


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