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Young children, the outdoors and nature
Young children, the outdoors and nature

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1.2 The child with nature: affordances

The concept of ‘affordances’ is useful if you want to think about the best type of environments for young children. Researchers often use this concept to describe the relationship between the characteristics of a particular environment and the way in which people (here children) might engage with it. The concept was first used by Gibson (1979) to describe the characteristics of an environment in relation to an individual. Affordances are unique to each individual depending on their body size, skills, experience and motivation.

It is an important idea when thinking about children spending time outdoors and is well illustrated in Figure 1. Think about how the affordances of this environment might change with the seasons, the time of day and the age and interests of the child. A slightly older child would engage differently with the environment in Figure 1. They might find a nearby log to sit on or climb on a tree stump. They might use the twigs in a more imaginative, symbolic way such as pretending they are food or a sword.