Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Lisa Pennisi

Date of this Version

Spring 4-30-2022


Spilker A.M.(2022). Outdoor play in Preschool Children: Parent Attitudes and Loose Part Play in Urban Settings. 1-82.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at The University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Lisa Pennisi. Lincoln, Nebraska: April 2022

Copyright © 2022 Ann M. Spilker


Outdoor play is an important aspect of young children’s health social-cognitive development. However, play in natural environments is declining due to urbanization and various safety concerns. Many urban preschools have outdoor play spaces that lack natural elements that stimulate children’s autonomy, creativity, and imaginative play. Furthermore, parents who find outdoor environments intimidating and fraught with danger limit young children’s outdoor experiences that inhibit their motor fitness, socialization with peers, and ecological awareness. Two qualitative case studies examined preschool children’s outdoor play. Study one focused on preschool children’s loose parts play in urban settings while study two examined parent’s attitudes towards outdoor play with young children. Key findings included children engaged in dramatic play more with natural loose parts than manufactured loose parts. And playgrounds with age/developmentally appropriate equipment, barriers/fences, and open/centralized play spaces with clear views would make parents more comfortable in providing outdoor play.

Advisor: Lisa Pennisi