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

Research Report

Fatemeh Aminpour, Kate Bishop, Linda Corkery


Despite the important role of outdoor school environments in children’s recess, school ground design does not often manage to support children’s self-directed play. This paper argues for the value of so called ‘in-between spaces’ for children in outdoor school environments that has not been studied sufficiently from their perspectives. Employing a socio-ecological framework, this participatory qualitative study used three methods to identify the multiple environmental characteristics of in-between spaces that support children’s self-directed play. Sixty behaviour mapping sessions, 78 walking tours, and 18 focus groups were completed with children aged 8–10 during school recess. The context–sensitive data were collected in three public primary school grounds in Sydney, Australia. Using inductive thematic analysis, the physical, social and organisational characteristics of children’s chosen in-between spaces were identified. The results revealed that children’s preferred in-between spaces included small enclosures, edges and natural settings with affordances supporting their selfdirected play. These spaces offered children an opportunity to redress gender imbalance and mitigate the impact of overcrowding, problems that often inhibited children’s self-directed play in the formal spaces of school grounds. Despite children’s interest in in-between spaces, they were not valued in school grounds and were often characterised as out-of-bounds where children were not allowed during the recess time. The discussion argues for the value of in-between spaces where children can find the support of all the environmental characteristics to operate their self-directed play. School design and school policy should recognise these spaces for their spatial value for children’s play in schools.

Title File name/URL File type & size Date Description
The hidden value of in-between spaces for children’s self-directed play within outdoor school environments SERAP 2015232 Exploring the role of children's use of in-between spaces within school environments in Australia in children's development of their sense of agency.pdf icon 1277 KB [pdf] 17-Jan-2020