Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Lani Nelson-Zlupko

Second Advisor

Dr. Ram Cnaan

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert Culp

Abstract

ABSTRACT

AN INVESTIGATION OF UNSTRUCTURED PLAY IN NATURE AND ITS EFFECT

ON CHILDREN’S SELF-EFFICACY

Paul Starling

Dr. Lani Nelson-Zlupko

Much attention is being given to childhood physical and mental well-being as it relates to outdoor play in nature. This is particularly relevant as today’s children are spending much less time outdoors, and even less time in unstructured play compared to indoor time or highly regulated supervised activity. Recent research indicates that outdoor unstructured play may be essential to core mastery in children: it has been linked to improvements in cognitive, behavioral, and even physical functioning.

This study investigated whether unstructured play in nature had an effect on children’s self-efficacy. An original, mixed methods, empirical study was conducted which enlisted 21 subjects, (n=11 male) and (n=10 female) ages 8-12. These subjects took part in unstructured play in nature within a 3-week period of time while attending a summer camp. Subjects played anywhere from 2-5 days in 45-minute play sessions. Subjects completed the modified widely used Self-Efficacy Scale (SES) and the Emotional Self-Efficacy Scale (ESES) at pre and post conditions in order to explore whether or not exposure to unstructured outdoor play in nature contributes to increases in perceived self-efficacy. Quantitative results indicated no difference at post-test but when frequency of exposure to the experimental condition was factored in a lowering of self-efficacy as measured by the modified SES surfaced. Statistics also revealed that the exposure to the experimental condition alone was not significant enough to account for the decrease in self-efficacy scores. Qualitative field notes taken throughout the study indicated the contrary: there were indeed multiple instances of self-efficacy development.

Included in

Social Work Commons

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