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Research Topics | Early Childhood Education Institute

research topics in early childhood education pdf

Research Topics


Benton, A. L. (2020). An Autoethnographic Tale of One Louisiana Mother’s Personal Journey of Fostering and Adopting: The Impact of the Fostering Process Versus the Fostering Process in Classrooms. Journal of Foster Care, 1(1), 23-35.

DiCarlo, C. & Ota, C. (2017). Advocacy in early childhood teacher preparation (Chapter 5). In Advocacy in Academia and the Role of Teacher Preparation Programs (Thomas, U. Ed). IGI Global.

Reames, H. Sistrunk, C., Prejean, J., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2016). Advocating for recess: Preservice teachers perspectives on the advocacy process. Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change.


DiCarlo, C., Baumgartner, J., Ota, C., & Brooksher, M. (in review). Recommended practice in whole-group instruction: Increasing child attention. International Journal of Early Years Education.

DiCarlo, C., Deris, A., & Deris, T. (in review). mLearning versus paper & pencil practice for telling time: Impact for attention & accuracy. Journal of Elementary Education.

DiCarlo C. F., Baumgartner, J. J., Ota, C.L., Deris, A.R. & Brooksher, M.H. (2020) Recommended practice in whole-group instruction: Increasing child attention. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/00168890.2020.184840

DiCarlo, C.F., Baumgartner, J., Ota, C., & Geary, K. (2016). Child sustained attention in preschool-aged children. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 30(2), 143-152.

DiCarlo, C.F., Geary, K. E., & Ota, C.L.  (2016). The impact of choice on child sustained attention in the preschool classroom. Journal of Research Childhood Education.

DiCarlo, C.F., Baumgartner, J., Pierce, S.H., Harris, M.E., & Ota, C. (2012). Whole group instruction practices and young children’s attention: A preliminary report. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 26(2), 154-168.

DiCarlo, C., Pierce, S., Baumgartner, J.J., Harris, M., & Ota, C. (2012). Whole-group instruction practices and children’s attention: A preliminary report. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 26(2), 154-168.

DiCarlo, C., Baumgartner, J., Schellhaas, A., & Pierce,S., (2012). Using Structured Choice to Increase Child Engagement in Low Preference Centers. Early Child Development & Care, 183(1), 109-124.

Isbell, D. (2019). Intermediate and High School Band. In Conway, C., Stanley, A., Pelligrino, K., and West, C. (Eds.), Handbook of Preservice Music Teacher Education. Oxford Publishing

Isbell, D. and Stanley, A. M. (2011).  Keeping instruments out of the attic: The concert band experiences of the non-music major. Music Education Research International,5, 22-32

Isbell, D. (2006). The Steamboat Springs high school ski band 1935-2005.  Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, 28(1), 21-37.

Caregiver Health and Identity

Baumgartner, J., Carson, R., Ota, C., DiCarlo, C., Bauer, R. (in review). Using Ecological Momentary Assessment to Examine the Relationship Between Childcare Teachers’ Stress, Classroom Behaviors, and Afterhours Professionalism Activities. Early Child Development and Care.

Bergen, D., Lee, L., Dicarlo, C. & Burnett, G. (2020). Enhancing Young Children’s Brain Development in Infants and Young Children: Strategies for Caregivers and Educators. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

DiCarlo, C., Meaux, A., & LaBiche - Hebert, E. (in press). The impact of mindfulness practices on classroom climate and perceived teacher stress. Early Childhood Education Journal.

Chiang, C.J.,Jonson-Reid, M., & Drake, B. (2020). Caregiver physical health and child maltreatment reports and re-reports. Children and Youth Services Review, 108, 104671.

Baumgartner, J., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2013). Reducing workplace stress. Childcare Exchange. May/June, 60-63.

Ota, C.L., Baumgartner, J.J., & Austin, A.M.B. (2013). Provider stress and children's active engagement. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 27, 1-13. doi: 10.1080/02568543.2012.739588

Baumgartner, J., DiCarlo, C., & Apavaloie, L. (2011). Finding more joy in teaching children. Dimensions, 39(2), 34-38.

Isbell, D. (2008) Musicians and Teachers: The Socialization and Occupational Identity of Preservice Music Teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 56(2). 162-178.

Child Health

Shon, E., Choe, S, Lee, L., & Ki, Y. (In Press). Influenza Vaccination among U.S. College or University Students: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Health Promotion.

Fowler L.A., Grammer A.C., Staiano A.E., Fitzsimmons-Craft E.E., Chen L., Yaeger L.H., & Wilfley D.E. (2021). Harnessing technological innovations for childhood obesity prevention and treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of current applications. International Journal of Obesity.

Kepper M.M., Walsh-Bailey C., Staiano A.E., Fowler L., Gacad A., Blackwood A., Fowler S., & Kelley M. (2021). Health Information Technology use among healthcare providers treating children and adolescents with obesity: A systematic review. Current Epidemiology Reports.

Staiano, A.E., Shanley, J.R., Kihm, H., Hawkins, K.R., Self-Brown, S., Hӧchsmann, C., Osborne, M., LeBlanc, M.M., Apolzan, J.W., & Martin, C.K. (2021). Digital tools to support family-based weight management for children: Mixed methods pilot and feasibility study. Pediatrics and Parenting. 4(1) doi: 10.2196/24714 PMID: 33410760

Antczak, D., Lonsdale, C., Lee, J., Hilland, T., Duncan, M.J., del Pozo Cruz, B., Hulteen, R.M., Parker, P. and Sanders, T. (2020). Physical Activity and Sleep are Weakly Related in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 51, doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101278 

Olson KL, Neiberg R, Espeland M, Johnson K, Knowler W, Pi-Sunyer X, Staiano AE, Wagenknecht L, & Wing RR. (2020) Waist circumference change during intensive lifestyle intervention and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the Look AHEAD trial. Obesity.

Kracht CL, Katzmarzyk PT, & Staiano AE. (2020) Comparison of abdominal visceral adipose tissue measurements in adolescents between magnetic resonance imaging and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. International Journal of Obesity.

Kracht CL, Webster E, & Staiano AE. (2020). A natural experiment of state-level physical activity and screen-time policy changes: Early childhood education (ECE) centers and child physical activity. BMC Public Health.

Fearnbach SN, Johannsen NM, Martin CK, Beyl RA, Hsia DS, Carmichael CT, & Staiano AE. (2020) A pilot study of cardiorespiratory fitness, adiposity, and cardiometabolic health in youth with overweight and obesity. Pediatric Exercise Science.

Webster E, & Staiano AE. (2020) Extended heavy television viewing may impact weight long-term in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health.

Kepper MM, Staiano AE, Katzmarzyk PT, Reis RS, Eyler AA, Griffith DM, KendallML, ElBanna B, Denstel KD, & Broyles ST. (2020). Using mixed methods to understand women’s parenting practices related to their child’s outdoor play and physical activity among families living in diverse neighborhood environments. Health and Place.

Kracht CL, Joseph ED, & Staiano AE. (2020). Video games, obesity, and children. Current Obesity Reports.

Kracht CL, Champagne CM, Hsia DS, Martin CK, Newton RL, Katzmarzyk PT, & Staiano AE. (2020). Association between meeting physical activity, sleep, and dietary guidelines and cardiometabolic risk factors and adiposity in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health.

Hulteen, R.M., Waldhauser, K.J. and Beauchamp, M.R. (2019). Promoting Health-Enhancing Physical Activity: A State-of-the-Art Review of Peer-Delivered Interventions. Current Obesity Reports, 8, 341-353. doi: 10.1007/s13679-019-00366-w (invited)

Kracht CL, Chaput JP, Martin CK, Champagne CM, Katzmarzyk PT, & Staiano AE. (2019). Associations of sleep with food cravings, diet, and obesity in adolescence. Nutrients.

Joseph E, Kracht CL, St. Romain J, Allen AT, Barbaree C, Martin CK, & Staiano AE. (2019). Young children’s screen-time and physical activity: Perspectives of parents and early care and education center providers. Global Pediatric Health.

Staiano AE, Adams MA, & Norman GJ. (2019). Motivation for Exergame Play Inventory:  Construct validity and test-retest reliability. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace.

Hawkins KR, Apolzan JW, Staiano AE, Shanley JR, & Martin CK. (2019). Efficacy of a home-based parent training-focused weight management intervention for preschool children: The DRIVE randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Sandoval P, Staiano AE, & Kihm H. (2019). The influence of visual and auditory stimuli on intensity of physical activity in school-aged children. The Physical Educator.

Webster EK, Martin CK, & Staiano AE. (2019) Fundamental motor skills, physical activity, and screen-time in preschoolers. Journal of Sport and Health Science.

Staiano AE, Beyl RA, Hsia DS, Katzmarzyk PT, & Newton R.L. (2018). A 12-week randomized controlled pilot study of dance exergaming in a group: Influence on psychosocial factors in adolescent girls. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace.

Katzmarzyk PT, Denstel KD, Beals K, Carlson J, Crouter SE, McKenzie TL, Pate RR, Sisson SB, Staiano AE,Stanish H, Ward DS, Whitt-Glover M, & Wright C. (2018). Results from the United States 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

Staiano AE, Kihm H, & Sandoval P. (2018). The use of competition to elicit high intensity physical activity during children’s exergame play. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences.

Flynn, R.M.,Staiano, A.E., Beyl, R., Richert, R.A., Wartella, E. & Calvert, S.L. (2018). The influence of active gaming on cardiorespiratoryfitness in Black and Hispanic youth. Journal of School Health.

Staiano, A.E., Webster, E.K., Allen, A.T., Jarrell, A.R., & Martin, C.K. (2018). Screen-time policies and practices in early care and education centers in relationship to child physical activity. Childhood Obesity.

Staiano, A.E., Martin, C.K., Champagne, C.M., Rood, J.C., & Katzmarzyk, P.T. (2018). Sedentary time, physical activity, and adiposity in a longitudinal cohort of non-obese young adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Staiano, A.E., Beyl, R.A., Guan, W., Hendrick, C.A., Hsia, D.S., & Newton, R.L. (2018). Home-based exergaming among children with overweight and obesity: A randomized clinical trial. Pediatric Obesity.

Staiano, A.E., Allen, A.T., Fowler, W., Gustat, J., Kepper, M.M., Lewis, L., Martin, C.K., St. Romain, J., & Webster, E.K. (2018). State licensing regulations on screen-time in childcare centers: An impetus for participatory action research. Progress in Community Health Partnerships:  Research, Education, and Action.

Heerman, W.J., Bennett, W.L., Kraschnewski, J.L., Nauman, E., Staiano, A.E., & Wallston, K.A. (2018) Willingness to participate in weight-related research among patients in PCORnet Clinical Data Research Networks. BMC Obesity.

Cohen, K.E., Morgan, P.J., Plotnikoff, R.C., Hulteen, R.M. and Lubans, D.R. Psychological, social and physical environmental mediators of the SCORES intervention on physical activity among children living in low-income communities. (2017). Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 32, 1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2017. 05.001

Katzmarzyk, P.T., & Staiano, A.E. (2017). Relationship between meeting 24-hour movement guidelines and cardiometabolic risk factors in children. Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

Staiano, A.E., Beyl, R.A., Hsia, D.S., Katzmarzyk, P.T., Mantzor, S., Newton, R.L., Jarrell, A., & Tyson, P. (2017). Step tracking with goals increases children’s weight loss in a behavioral intervention. Childhood Obesity

Staiano, A.E., Marker, A.M., Liu, M., Hayden, E., Hsia, D.S., & Broyles, S.T. (2017). Childhood obesity screening and treatment practices of pediatric healthcare providers. Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society

Baranowski, T., Blumberg, F., Gao, Z., Kato, P.M., Kok, G., Lu, A.S., Lyons, E.J., Morrill, B.A., Peng, W., Prins, P.J., Snyder, L., Staiano, A.E., & Thompson, D. (2017) Getting research on games for health funded. Games for Health Journal.

Wilfley, D.E., Staiano, A.E., Altman, M., Lindros, J., Lima, A., Hassink, S.G., Dietz, W.H., & Cook, S. (2017). Improving Access and Systems of Care for Evidence-Based Childhood Obesity Treatment Conference W. Improving access and systems of care for evidence-based childhood obesity treatment: Conference key findings and next steps. Obesity.

Kihm H, Staiano AE, & Sandoval P. (2017) Project IPAL: To enhance the well-being of elementary school children. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences 109(1) 54-56.

Staiano AE, Marker AM, Beyl RA, Hsia DS, Katzmarzyk PT, & Newton RL. (2017). A randomized controlled trial of dance exergaming for exercise training in overweight and obese adolescent girls. Pediatric Obesity. 12(2) 120-128.

Staiano AE, Marker AM, Frelier JM, Hsia DS, & Broyles ST. (2017). Family-based behavioral treatment for childhood obesity: Parent-reported barriers and facilitators. The Ochsner Journal. 17(1):83-92.

Staiano AE, Beyl RA, Hsia DS, Katzmarzyk PT, & Newton RL. (2017). Twelve weeks of dance exergaming in overweight and obese adolescent girls: Transfer effects on physical activity, screen time, and self-efficacy. Journal of Sport and Health Science.

Katzmarzyk PT, Denstel KD, Beals K, Bolling C, Wright C, Crouter SE, McKenzie TL, Pate RR, Saelens BE, Staiano AE, Stanish HI, & Sisson SB. (2016). Results from the United States of America's 2016 report card on physical activity for children and youth. Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

Staiano AE, Morrell M, Hsia DS, Hu G, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2016) The burden of obesity, elevated blood pressure, and diabetes in uninsured and underinsured adolescents. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. 14(9), 437-441.

Staiano AE, Marker AM, Martin CK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2016). Physical activity, mental health, and weight gain in a longitudinal observational cohort of nonobese young adults. Obesity, 24(9), 1969-1975.

Staiano AE, Marker AM, Frelier JM, Hsia DS, & Martin CK. (2016). Influence of screen-based peer modeling on preschool children's vegetable consumption and preferences. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 48(5), 331-335

Mackintosh KA, Standage M, Staiano AE, Lester L, & McNarry MA. (2016). Investigating the physiological and psychosocial responses of single-and dual-player exergaming in young adults. Games for Health Journal, 5(6), 375-381

Baranowski T, Blumberg F, Buday R, DeSmet A, Fiellin LE, Green CS, Kato PM, Lu AS, Maloney AE, Mellecker R, Morrill BA, Peng W, Shegog R, Simons M, Staiano AE, Thompson D, & Young K. (2016). Games for health for children-current status and needed research. Games for Health Journal, 5(1), 1-12.

Michel, G. F., Marcinowski, E. C., Babik, I., Nelson, E. L., & Campbell, J. M. (2015). An Interdisciplinary Biopsychosocial Perspective on Infant Development. In S. Calkins (Ed.) Handbook of Infant Development: A Biopsychosocial Perspective, 427-446. 

Staiano AE, Broyles ST, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2015). School term vs. school holiday: Associations with children's physical activity, screen-time, diet and sleep. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(8), 8861-8870.

Staiano AE, Harrington DM, Johannsen NM, Newton RL, Jr., Sarzynski MA, Swift DL, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2015). Uncovering physiological mechanisms for health disparities in type 2 diabetes. Ethnicity and Disease, 25(1), 31-37.

Marker AM, & Staiano AE. (2015) Better together: Outcomes ofcooperation versus competition in social exergaming. Games for Health Journal, 4(1), 25-30.

Carson V, Staiano AE, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2015). Physical activity, screen time, and sitting among U.S. adolescents. Pediatric Exercise Science, 27(1), 151-159.

Pere, C., Ginn, R., Hill, N., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2015). Childhood Obesity prevention: A service-learning advocacy project. Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change.

Harshaw, C., Marcinowski, E. C., & Campbell, J. M. (2014). Communicating Developmental Psychobiology to the Masses: Why Psychobiologists Should Contribute to Wikipedia. Developmental Psychobiology, 56 (7), 1439-1441. 

Staiano AE, & Flynn R. (2014). Therapeutic uses of active videogames: A systematic review. Games for Health Journal, 3(6), 351-365.

Staiano AE. (2014). Learning by playing: Video gaming in education-a cheat sheet for games for health designers. Games for Health Journal, 3(5), 319-321.

Flynn RM, Richert RA, Staiano AE, Wartella E, & Calvert SL. (2014). Effects of exergame playon EF in children and adolescents at a summer camp for low income youth. Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 4(1), 209-225.

Katzmarzyk PT, Barlow S, Bouchard C, Catalano PM, Hsia DS, Inge TH, Lovelady C, Raynor H, Redman LM, Staiano AE, Spruijt-Metz D, Symonds ME, Vickers M, Wilfley D, & Yanovski JA. (2014). An evolving scientific basis for the prevention and treatment of pediatric obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 38(7), 887-905.

Staiano AE, Gupta AK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2014). Cardiometabolic risk factors and fat distribution in children and adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics, 164(3), 560-565.

Baranowski T, Adamo KB, Hingle M, Maddison R, Maloney A, Simons M, & Staiano AE. (2013). Gaming, adiposity, and obesogenic behaviors among children. Games for Health Journal, 2(3), 119-126.

Michel, G. F., Babik, I., Nelson, E. L., Campbell, J. M., & Marcinowski, E. C. (2013). How the development of handedness could contribute to the development of language. Developmental Psychobiology, 55(6), 608-20. 

Staiano AE, Broyles ST, Gupta AK, Malina RM, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013). Maturity-associated variation in total and depot-specific body fat in children and adolescents. American Journal of Human Biology, 25(4), 473-479.

Staiano AE, Broyles ST, Gupta AK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013) Ethnic and sex differences in visceral, subcutaneous, and total body fat in children and adolescents. Obesity, 21(6), 1251-1255.

Harrington DM, Staiano AE, Broyles ST, Gupta AK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013). BMI percentiles for the identification ofabdominal obesity and metabolic risk in children and adolescents: Evidence in support of the CDC 95th percentile. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67(2), 218-222.

Staiano AE, Harrington DM, Broyles ST, Gupta AK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013). Television, adiposity, and cardiometabolic risk in children and adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(1), 40-47.

Calvert SL, Staiano AE, & Bond BJ. (2013). Electronic gaming and the obesity crisis. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 139,51-57.

Harrington DM, Staiano AE, Broyles ST, Gupta AK, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013). Waist circumference measurement site does not affect relationships with visceral adiposity and cardiometabolic risk factors in children. Pediatric Obesity, 8(3), 199-206.

Barreira TV, Staiano AE, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2013). Validity assessment of a portable bioimpedance scale to estimate body fat percentage in white and African-American children and adolescents. Pediatric Obesity, 8(2), 29-32.

Staiano AE, Abraham AA, & Calvert SL. (2012). The Wii Club: Gaming for weight loss in overweight and obese youth. Games for Health Journal, 1(5), 377-380.

Broyles ST, Staiano AE, Drazba KT, Gupta AK, Southern M, & Katzmarzyk PT. (2012). Elevated C-reactive protein in children from risky neighborhoods: Evidence for a stress pathway linking neighborhoods and inflammation in children. PloS One, 7(9)

Staiano AE, Katzmarzyk PT. (2012). Ethnic and sex differences in body fat and visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in children and adolescents. International Journal of Obesity, 36(10), 1261-1269.

Staiano AE, & Calvert SL. (2012).  Digital gaming and pediatric obesity: At the intersection of science and social policy. Social Issues and Policy Review, 6(1), 54-81.

Staiano AE, & Calvert SL. (2011). Exergames for physical education courses: Physical, social, and cognitive benefits. Child Development Perspectives, 5(2),93-98.

Child Trauma

Kim, H., Jonson-Reid, M., Kohl, P., Chiang, C. J., Drake, B., Brown, D., McBride, T., & Guo, S. (2020).Latent class analysis risk profiles: An effective method to predict a first re-report of maltreatment. Evaluation and Program Planning, 101792.

Jonson-Reid, M., Chiang, C.J., Kohl, P., Drake, B., Brown, D., Guo, S., & McBride, T. (2019). Repeat reports among cases reported for child neglect: A scoping review. Child Abuse & Neglect, 92, 43-65.

Chiang, C. J.,& Ma, T. J. (2013). Working experiences with children witnessed domestic homicide, Taiwanese Social Work, 11, 115-144

Lee, L., Miller, C., & Caballero, J, (In Progress). Community-based, social justice-oriented experiences in ethnically, socio-economically diverse preschools: Early childhood pre-service teachers’ perspectives.

Drake, B., Jonson-Reid, M., Kim, H., Chiang, C. J., & Davalishvili, D. (2021) Disproportionate Need as a Factor Explaining Racial Disproportionality in the CW System. In Racial Disproportionality and Disparities in the Child Welfare System (pp. 159-176). Springer, Cham.

Kracht CL, Webster EK, & Staiano AE. (2019). Sociodemographic differences in young children meeting 24-hour movement guidelines. Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

Lee, L. (2018). Korean mode of color-blind perspectives on ethnic diversity: A case study of Korean Elementary teachers. International Journal of Diversity of Education, 18(1), 27-38.

Lee, L. (2016, Summer). A learning journey with Latino immigrant children: An American low-income preschool project. Childhood Explorer, 3.

Lee, L., & Misco, T. (2014). All for one or one for all: An analysis of the concepts of patriotism and others in multicultural Korea through elementary moral education textbooks. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher. 23(1), 2-10.

Misco, T., & Lee, L. (2013). “There is no such thing as being Guamanian”: Controversial Issues in the context of Guam. Theory and Research in Social Education, 42(3), 414-439.

Misco, T.,& Lee, L. (2012).1Multiple and overlapping identities: The case study of Guam. Multicultural Education, 20(1), 23-32.

Lee, L. (2011). Language and identity in the moral domains: Minority children in education. Focus on Elementary, 23(3). 3-6.

Lee. L. (2011). Cultural awareness in beliefs and practice: An elementary teacher’s perspective on Korean children and their culture. Focus on Teacher Education, 11(2), 4-10.

ECE Professional Attrition

Chiang, C.J., Jonson-Reid, M., Kim. H., Drake. B., Pons. L., Kohl. P., Constantino. J., & Auslander. W., (2018) Service engagement and retention: Lessons from the Early Childhood Connections Program. Children and Youth Services Review, 88, 114-127. DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.02.028

Carson, R. L., Baumgartner, J. J., Ota, C.L., Pulling Kuhn, A. C., & Durr, A. (2016). An ecological momentary assessment of burnout, rejuvenation strategies, job satisfaction, and quitting intentions in childcare teachers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-8.

Educational Leadership

Nelson-Smith, K. (2009). Building Opportunities through Leadership Development (BOLD). A curriculum.

Jonson-Reid, M., & Chiang, C. J.(2019). Problems in Understanding Program Efficacy in Child Welfare. In Re-Visioning Public Health Approaches for Protecting Children (pp. 349-377). Springer, Cham.

Environment (Classroom)

Deris, A., DiCarlo, C., Wagner, D. & Krick-Oborn, K. (in press). Using environmental modification and teacher mediation to increase literacy behaviors in inclusive preschool settings. Infants & Young Children

Reames, H. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2016). Creating a learner-centered classroom. Focus on PK/K, Early Years Bulletin, 3(3), 1-3, 7.

Guan, X. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2009). Minimizing stressors in the early childhood classroom. Collaborations, 2, 22-23.

Wayne, A., DiCarlo, C., Burts, D., & Benedict, J. (2007). Increasing the literacy behaviors of preschool children through environmental modifications. The Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22(1), 5-16.

DiCarlo, C.F., Stricklin, S., & Reid, D.H. (2006). Increasing toy play among toddlers with and without disabilities by modifying structural quality of the classroom environment. National Head Start Association Dialog, 9(1)49-62.

Behavior Guidance

Reames, H. & DiCarlo, C. (2018). Using positive reinforcement to increase attentive behavior and correct task performance for preschoolers during extra curricular activities. Journal of Teacher Action Research, 4(2), 1-9.

DiCarlo, C.F., Baumgartner, J., & Ourso, J. & Powers, C. (2016). Using least-to-most assistive prompt hierarchy to increase child compliance with teacher directives in preschool classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(6) 1-10.doi:10.1007/s10643- 016-0825-7.

DiCarlo, C. & Baumgartner, J. (2011). Promoting Positive Behavior in the Preschool Classroom. Focus on Pre-K and K, 24(1), 4-7.

Torres, A., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2008). Positive Guidance. Collaborations. 3, 14-15.

Literacy and Language

Terrusi, M. (2020).  Illustrated books without words for inclusion: Method reflections on  reading, between form and metaphor. In E.A. Emili & V. Macchia (Eds.), Reading the inclusion: Picture books and books for one and all (pp. 77-88). ETS Editions. 

Terrusi, M. (2018). Silent Books. Wonder, Silence and Other Metamorphosis in Wordless Picture Books. Proceedings, 1(9), 1 – 12. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/proceedings1090879

Terrusi, M. (2017). Child portraits. Representations of the child body in children's illustration and literature: Some interpretative categories. Magazine of history of education, 4(1),  183 – 210. http://dx.doi.org/10.4454/rse.v4i1.28

Terrusi, M. (2017). Constellation of early childhood, Gugu's firmament. A portrait of Augusta Rasponi del Sale (Ravenna 1864-1942), author of picture book. Research of education  and education, 12(2), 71 – 88. http://dx.doi.org/10.6092/issn.1970-2221/7082

Terrusi, M. (2017). Eternals, children, winged: Neoteny, lightness and literature for children. Training Studies, 20(2), 387 – 408. http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/Studi_Formaz-22195

Terrusi, M. (2017). Mute wonders: Silent book and children's literature. Carocci.  

Beach, D., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2016). Can I play, again? Using a literacy ipad app to increase letter recognition & phonemic awareness. Journal of Teacher Action Research,2(2), 70-76.

Terrusi, M. (2016). Children read great. In C.I. Salviati (Ed.), In vitro: An experimental project    to promote reading (pp. 18-21). Center for Literature and Reading. MIBAC Ministry of Artistic and Cultural Heritage.

Terrusi, M. (2016). The possible, the visible, the questionable: Unexpected (or wordless) books   at school. In E. A. Emili (Ed.), Languages ​​for an inclusive school (pp. 51-66). Free Books.

Grilli, G. & Terrusi, M. (2014). A (Visual) Journey to Italy. In E. Arizpe, T. Colomer, & C. Martinez-Roldan (Eds.), Visual Journeys Through Wordless Narratives (pp. 217-238). Bloomsbury Academic.

Grilli, G. & Terrusi, M. (2014).  Migrant readers and wordless books: Visual narratives' inclusive experience. Encyclopaideia, 18(38), 67 – 90. http://dx.doi.org/10.6092/issn.1825-8670/4508

Ota, C. L. & Austin, A.M. (2013). Training and mentoring: Family child care providers’ use of linguistic inputs in conversations with children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28(4), 972-983

Terrusi, M. (2013). The room of children's literature: Educators, teachers and storytellers. In C.  Panciroli & F. D. Pizzigoni (Eds.), The museum as a workshop of experiences with heritage: The example of the Mode (pp. 1-199). Quiedit.

Terrusi, M. (2013). The life of children in the figures: Gugú, a forgotten author. Childhood, 6(1), 335-339. 

Terrusi, M. (2012). Illustrated books: Read, look, name the world in children's books. Carocci

Brintazzoli, G. & Terrusi, M. (2011). At the edge of the page. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 92(1), 50 – 52.

Terrusi, M. (2011). Read the visible. The world pictured in the pages. Form and poetics of early childhood books. In E. Beseghi & G. Grilli (Eds.), The invisible literature: Childhood and children's books (pp. 143-164). Carocci.

Chung, M. & Lee, L. (2009). Critical literacy theories for media literacy education. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 13(4), 121-127.

Lee, L. (2009). Media literacy. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 13(4), 10.

Terrusi, M. (2009). Classic fairy tales with contemporary design, interview with Steven Guarnaccia. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 82(1), 60 – 61. 

Terrusi, M. (2009). The art of the three little pigs. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 82(1), 59 – 63.

Terrusi, M. (2007). Philosophers animals: whether they are feathered canids or felines, we can consider them Masters. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 74(1), 30 – 31.

Terrusi, M. (2007). Families and new conformisms: The challenge of the bourgeois mentality seen through the complex father-son dialectic: Holidays with the father by Marcello Argilli. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 73(1), 44-45. 

Terrusi, M. (2007).  Books on the road. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 76(1), 54 – 55. 

Terrusi, M. (2006). Andersen Press turns 30: from the voice of its founder, Klaus Flugge, the story of the famous English publishing house. Andersen, 224(1), 31 – 35.


Hendershot, S., Austin, A. M. B., Blevins-Knabe, B., & Ota, C.L. (2015). Young children’s mathematics references during free play in family child care settings. Early Child Development and Care.  186(7), 1126-1141.

Misco, T., Lee, L., & Malone, K. Goley, S., & Seabolt, P. (2012).*Using the idea of insurance to develop mathematical skills and democratic dispositions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 2(2), 78-89.

Austin, A.M., Blevins-Knabe, B., Ota, C., Rowe, T., & Knudsen Lindauer, S. (2011). Mediators of preschoolers’ early mathematics concepts. Early Child Development and Care, 181(9), 1181-1198.

Motor Skills

Molinini, R. M., Koziol, Marcinowski, E. C., Tripathi, T., Hsu, L.-Y., Harbourne, R. T., Lobo, M. A., McCoy, S. W., Bovaird, J., & Dusing, S. C. (2021). Early motor skills predict the developmental trajectory of problem solving skills in young children with motor impairments. Developmental Psychobiology. [Early View] 

Barnett, L.M., Stodden, D.F., Hulteen, R.M. and Sacko, R. (2020). Motor Proficiency Assessment. In T. Brusseau, S. Fairclough & D. Lubans (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Youth Physical Activity.

Gonzalez, S. L., Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., Michel, G. F., Coxe, S., & Nelson, E. L. (2020). Preschool language ability is predicted by toddler hand preference trajectories. Developmental Psychology, 56(4), 699-709. 

Hulteen, R.M., Barnett, L.M. True, L., Lander, N., Cruz, B.P. and Lonsdale, C. (2020). Validity and Reliability Evidence for Motor Competence Assessments in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(15), 1717-1798, doi: 10.1080/02640414.2020.1756674  

Hulteen, R.M., True, L., and Pfeiffer, K. (2020). Differences in Associations of Product- and Process-Oriented Motor Competence Assessments with Physical Activity in Children. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(4), 375-382. doi:10.1080/02640414.2019.17 02279

Webster, E.K., Kracht, C.L., Newton, R.L., Beyl, R.A., & Staiano, A.E. (2020). Intervention to improve preschoolers’ fundamental motor skills: Protocol of a parent-focused, mobile app-based comparative effectiveness trial. Research Protocols, 9(10):e19943.

Fearnbach, S.N., Martin, C.K., Heymsfield, S.B., Staiano, A.E., Newton, R.L., Garn, A.C., Johannsen, N.M., Hsia, D.S., Carmichael, O.T., Murray, K.B., Ramakrisnapillai, S., Murray, K.B., Blundell, J.E., & Finlayson, G.S. (2020) Validation of the Activity Preference Assessment: A tool for quantifying children’s implicit preferences for sedentary and physical activities. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

Kracht, C.L., Webster, E.K., & Staiano, A.E. (2020) Relationship between the 24-hour movement guidelines and fundamental motor skills in preschoolers. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Marcinowski, E. C., Tripathi, T., Hsu, L.-Y., McCoy, S. W., & Dusing, S. C. (2019). Sitting skill and the emergence of arms‐free sitting affects the frequency of object looking and exploration. Developmental Psychobiology, 61 (7), 1035-47. 

Marcinowski, E. C., Nelson, E. L., Campbell, J. M., & Michel, G. F. (2019). The development of object construction from infancy through toddlerhood. Infancy, 24(3), 368-391. 

Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., & Michel, G. F. (2018). The Development of Neuromotor Skills and Hand Preference During Infancy. Developmental Psychobiology, 60(2), 165-175. 

lteen, R.M., Morgan, P.J., Barnett, L.M., Robinson, L.E. Barton, C., Wrotniak, B., and Lubans, D.R. (2018). Initial Predictive Validity of the Lifelong Physical Activity Skills Battery. Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 6(2), 301-314. doi: 10.1123/jmld.2017-0036

Michel, G. F., Babik, I., Nelson, E. L., Campbell, J. M., & Marcinowski, E. C. (2018). Evolution and Development of Handedness: An Evo-Devo Approach. In G. Forrester, W. D. Hopkins, K. Hudry, & A. K. Lindell (Eds.), Cerebral Lateralization and Cognition: Evolutionary and Developmental Investigations of Motor Biases. Elsevier Inc.: Academic Press. 347-374. 

Hulteen, R.M., Morgan, P.J., Barnett, L.M., Stodden, D.F. and Lubans, D.R. Development of Foundational Motor Skills: A Conceptual Model for Physical Activity Across the Lifespan. (2018). Sports Medicine, 48(7), 1533-1540. doi: 10.1007/s4029-018-0892-6

Marcinowski, E. C., & Campbell, J. M. (2017). Building on what you have learned: Constructing skill during infancy influences the development of spatial relation words. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 41(3), 341-349. doi:10.1177/0165025416635283 

Nelson, E. L., Gonzalez, S., Coxe, S., Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., & Michel, G. F. (2017). Toddler hand preference trajectories predict 3-year language outcome. Developmental Psychobiology, 59(7), 876-887. 

Nathan, N., Cohen, K., Beauchamp, M. W.L., Hulteen, R.M., Babic, M. and Lubans, D.R. Feasibility and Efficacy of the Greater Leaders Active StudentS (GLASS) Program on Improving Children’s Fundamental Movement Skills: A Pilot Study. (2017). Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(12), 1081-1086. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.04.016

Johnson, T.M., Ridgers, N.D. Hulteen, R.M., Mellecker, R.R. and Barnett, L.M. (2016). Does Playing a Sports Active Video Game Improve Young Children’s Ball Skill Competence? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 19(5), 432-436. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2015.05.002

Marcinowski, E. C., Campbell, J. M., Faldowski, R. A., & Michel, G. F. (2016). Do hand preferences predict stacking skill during infancy? Developmental Psychobiology, 58(8), 958-967. 

Michel, G. F., Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., Nelson, E. L., & Babik, I. (2016). Infant Hand Preference and the Development of Cognitive Abilities. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 410. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00410 

Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., Babik, I., & Michel, G. F. (2015). The influence of a hand preference for acquiring objects on the development of a hand preference for unimanual manipulation from 6 to 14 months. Infant Behavior and Development, 39, 107-117. 

Campbell, J. M., Marcinowski, E. C., Latta, J. A., & Michel, G. F. (2015). Different assessment tasks produce different estimates of handedness stability during the 8 to 14 month age period. Infant Behavior and Development, 39, 67-80. 

Hulteen, R.M., Johnson, T.M., Ridgers, N.D., Mellecker, R.R. and Barnett, L.M. (2015). Children’s Movement Skills When Playing Active Video Games. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 121(3), 1-24. doi: 10.2466/25.10.PMS.121c24x5

Michel, G. F., Nelson, E. L., Babik, I., Campbell, J. M., & Marcinowski, E. C. (2013). Multiple trajectories in the developmental psychobiology of human handedness. In R. M. Lerner, & J. B. Benson (Eds.), Embodiment and epigenesis: Theoretical and methodological issues in understanding the role of biology within the relational developmental system Part B: Ontogenetic Dimensions. Elsevier Inc.: Academic Press, 227-260. 

Music Education

Isbell, D. (2018). Music educators consider musical futures. Contributions in Music Education. 43(1). 39-58.

Isbell, D. S., & Stanley, A. M. (2018). Code-switching musicians: an exploratory study. Music Education Research,20(2), 145-162.

Isbell, D. (2015). My Music and School Music: Formal and Informal Music Experiences. In Burton, S. and Snell, A. (Eds.), Engaging Musical Practices: A Sourcebook for Instrumental Music. Rowman and Littlefield Education Publishers, Inc.

Isbell, D. and Stanley, A. (2015) Are you a musical code-switcher?Polyphonic.org: The Orchestra Music Forum. http://www.polyphonic.org/2015/06/22/are-you-a-musical-code-switcher/.

Isbell, D. (2015)Apprehensive and excited: Music education students ’ encounter vernacular musicianship. Journal of Music Teacher Education. doi:10.1177/1057083714568020.

Isbell, D. (2014). The socialization and identity of undergraduate music teachers: A review of literature. Update: Applications for Research in Music Education.doi: 10.1177/8755123314547912.

Isbell, D. (2012). Learning theories: Insights for music educators. General Music Today 25(2). 9-23.

Isbell, D. (2009). Understanding Socialization and Occupational Identity among Preservice Music Teachers. In M. Schmidt (Ed.), Collaborative action for change:Selected proceedings from the 2007 symposium on music teacher education. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Isbell, D. (2007). Popular music and the public school music classroom. Update: Applications for Research in Music Education.26(1).

Bowers, J., Cassellberry, J., Isbell, D., Kyakuwa, J., Li, Y., Mercado, E., and Wallace, E.(2019) A Descriptive Study of the Use of Music During Naptime in Louisiana Child Care Centers. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 33(2). doi: 10.1080/02568543.2019.1577770.

National Disasters

DiCarlo, C.F., Burts, D., Buchanan, T., Aghayan, C., & Benedict, J. (2007). Making Lemonade from Lemons: Early Childhood Teacher Educators’ Programmatic Responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28 (1), 61-68.

Outdoor Education

Terrusi, M. (2020). Children's books and outdoor education imagery: Stories and figures to tell each other. In S. Meo & M. Ognissanti (Eds.), From risk to opportunity: Outdoor education experiences in childcare and primary school services (pp. 115-118). Junior-   Children Editions.

Farné, R., Bortolotti, A., Terrusi, M. (2018) Introduction: Natural educational needs. In R. Farné, A. Bortolotti, & M. Terrusi (Eds.), Outdoor education: Theoretical perspectives and  good practices (pp. 13-24). Carocci.

Terrusi, M. (2018). Children's literature and natural imaginary. In R. Farné, A. Bortolotti, & M. Terrusi (Eds.), Outdoor education: Theoretical perspectives and good practices (pp. 183- 200). Carocci.

Terrusi, M. (2015). The green ship: natural education and reading for children. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 106(2), 40 – 42.

Terrusi, M. (2015). The teacher's shelf. Childhood, 1(4), 334 – 336.

Terrusi, M. (2014). Children's literature and natural narratives. In R. Farné & F. Agostini (Eds.) Outdoor education: Education takes care of outdoors (pp. 69-74). Junior-Spaggiari.

Grantham-Caston, M., & Perry, M. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2019). Playful Reggio Emilia. International Play Association, Spring-Fall, 20-25.

Dicarlo, C.F., Baumgartner, J.J., Ota, C.L. & Jensen, C. (2015). Preschool teachers’ perceptions of rough and tumble play vs. aggression in preschool-aged boys. Early Child Development and Care, 185(5), 779-790.

Carson, R., Lima, M. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2015). Play On! Playground learning activities for youth fitness (2nd edition). Reston, VA: American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation.

Casey, E. M. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2015). Play traditions in the Garifuna culture of Belize. International Play Association eJournal, www.Ipausa.org.

DiCarlo, C.F. & Vagianos, L.A. (2009). Preferences and play. Young Exceptional Children, 12(4), 31-39.

Popular Culture

Lee, L. (2012). Conceptualizing childhood in Korean Educational Broadcasting System (EBS): Critical analysis of Popular Picture Book, Pororo. In V. Cvetkovic & D. Olsen (Eds.), Fleeting Images: A Childhood Studies Examination of Children in Popular Culture (pp. 85-100). Lexington Press. 

Lee, L. (2012). "That's a great idea but I will think about it later": Early childhood pre-service Teachers' perceptions about popular culture in Teaching. Teacher Education and Practice, 25(1), 87-99.

Lee, L. (2010). Disney in Korea: A socio-cultural context of children’s popular culture. Red Feather Journal: An International Journal of Children’s Visual Culture, 1(2), 41-45.

Lee, L.,& Goodman, J. (2010). Romantic love and sexuality in Disney: A study of young, Korean immigrant girls’ perspectives. Education and Society, 28(1), 25-47.

Lee, L. & Goodman, J. (2009). Traversing the challenges of conducting research with young immigrant children: The case of Korean children. Interchange, 40(2), 225–244.

Lee, L. (2009). American immigrant girls’ perceptions about female body image in Disney: A critical analysis of young Korean girls. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 17(3), 363-375.

Lee, L. (2009). Marry the prince or stay with family—That is the question: A perspective of young Korean immigrant girls on Disney’s marriages in the United States. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 34(2), 39-46.

Lee, L. (2009). Young American immigrant children’s interpretations of royalty in popular culture: A case study of Korean girls’ perspectives. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 7(2), 200-215.

Lee, L. (2008). Issues of popular culture and young children in American society: A Critical perspective. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 12(4),49-53.

Lee, L. (2008). Understanding gender through Disney’s marriages: A study of young Korean immigrant girls. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(1), 11-18.

Parents in Education

Kepper MM, Staiano AE,Katzmarzyk PT, Reis R, Eyler A, Griffith DM, Kendall M, ElBanna B, Denstel KD, & Broyles ST (2019). Neighborhood influences on women’s parenting practices for adolescents’ outdoor play: A qualitative study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Baumgartner, J., McBride, B., Ota, C.L., & DiCarlo, C., (2016). How much do they need to be the same? What parents believe about continuity between home and childcare environments. Early Child Development and Care, 187(7), 1184-1193.

Professional Development

Bowers, J., Isbell, D., Stanley, A., and West, J. (in press). Attrition, (De)motivation, and “Effective” Music Teacher Professional Development: An Instrumental Case Study. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education.

Grantham-Caston, M. & DiCarlo, C. (2019). Lights! Camera! Action! Improving your teaching through video self-reflection. Young Children, 74(4)

Grantham-Caston, M. & DiCarlo, C. (2019). The impact of video self-reflection on teacher practice. National Head Start Association Dialog, 22(2), 61-75.

Grantham-Caston, M. & DiCarlo, C. (2019). Video self-reflection. Dialog, 22(2), 99-102.

Isbell, D. and Russell, J. (2009). Perceptions of Music Educators Regarding the Practice, Impact, and Outcomes of Professional Development.  Southern Music Education Journal.

Physical Education

Ferkel, R.C.. Allen, H.R., True, L. and Hulteen, R.M. (2018). Split-Week Programming for Secondary Physical Education: Inducing Behavioral Change for Lifetime Fitness. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 89(8), 11-22. doi: 10.1080/07303084.2018.1503118

Hulteen, R.M., Morgan, P.J., Barnett, L.M., Barton, C., Wrotniak, B., Robinson, L.E. and Lubans, D.R. (2018). Development, Content Validity and Test-Retest Reliability of the Lifelong Physical Activity Skills Battery in Adolescents. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(20), 2358-2367. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1458392

Hulteen, R. M., Smith, J.J., Morgan, P.J., Barnett, L.M, Hallal, P.C., Colyvas, K. and Lubans, D.R. (2017). Global Sport and Leisure-Time Physical Activities Participation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Preventive Medicine, 95, 14-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.11.027

Hulteen, R.M., Lander, N.J., Morgan, P.J., Barnett, L.M., Robertson, S.J. and Lubans, D.R. (2015). Validity and Reliability of Field-Based Measures for Assessing Movement Skill Competency in Lifelong Physical Activities: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 45(10), 1443-54. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0357-0

Physical Therapy

Harbourne, R. T., Dusing, S. C., Lobo, M. A., McCoy, S. W., Koziol, N. A., Hsu, L.-Y., Willett, S., Marcinowski, E. C., Babik, I., Cunha, A. B., An, M., Chang, H.-J., Bovaird, J. A., Sheridan S. M. (2020). START-Play physical therapy intervention impacts motor and cognitive outcomes in infants with neuromotor disorders: A multisite randomized clinical trial. Physical Therapy, 101(2), 1-11. 

Dusing, S. C., Harbourne, R. T., Lobo, M. A., Westcott-McCoy, S., Bovaird, J., Kane, A. E., Syed, G., Marcinowski, E. C., Koziol, N., Brown, S. E. (2019). A physical therapy intervention to advance cognitive skills a young child with cerebral palsy: A single subject with severe motor impairments. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 31(4), 347-352. 

Dusing, S. C., Marcinowski, E. C., Tripathi, T., Rocha, A., & Brown, S. (2018). A perspective on the importance of assessing parent-child interaction in rehabilitation using high or low tech methods. Physical Therapy Journal, 99(6), 658-665. 

Harbourne, R. T., Dusing, S. C., Lobo, M. A., McCoy, S. W., Bovaird, J., Sheridan, S., Galloway, J. C., Chang, H.-J., Hsu, L.-Y., Koziol, N., Marcinowski, E. C., & Babik, I. (2018). Sitting Together and Reaching to Play (START-Play): Protocol for a multisite randomized controlled efficacy trial on intervention for infants with neuromotor disorders. Physical Therapy, 76(1), 1-31. 

Dusing, S. C., Tripathi, T., Marcinowski, E. C., Thacker, L., Brown, L., & Hendricks-Munoz, K. (2018). Supporting Play Exploration and Early Developmental Intervention versus usual care to enhance developmental outcomes during the transition from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to home: A pilot randomized controlled trial. BMC Pediatrics, 18(46), 1-12. 


DiCarlo, C. F., Ota, C., & Deris, A. (under revision). Social behavior in kindergarten. Journal of Early Childhood Research.

DiCarlo, C., Hebert, E. & Meaux, A. (in review). Finding the “om” in your ABCs: Mindfulness in the classroom. Child Care Exchange.

Chiang, C.J., Chen, Y. C., Wei, H. S., & Jonson-Reid, M. (2020). Social bonds and profiles of delinquency among adolescents: Differential effects by gender and age. Children and Youth Services Review, 104751

Benton, A., & DiCarlo, C. F. The impact of social stories on compliance and aggression in a kindergarten aged child. The Journal of Teacher Action Research, 4(3), 55 – 67.

DiCarlo, C.F, Ota, C.L., & Deris, A. (2020). An ecobehavioral analysis of social behavior across learning contexts in kindergarten.  Early Childhood Education Journal, DOI 10.1007/s10643-020-01103-y

DiCarlo, C.F., & Melikyan, S. (2016). Increasing the communicative behaviors of children with low levels of communicative initiations in an inclusive preschool classroom. Literacy Experiences Special Interest Group (LESIG), 46(1) 14-35.

Beckert, T., Lee, C., & Ota, C.L.  (2015). Correlates of psychosocial development for Taiwanese youth. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46(6), 837-855.

DiCarlo, C.F., Onwujuba, C., & Baumgartner, J.J. (2014). Infant Communicative Behaviors and Maternal Responsiveness. Child and Youth Care Forum, 43(2), 195-209.

Deris, A. R., DiCarlo, C., Flynn, L. L., Ota, C.L., & O’Hanlon, A. (2012). Importance of social supports of parents of children with autism.  International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 4(1), 17-31.

Baumgartner, J., Burnett, L., DiCarlo, C. & Buchanan, T. (2012). An inquiry of children’s social support networks using eco-maps. Child and Youth Care Forum, doi: 10.1007/s10566-011-9166-2

Deris, A. R., DiCarlo, C. F., & Deris, T. P. (2012). Evidence-based practices: Using story-based interventions to improve social behavior in the general education setting. Focus on Inclusive Education, 10(1), 5-8.

Social Studies

Casey, E., DiCarlo, C., & *Sheldon, K. (2019). Growing democratic citizenship competencies: Fostering social studies understandings through inquiry learning in the preschool garden. The Journal of Social Studies Research. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jssr.2018.12.001

Casey, E. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2016). Social studies surprises found in the garden. Focus on PK/K, Early Years Bulletin, 4(2), 7-10. http://www.acei.org/sites/default/files/eybwinter2016.pdf

Lee, L., & Misco, T. (2016). Seeking moral autonomy in a Chinese context: A study of elementary moral education standards. Journal of International Social Studies, 6(2), 84 95.

Special Education

Deris, A., & DiCarlo, C.F. (2015). Effects of using a weighted or pressure vest for a child with autism. Autonomy, the critical journal of interdisciplinary Autism studies, 1(4).

Deris, A. R., & DiCarlo, C. F. (2013). Working with young children with autism in inclusive classrooms. Support for Learning, 28(2), 52-56.

Deris, A. R., DiCarlo, C., Flynn, L. L., Ota, C., & O’Hanlon, A. (2012). Investigation of social supports for parents of children with autism. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 4(1), 17-32.

Sola, S. & Terrusi, M. (2010). Just like us. Li.Ber books for children and boys, 87(1), 50 – 51.

DiCarlo, C.F., Schepis, M., & Flynn, L. (2009). Embedding sensory preferences in toys to enhance toy play in toddlers with disabilities. Infants and Young Children, 22(3), 187-199.

Flynn-Wilson, L, & DiCarlo, C.F. (2009). Transdisciplinary intervention: What does it look like in community-based child care? Collaborations, 1, 30-32.

Sola, S. & Terrusi, M. (2009). The difference is not a subtraction: Books for children and disabilities. Lapis.

DiCarlo, C.F., Benedict, J., & Aghayan, C. (2008). Social proximity of preschoolers with disabilities in an inclusive classroom. The Journal of Early Childhood Education and Family Review

Terrusi, M. (2008). All uses of the book at all. Childhood, 4(1), 46-49.  

DiCarlo, C.F., & Reid, D.H. (2004). Increasing pretend toy play among 2-year-old children with disabilities in an inclusive setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 37, 197-207.

Reid, D.H., DiCarlo, C.F., Schepis, M.M., Hawkins, J., & Stricklin, S.B. (2003). Observational assessment of toy preferences among young children with disabilities in inclusive settings: Efficiency analysis and comparison with staff opinion. Behavior Modification, 27(2), 233-250.

Banajee, M., DiCarlo, C., & Stricklin, S. (2003). Core vocabulary determination for toddlers. Augmentative/Alternative Communication, 19, 67-73.

DiCarlo, C.F., Reid, D.H., & Stricklin, S. (2003). Increasing toy play among toddlers with multiple disabilities in an inclusive classroom: A more-to-less, child-directed intervention continuum. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 24, 195-209.

DiCarlo, C.F., Stricklin, S., Banajee, M., & Reid, D. (2001). Effects of manual signing on communicative vocalizations by toddlers with and without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. The Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 26(2), 1-7.

DiCarlo, C.F., & Banajee, M. (2000). Using voice output devices to initiations among children with disabilities. Journal of Early Intervention, 23(3), 191-199. http://jei.sagepub.com/content/23/3/191.full.pdf+html

DiCarlo, C.F., Banajee, M., Stricklin, S. (2000). Circle time: Embedding augmentative communication into routine activities. Young Exceptional Children, 3, 18-26.

Teacher Education

Baumgartner, J., DiCarlo, C.F., & Casbergue, R. (in press). Service-learning in early childhood education: The Intersection of modeling developmentally appropriate teacher education & the P.A.R.E. model. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.

Isbell, D. S. (2020). Early Socialization and Opinions of Musicianship Among Preservice Music Teachers. Journal of Music Teacher Education,29(3), 62-76. https://doi.org/10.1177/1057083720928496

Lee, L. (2016). Infant-toddler field experience design: A developmentally and culturally relevant approach in restrictive reality. Early Years Bulletin, 4(1), 7-11.

Isbell, D. (2009) Understanding Music Teacher Preparation. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM, Verlag Publishing, Inc

Isbell, D. (2009). Role Models and Career Commitment Among Music Education Undergraduate Students. Music Education Research International, 3.13-27

Lee, L. & McMullen, M. B. (2006). Social ideology and early childhood education: A comparative analysis of Korean early childhood teacher education textbooks written in 1993 and 2003. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(2), 119-129.

Ota, C.,DiCarlo, C.F.,Burts,D., Laird, R., & Gioe, C. (2006).  Training and the needs of adult learners. Journal of Extension, 44(6), Article 6TOT5.

Ota, C.,DiCarlo, C.F.,Burts,D., Laird, R., & Gioe, C. (2006).  The impact of training on caregiver responsiveness. The Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 27(2), 149-160

Teaching Practices

Hulin, C., DiCarlo, C., & Grantham-Caston, M. (in review). The Impact of responsive partnership strategies on the satisfaction of co-teaching relationships in early childhood classrooms. NHSA Dialog: The Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Childhood Field.

Watson, K.J. & DiCarlo, C.F. (2015). Increasing completion of classroom routines through the use of picture activity schedules. Early Childhood Education Journal. DOI 10.1007/s10643-015-0697-2

DiCarlo, C.F. & Haney, L. (2014). Action research/evidence-based practice in early childhood. Focus on Infants & Toddlers, 1(4), 11-14.

Flynn, L., & DiCarlo, C., (2009). Using a transdisciplinary teaming service delivery approach in preschools. Focus on Inclusive Education, 6(4), 2-3.

VanDerHeyden, A., Snyder, P., DiCarlo, C.F., Stricklin, S.B., & Vagianos, L.A. (2002). Comparison of within-stimulus and extra-stimulus prompts to increase targeted play behaviors in an inclusive early intervention program. The Behavior Analyst Today, 3 (2), 189.

Teaching Adults

Ota, C., DiCarlo, C.F., Burts, D., Laird, R., & Gioe, C. (2006). Training and the needs of adult learners. Journal of Extension, 44(6) [Article No. 6TOT5].

Lee, L. (2020). Technology-augmented play materials. In D. Bergen (Ed.), Handbook of Developmentally Appropriate Toys. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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Methodology for Research with Early Childhood Education and Care Professionals

Example Studies and Theoretical Elaboration

  • Cecilia Wallerstedt 0 ,
  • Eva Brooks   ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7286-0876 1 ,
  • Elin Eriksen Ødegaard 2 ,
  • Niklas Pramling 3

Department of Education, Communication & Learning, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

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Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark

Kindknow, western norway university of applied sciences, bergen, norway.

  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access
  • Contributes to knowledge building in Early Childhood Education and Care research
  • Offers examples of personnel-researcher collaborative research projects in the field
  • Addresses a wide variety of case studies of practice-development research from Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Part of the book series: International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development (CHILD, volume 38)

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Table of contents (12 chapters), front matter, introduction, enabling knowledge development relevant for ecec.

  • Cecilia Wallerstedt, Malin Nilsen

Example Studies

A retrospective view on researchers’ and preschool teachers’ collaboration: the case of developing children’s learning in preschool.

  • Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson

Exploring Mixed Roles and Goals in Collaborative Research: The Example of Toddler Mathematics Education

  • Camilla Björklund, Hanna Palmér

Managing the Tension Between the Known and the Unknown in Knowledge-Building: The Example of the Play-Responsive Early Childhood Education and Care (PRECEC) Project

  • Cecilia Wallerstedt

Success of and Barriers to Workshop Methodology: Experiences from Exploration and Pedagogical Innovation Laboratories (EX-PED-LAB)

  • Elin Eriksen Ødegaard, Marion Oen, Johanna Birkeland

Opening Up New Spaces for Action: Challenges of Participatory Action Research for Preschool Practice Transformation in an Introductory Unit for Immigrant Children

  • Annika Åkerblom

Integrating Digital Technologies in Teaching and Learning Through Participation: Case Studies from the Xlab – Design, Learning, Innovation Laboratory

  • Eva Brooks, Anders Kalsgaard Møller, Maja Højslet Schurer

Interprofessional Dialogue and the Importance of Contextualising Children’s Participation: A Collaboration Between Different Disciplines Around New Technology

  • Pernilla Lagerlöf

Mutuality in Collaboration: A Development Project for Teaching in Multilingual ECEC

  • Anne Kultti

Theoretical and Conceptual Discussions and Tools

The importance of de-reifying language in research with early childhood education and care professionals: a critical feature of workshop methodology.

  • Niklas Pramling, Louise Peterson

Responding to Wicked Tensions and Problems in Practices-Developing Research

Elin Eriksen Ødegaard

Terminological and Conceptual Meta-commentaries on Practices-Developing Research

  • Niklas Pramling, Cecilia Wallerstedt

There are important differences between these approaches, but they also share some features, which makes it possible to see them as examples of a particular tradition of knowledge building. Collaborative knowledge building constitutes close ties between developing practices of early childhood education and care, and generating empirically grounded theoretical knowledge.

  • practice-developing research
  • researcher-teacher collaborative knowledge building
  • inter-professions collaboration
  • practice based mathematics education research
  • toddlers’ mathematical development in Swedish preschools
  • metacognitive approach to children’s learning
  • Research-practice collaboration
  • Competence development
  • preschool education for immigrant children
  • knowledge creating practices in partnership research
  • Play-responsive teaching
  • practice-based research
  • foundational ethos of collaboration
  • participatory-driven creative learning
  • teachers as agents in the research process
  • interprofessional dialogue (MIROR)
  • de-reifying language in research

Department of Education, Communication & Learning, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Cecilia Wallerstedt, Niklas Pramling

Eva Brooks is Professor in IT-based Design, Learning and Innovation at the Department of Culture and Learning, Aalborg University, Denmark. Her research has a design focus on participation, social interaction, and the use and development of digital technology and their implications for play and learning. Her research also includes an innovation dimension, where she applies a design-oriented approach to co-creative processes with children. She has been involved in several research projects concerning children’s participation, play, and learning in state-of-the-art technology settings. Currently, her research also has a focus on teachers’ professional digital competence grounded in creative workshops where the learning is participative, collaborative and peer-oriented.

Elin Eriksen Ødegaard is Professor, Dr. Fil. and Director of KINDKNOW - Kindergarten Knowledge Centre for Systemic Research on Diversity and Sustainable Futures at Western Norway University of Applied Science. She is working with partnership research for professional development in efforts to understand and support conditions for institutional pedagogical practice. Her research interest embraces cultural historical ideas, global and local perspectives, teachers’ pedagogies and changing practices for sustainable futures and children’s play exploration.  She often uses narrative, explorative and multimedia resources in her research and communication. She has authored and co-authors 9 books and more than 50 scientific articles/chapters.

Niklas Pramling is Professor of Education at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He is Director of two national research schools for preschool teachers (funded by the Swedish Research Council). He conducts communications research in early childhood education and care settings and beyond.

Book Title : Methodology for Research with Early Childhood Education and Care Professionals

Book Subtitle : Example Studies and Theoretical Elaboration

Editors : Cecilia Wallerstedt, Eva Brooks, Elin Eriksen Ødegaard, Niklas Pramling

Series Title : International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-14583-4

Publisher : Springer Cham

eBook Packages : Education , Education (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2023

Hardcover ISBN : 978-3-031-14582-7 Published: 30 November 2022

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-031-14585-8 Published: 30 November 2022

eBook ISBN : 978-3-031-14583-4 Published: 28 November 2022

Series ISSN : 2468-8746

Series E-ISSN : 2468-8754

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XII, 181

Number of Illustrations : 1 b/w illustrations

Topics : Early Childhood Education , Education, general

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Nature play in early childhood education: a systematic review and meta ethnography of qualitative research.

\r\nJannette Prins*

  • 1 Department of Education, Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2 Department of Educational and Family Studies, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 3 LEARN! Research Institute, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 4 Department of Education, University of Applied Sciences Leiden, Leiden, Netherlands

Play in nature-based environments in childhood education has positive benefits for child development. Although previous reviews showed the benefits of play in nature-based environments for child development they did not attempt to understand how and why nature-based environments contribute to play quality. This review aims to explore the value of play in nature-based environments compared to non-nature-based environments for developmental outcomes of young children (2–8 year). We searched for studies that investigated the relation between play and nature-based environments on the databases PsycINFO, ERIC, and Web of Science. Inclusion/exclusion criteria were: (1) the study focused on play in/on a nature based environment, (2) the study included participants between the age of 2–8 years, (3) it was an empirical study, (4) the study was conducted in the context of early childhood education (ECE), and (5) the study included participants without special needs or disabilities. Using these criteria we selected 28 qualitative studies with an overall sample size of N = 998 children aged 2–8 years. The studies were synthesized using an adaptation of Noblit and Hare’s meta-ethnographic approach. Three overarching themes were found: (1) the aspects of play quality that are related to nature-based environments, (2) the aspects of nature-based environments that support play, and (3) the aspects of teacher-child interactions that contribute to nature play quality. The meta themes resonate with play theories and theories of the restorative value of nature. We draw on the qualitative data to refine and extend these theories, and to come up with a definition of the concept “nature play.” This systematic review also sets a base for future research on play interventions in nature-based environments. We argue that (1) research will benefit from thoroughly conceptualizing the role of play in the development of young children, (2) using the affordances theory research will benefit from moving beyond the individual play actions as a unit of analysis, and (3) from an educational perspective it is important to shift the focus of nature play to its benefits for children’s cognitive development.


In early childhood education (ECE), play and learning are inextricably intertwined ( Hirsh-Pasek, 2008 ). Play is often considered as a context for young children’s learning and development, and can take place indoors (e.g., in a classroom) as well as outdoors (e.g., in a nature-based environment). However, outdoor play in ECE is often done for its value to relax and recover from the important play and learning time that takes place indoors. As a result, in ECE play in outdoor settings is not often valued for its potential benefits for children’s learning development ( Miranda et al., 2017 ). Recently, many studies have focused on play and learning in nature-based environments. Based on these studies, this review aims to explore the value of play in nature based environments in ECE. The research for this review was guided by the following question: what is the value of play in nature-based environments compared to non-nature-based environments for developmental outcomes of young children (2–8 year).

Play as a context for child development, three perspectives

In most cultural communities, play is a major aspect of children’s life ( Roopnarine, 2012 ). Most play researchers agree on the importance of play in early childhood. In fact, play is seen as a key element of child development because it is the context for the development of cognition (including language), motor skills and social-emotional competence ( Rubin et al., 1983 ; Golinkoff et al., 2006 ; Nathan and Pellegrini, 2010 ).

To affirm the importance of play, in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( United Nations, 1989 ) play is viewed as a fundamental need and right of children. This need for and right to play needs to be respected in the lives of young children. Consequently, article 31 challenges us to understand play from the perspective of children’s needs and rights.

Before play ended up as a fundamental right in the Children’s Rights Treaty, the critical role of play has been studied by many scholars using different theoretical frameworks. According to Wynberg et al. (2022) , roughly three theoretical perspectives can be distinguished. First, Piaget describes in Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood ( Piaget, 2013 ), how children incorporate objects and events of the world around them in their play, creating a mental model of the world. In this genetic epistemology perspective, children’s level of cognitive development is reflected in types of play (functional and constructive play, symbolic/fantasy play and games with rules). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development suggests four phases in which intelligence changes as children grow. For early childhood the first three are relevant: children (0–12 year) grow from sensorimotor intelligence (e.g., children understand the external world only by sensing and touching objects that are present), into preoperational intelligence (e.g., during this period children are thinking at a symbolic level but are not yet using cognitive operations, they still need to act in the external world to perform these operations) into concrete operational intelligence (e.g., children can use logic and transform, combine and separate concepts on a mental level) In this way, children’s play can be classified on the basis of their cognitive development, but children’s play is not seen as a context for new development. Therefore, this theoretical perspective does not explain how children’s play quality and the physical environment are related.

Secondly, in contrast to Piaget’s view that play reflects the actual level of children’s cognitive development, in Vygotsky’s cultural historical activity theory (CHAT), play is considered a social activity in which children meet and interact with the social cultural environment. With help of parents, educators and peers, children gain in play a driving force for further cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development ( Nicolopoulou, 1993 ).

Leontiev advanced Vygotsky’s theory by differentiating play actions from play activity. Play actions are performed to achieve a single goal. A play activity is a set of related play actions that meet children’s need to get to know the world around them and be able to contribute to it. Their play activity derives its meaning from the satisfaction of fulfilling this need, which is the motive for their activity. However, the goal of a play action does not necessary coincide with the motive of the activity. In fact, the single goal of an action often comes apart from this motive. For instance, children in a nature-based environment collect sticks (action) to build a pretend bonfire (activity) to fulfill their need to get the feel of making a bonfire (not because they were cold or needed to cook).

Within CHAT, tool use is an important aspect of play activity. Tools help children to fulfill their need and these (symbolic) tools link the action (collecting sticks) to their motive (getting to know bonfires by pretending to make one). In other words, children are motivated by these tools. In the play context, tools have agency to achieve goals ( Bodrova and Leong, 2015 ; Wynberg et al., 2022 ) and motivation to use the tools is what makes children act, think and develop ( Nicolopoulou, 1993 ; Deci and Ryan, 2008 ; Bakhurst, 2009 ). As a result of engaging in play, the perceptual world–i.e., the world the child meets through perceptually interacting with it–becomes a conceptual world of meaning and value. In this process, the child develops the mental power to understand the (meaning of) the world that surrounds him/her. The perceptual world invites or affords play activity ( Bakhurst, 2009 ). In the example of children building a bonfire, the sticks mediate between the perceptual and conceptual world, children use their mental power to imagine the real fire and the heat that comes from it, while building the bonfire and gathering around it. Although CHAT accounts for the role of the physical environment in children’s play, the environment is mostly viewed as situated in a socio-cultural environment.

Thirdly, Gopnik (2020) describes childhood from an evolutionary perspective as a time for the human mind to explore the unpredictable range of human possibilities. To develop the capacity to navigate the perceptual world, in other words to get the feel or hang of it, children actually have to feel the world and hang around in it. During childhood, children are especially prone to explorative and “active” learning. While involved in messy and intuitive play actions, children gather new information about the world around them, learning and adapting without using adult intelligence, such as planning or focused attention. Instead, they get involved with all their senses to imagine even far-away and unlikely hypotheses, such as using objects during play in a creative way, not being hindered by experience of the usual function of the object ( Gopnik and Wellman, 2012 ; Schulz, 2012 ; Wente et al., 2019 ). Within the evolutionary perspective childhood is an extended time for exploration of an environment that is variable, with a mix of predictability and unpredictability. In the same way as the CHAT, within the evolutionary perspective the focus is on cultural learning, i.e., obtaining information from other humans and not so much from the interaction with the nature-based environment.

Although these three perspectives differ in focus and methodology, they all acknowledge play as important for child development. During play children find out the meaning of the world that surrounds them, including the physical world, and learn how they can interact with it. In this way they develop as human beings with cognitive, social, emotional, and motor competencies.

Defining play

In this review, we focus on play and how the quality of play might be supported by the physical environment where children play. Therefore, we need a definition to distinguish play behavior from other behavior. As we have seen in the literature on play there is no defining key factor that connects all actions that are recognized as play actions. In the Oxford handbook of the development of play , Burghardt (2012) comes up with a set of five criteria that characterize the play of all animals: (1) It is not fully functional in the form in which it is expressed; play actions can look functional but the actions do not contribute to survival; (2) It is spontaneous, voluntary, intentional, pleasurable, and done for the sake of playing; (3) Play differs from functional behavior in structure or timing in at least one respect: incomplete, awkward, and precocious; (4) It is performed repeatedly but not in a stereotyped way; and (5) It is initiated when the animal is “relaxed”: well fed, warm and safe. These five criteria partly overlap with the dispositions described by Rubin et al. (1983) . They define play as: (1) intrinsically motivated; (2) for the sake of play(ing); (3) deriving pleasure from it, and; (4) having the freedom to modify the rules within the play ( Rubin et al., 1983 ). For this review, we will combine the aforementioned criteria and include all behaviors that can be classified as a child’s interaction with the environment, while being highly involved, intrinsically motivated, deriving pleasure from it, and having the freedom to modify the rules (cf., Rubin et al., 1983 ).

The quality of the physical environment in relation to play quality

The physical environment where children play is part of their play. The value of explorative and active play is directly related to both the complexity of the physical environment and the opportunity to incorporate the environment in play ( Gopnik, 2020 ). In other words, an environment not only serves as a play décor, but it also serves as a place that affords play. For example, findings from systematic reviews consistently demonstrate that a nature-based environment affords different play behavior compared to non-nature-based environments ( Gill, 2014 ; Dankiw et al., 2020 ; Zare Sakhvidi et al., 2022 ). How can this be explained?

The affordances theory of Gibson (2014) is a way to describe an environment in terms of the distinctive features that offer possibilities for play behavior for a child or a group of children. An affordance is something that refers to both the environment and the skills of a child at that moment. The affordance theory helps to understand why nature-based environments differ from non-nature-based environments. For instance, a tree can afford leaning for a 1-year old, hiding for a 5-year old and climbing for a 7-year old. Heft (1988) and Kyttä (2002) advanced the affordances theory into a functional taxonomy, by describing the distinctive functional properties of an environment, properties that are both objectively real and psychological relevant. It is a way to describe the setting, the person (the child with her skills at that moment) and the action as a “system.” According to Heft (1988) , the functional possibilities for meaningful play that children perceive in nature-based environments are different from the possibilities they perceive in non-nature-based environments.

In addition to the affordances theory to describe the assets of nature-based environments for play, two complementary theories from research on nature-based environments are related to aspects of play (quality) as well: the Stress Recovery Theory (SRT) and the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) ( Ulrich, 1983 ; Kaplan, 1995 ; Berto, 2014 ). SRT is a psycho-evolutionary theory that states that since humans evolved over a long period in natural environments, people are to some extent physiologically and perhaps psychologically better adapted to nature-based environments as to non-nature based environments. ART is a psycho-functionalist theory that states that humans have an innate predisposition to pay attention and respond positively to natural content (e.g., vegetation and water) and to settings that helped survival during evolution. Both theories state that nature-based-environments are more restorative than non-nature-based environments; according to SRT, nature-based environments relieve physiological stress whereas according to ART, nature-based environments restore mental fatigue. In this way nature-based environments contribute to play quality as we look at the criteria for play quality mentioned above: a child can only initiate play when it is relaxed, and play asks for involvement and attention.

Defining nature-based environments

As we see how the quality of the play activity of a child is intrinsically linked to the nature-based environment, we need a definition to distinguish a nature-based environment from other environments. As it is difficult to find one key factor to define play, there is also no such key factor that connects all environments recognized as nature-based environments. To describe such an environment the affordances theory of Greeno (1994) , Gibson (2014) , and Lerstrup and Konijnendijk van den Bosch (2017) makes it possible to look at an environment in terms of affordances. He described five affording features of an environment: (1) places, (2) attached and (3) detached objects, (4) substances, and (5) events. In this review, we use these features to distinguish nature-based environments from non-nature-based environments. Nature-based environments (1) have a surface (place) that is the basis for growth of living elements, (2) provide possibilities for interacting with living, non-man-made elements like plants, trees, and insects, (3) these living elements “provide” loose materials to play with, such as sticks, seeds, feathers, and shells (attached and detached “objects”), (4) non-living elements are part of a nature-based environment as these elements are connected to the biosphere of the living elements such as water, rocks, and soil (substances), and (5) weather elements such as fresh air, rain, wind and sunshine, or seasonal elements such as blooming or decay are the features that ensure change (events) ( Gill, 2014 ; Chawla, 2015 ; Dankiw et al., 2020 ).

The role of the teacher

For this review, we also investigated the role the teacher has in designing and/or choosing the play environment. The motivation and the capacity to be taught by the world is not totally innate. It needs to be nurtured and sustained by adults. Early childhood teachers are part of the play context and have a role in mediating between the child and the world. In this context they also have a role in the acquisition and use of language during play. While the perceptual world with its structure and rules becomes a conceptual world in play the acquisition and use of language makes it possible to store the concepts in the mind ( Huizinga, 2014 ). Most play theories agree on the role early childhood teachers have in guarding children’s play, enriching children’s play environment, and protecting children for dangers, but there is considerable debate on the question if and how adults should participate in children’s play activities ( van Oers, 2013 ).

Reason for this review

Reasoning from play theories and the environmental psychologist theories we might expect that nature-based play environments, as an indivisible part of children’s play actions, can contribute to children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development.

In the last decade, many studies have been conducted into the relation between a healthy development of children and engagement in nature-based environments. Most of these studies have focused on health and physical activity. The reviews of Gill (2014) , Chawla (2015) , and more recently Dankiw et al. (2020) have provided overviews of the benefits of nature for children’s development. These reviews were focused on children between 1 and 12 years old. First, the systematic review of Gill showed the benefits of children’s engagement with nature on mental health as well as physical activity. Second, Chawla’s work was not so much a systematic review but a thorough reflection on research into the benefits of nature contact for children. She placed the research in the context of changing research approaches, thus showing how different research questions and methods shape our understanding of the benefits of access to nature for children. Third, Dankiw’s review investigated the impacts of children’s engagement with unstructured nature play, finding that unstructured nature play may have a positive impact on different aspects of child development. By focusing on developmental outcomes of quantitative studies, this study did not attempt to understand how or why unstructured nature play is related to these positive outcomes. A systematic review of qualitative studies can synthesize findings and advance the knowledge base of how nature-based environments contribute to play quality. Synthesizing the fragmented literature will contribute to a useful resource for guiding future research on this topic and inform early childhood educational practices, valuing nature-based play environments as intrinsically linked to play quality.

We systematically reviewed studies into play in nature-based environments in ECE. These studies may contribute to our understanding of the experiences of children and teachers in ECE when going outside to play in nature- based environments. Moreover, these experiences set out a basis for understanding the possibilities of playing in nature-based environments for cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development in ECE. We reviewed studies in early childhood educational settings since in these settings play is an important part of the curriculum.

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines ( Page et al., 2021 ) was adopted for the purposes of the present review. A PRISMA checklist is provided in Supplementary File 1 .

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Articles were included if they met the following selection criteria:

(1) The study focused on play in/on a nature based environment (studies were excluded if the exposure to nature was not specified as “interaction” or “play” or if the environment where the children played did not match our criteria of nature based environments as stated in our introduction).

(2) The study included participants between the age of 2–8 years.

(3) It was an empirical study.

(4) The study was conducted in the context of ECE (studies were excluded if they were not conducted in a center for ECE, such as day care centers and preschools).

(5) The study included participants without special needs or disabilities.

Databases and search query

Databases PsycINFO, ERIC, and Web of Science were used to identify studies that investigated the relation between play and nature-based environments. To ensure the quality of the studies we only included empirical studies that were published in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore studies written in English that were published between May 1995 and 2022 were included. We combined keywords on the two major concepts of this review: play and nature-based environments. To ensure a comprehensive search the following keywords were used for play or activity: manipulative play, object play, relational play, block play, loose part play, outdoor play, free play, unstructured play, rough and tumble play, explorative play, creative play, construction play, physical play, gross motor play, role play, pretend play, social play, imaginative play, socio dramatic play, social pretend play, as if play or physical activity, unstructured activity, explorative activity, physical activity, construction activity, and gross motor activity. For the nature-based environment, the following keywords were used: green or natural environment, playground, landscape playscape setting area or space, school garden, school forest, school wetland, school wilderness, school grassland, greenery, garden, forest, wetland, wilderness, grassland, tree cover, tree canopy, biodiverse school ground, and nature based. Boolean operators were used to ensure that each possible combination of keywords was included. The search query is provided in Supplementary File 2 .

Selection procedure

The primary search resulted in a selection of 5,961 articles. Next, duplicates were removed, and titles, abstracts, and keywords of the remaining articles were manually screened. Many studies in this first selection were either in the field of environmental science or health, and did not concern playing children. After removing the studies that obviously did not meet our selection criteria we assessed 166 articles for eligibility. We excluded 107 studies for reasons of age. We also screened studies with participants between 2 and 8 years as well as participants beyond this age. We did not include them because it was impossible to decide if the results were specific for the group of children between 2 and 8 years. A random selection of twenty articles of the 166 articles were checked with two researchers, both members of a research group performing a systematic review in the field of ECE. They checked if the article met the criteria of our definition of play and nature based environment as stated in our introduction. Quality appraisal was made through the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Critical Appraisal Tool for Qualitative Studies ( Lockwood et al., 2020 ) (see Supplementary File 2 ). Using this tool we were surprised by the innovative and creative ways these studies adapted to respect the voice of young children. We ended up with a final selection of 28 studies with an overall sample size of N = 998 children aged 3–8 years. See Figure 1 for an overview of the study selection process.


Figure 1. Study selection process.

Data extraction and synthesis

The selected studies were analyzed and synthesized in four steps based on Noblit and Hare’s meta-ethnography method and adapted for this study ( Agar, 1990 ; Noblit and Hare, 2012 ; Nye et al., 2016 ): Step 1: The studies were read and re-read to gain a detailed understanding of their theories and concepts and their findings according to the following categories: (1) Design/method, (2) theories and conceptualization, and (3) outcomes. Supplementary Table 1 gives an overview of the 28 studies, specified according to these categories. To retain the meaning of the primary concepts within individual studies and to define the relations between these concepts we developed codes regarding the experiences of children and teachers while playing in nature-based environments during ECE (i.e., authors’ interpretation of the data and “second order constructs”).

Step 2: In order to determine how the studies were related, the initial codes were grouped according to key aspects of (1) play quality, (2) the nature-based environment, and (3) the teacher-child interactions. These key concepts from individual studies were synthesized, which resulted in lists of overarching themes for each of the three groups (see Figure 2 ).


Figure 2. Meta-synthesis of key concepts into three themes and two Meta-themes.

Step 3: Studies were translated into one another to produce “meta-themes” across the different aspects of play in nature-based environments. To draw out the findings under each meta-theme, some studies were chosen as “index” papers from which we extracted findings. These index papers stood out in terms of their conceptual richness. Their findings were then compared to and contrasted with the findings of a second study, and the resulting synthesis of these two studies were then contrasted with a third study, and so forth. This is referred to as “reciprocal translation” ( Noblit and Hare, 2012 ; Nye et al., 2016 ). For example Lerstrup and Konijnendijk van den Bosch (2017) advanced Gibsons and Hefts theory of affordances and functional classes of outdoor features into “key activities” afforded by classes of the outdoor environment. These new concepts were used for the translation of concepts from other papers that were related but not conceptualized in this way.

Step 4: The meta-themes from step 3 were synthesized according to aspects of quality of ECE. Via interpretive reading of these meta-themes we developed a “line of argument” synthesis regarding the value of play in nature-based environments for improving developmental outcomes of ECE. This is presented in the discussion.

Meta method analysis

During step 1 we analyzed the study designs of the 28 included studies. The studies into play in nature-based environments in ECE all aimed to get more insight into the relation between children’s play and nature-based environments in ECE. The studies aimed to study a myriad of educational outcomes, such as physical activity, cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development as well as health. The relevance of these studies is motivated by concerns about changes in the practice of playing outside as healthy practice for young children’s physical and mental wellbeing. Opportunities for outdoor play have diminished drastically since the mid-20th century, due to cultural changes such as parental control and fear, inadequate access to outdoor playgrounds, screen time and the focus on cognitive development in ECE.

The studies included in the present review can all be characterized as small-scale studies using observations of play behavior in nature-based environments and interviews with teachers and children to explore their experiences of playing in nature-based environment. Participating early childhood settings in the studies were sampled based on their outdoor play practices including the design of their playgrounds. These studies can be divided into two groups: one that compared play on a nature-based (part of the) playground to play on (part of the) traditional designed playground and one that compared forest school practice to indoor/outdoor classroom practice.

In all studies, except for one, the sample size was given and ranged between N = 4 and N = 198, with a total of N = 998 and a mean of N = 36. Twelve of the studies had a sample size of < N = 20, 13 had a sample size between N = 20 and N = 100, one study had a sample size of N = 198, and one had a sample of teachers N = 63 teachers. One study did not specify the sample size. The relatively small sample sizes of most studies can be explained by the fact that the studies had an explorative and qualitative research design.

Seventeen studies used play observations describing different aspects of the relation between children’s play behavior and nature-based outdoor environments, to get more insight in how children use outdoor environments during outdoor play activities. In most studies these observations were characterized as phenomenological, ethnographical, and participatory. Blanchet-Cohen and Elliot (2011) for instance described how participatory observation was a primary method of listening to young children in unmediated ways to get insight in how the children used the nature based environment. In the studies of Moore et al. (2019) and Dyment and O’Connell (2013) observation was done by using event sampling or taking scans with an observation tool, making it easier to observe a higher number of participants.

In the studies where children’s views on their outdoor play experiences were explored, a mosaic approach was used to get insight into the views of young children, using arts-based data techniques while interviewing children. These studies were inventive and respected the way young participants are able to express their own views. For example, in the study of Streelasky (2019) , drawings, paintings, and photographs were used during child interviews to support them in expressing their views. In the study of Moore et al. (2019) , the children gave a tour around the yard to express their views on the value of the nature-based environment. Four studies also collected data from teachers, to explore their views and their interaction with children when playing outside in nature-based environments.

Although most studies used open observations to investigate the play activities of the children, some used validated instruments, such as the system for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth (SOPLAY). This system is used by Fjørtoft (2001) as well as by Dyment and O’Connell (2013) and is a way to label children’s activities, for instance to assess the diversity of their activities, but it does not capture how these activities are related to the play environment. Another way to assess the quality of the play activities is in terms of involvement, freedom, and joy. In two studies, the Leuven Child Involvement Scale was used to analyse children’s play in terms of involvement and joy. Other studies ( Luchs and Fikus, 2013 , 2018 ; Morrissey et al., 2017 ) used the duration of the play episodes as a measure of the quality of the play: The longer children played, the higher the quality of their play episode.

In three studies instruments were used to assess the play potential of the nature-based outdoor environment. Mårtensson et al. (2009) , for example, used the outdoor play environment categories (OPEC) tool, which gives a higher score to environments with large integrated spaces with plentiful greenery and varied topography compared to small areas where open spaces, play structures and vegetation are placed in separate parts of the environment. Richardson and Murray (2016) used the early childhood environment rating scale (ECERS) to assess the nature-based environment, but this tool is developed to assess indoor classrooms and is not adapted for outdoor spaces.

Four of the five studies that also used quantitative data, measured children’s physical activity in a quantitative way using accelerometers, and one study measured if features of the natural environment correlated with measures of inattentiveness.

Data analysis techniques were specified in all of the studies. In most of them (24 studies) comparative thematic analysis was used as data analysis technique. In the five mixed method studies, several statistical tests were used as well.

Details about strategies to address validity were not often mentioned, but four of the studies used focus groups of teachers to discuss the finding of the studies and to perform a member check.

Meta concept and theory analysis

During step 2, we synthesized key concepts in the studies. The studies in this review were selected based on two conceptual criteria, one of them was the nature-based environment , the other concept was play (or aspects of play). Most studies used a specific theoretical framework and/or a philosophical perspective to explain and understand the expected relation between nature-based environments and play. These theories help us to conceptualize about and generalize the findings within the specific studies and help us to understand the limits of these generalizations.

Seven studies used a specific theory in which the concept of play was embedded. Most of these studies used Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, from which play can be defined as a mode of activity. However, the concept “activity” was mostly used as “the things children do” or, in other words, children’s actions. Certainly, the theory was not used to place play in the larger cultural-historical context. Other studies used a criterion- based definition of play, such as it was “free” or child initiated. For example, in the study of Brussoni et al. (2017) play was described in terms of activities chosen by the children. Different aspects of these activities in nature-based environments were explained, such as hierarchy between peers during play, the complexity of the play or the duration of play episodes. Other studies defined play as consisting of different play categories, some of them cognitively more complex. For example, in the study of Dyment and O’Connell (2013) play was described using five categories: functional, constructive, symbolic, self-focused, and talking, whereas the constructive and symbolic category was also coded as creative and imaginative. In the studies that focused on a specific type of play, such as physical play, risky play, or sociodramatic play, it was easier to extract the specific play concept. Morrissey et al. (2017) for instance, used a detailed description of the concept of sociodramatic play: involving two or more players, providing a crucial everyday context in which children are motivated to engage socially with peers, and practice skills in communication, negotiation, symbolic, and creative thinking.

Nature based environment

Twelve studies used Gibson’s affordances theory to distinguish nature-based environments from non-nature-based environments. Lerstrup and Konijnendijk van den Bosch (2017) , for instance, used the affordances approach to operationalize how play actions are afforded by a specific feature of the environment and a specific user (a child of the preschool participating in their study) of that feature. In this way, the environment is not viewed as a separate object, but as something children take with them in their own experiences. Sandseter (2009) assessed how a nature-based environment affords risky play for pre-schoolers, using the concept of affordances, but adding the role of the educator to the equation.

Some studies used the concept “play opportunities” instead of affordances, to operationalize the relation between children’s play behavior and a nature-based environment. Canning (2013) , for example, made observation notes of the play behavior during den-making sessions and focused on the conversations between children to explore how the environment offers opportunities for creative thinking. In the den-making context the nature-based environment is an integrated part of children’s play experience in the same way as the environment in the affordances approach. In short, in most of the studies the relation between nature-based and children’s play behavior is operationalized as observed activities afforded by nature-based outdoor environments.

Although all of the studies aimed to explore if and how (aspects of) children’s play behavior is afforded by nature-based outdoor environments, there is no generally accepted description of the concept “nature-based environment” and it is hardly operationalized in most of the studies. Fourteen studies ( Supplementary Table 1 nrs. 2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 12, 14, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 28) used a comparator outdoor play environment to compare the nature-based environment with. The comparator environment that was referred to as “traditional” or “usual,” always contained man-made or manufactured elements such as a climbing structure and a sandpit. Another similarity in the description of elements that the non-nature-based environment consisted of was the character of the surface: it was paved, concrete, or hard. This is a kind of surface that afforded functional play: riding bikes, running around. These comparator environments can serve as a starting point to describe the (operationalized) characteristic elements of the nature-based environments in the studies.

In contrast, the elements of the nature-based environment were in the first place described as elements that were not man-made and do change, grow or die (even) without the intervention of humans. For instance, in the study of Brussoni et al. (2017) the “seven C’s system” for assessing the quality of the outdoor environment was used. One of the C’s stands for change: How does the play environment change over time? Second, although nature based environments can change, grow or die without human intervention, at the same time the elements of the nature-based environment are more sensitive to human intervention than man-made elements in an a non-nature based environment, for instance a climbing structure. Therefore, nature-based environments ask for care when playing with and in it, which interferes with the children’s play actions. Third, the surface of the nature-based environment is referred to as “biodiverse, soft, and diverse.” An example of this is the study of Puhakka et al. (2019) . In this study, the greening of day-care yards consisted not only of adding green elements, but also of replacing the complete surface area of a day-care yard by forest floor, sod, peat blocks, and planters for vegetable growing, making the surface more biodiverse.

Related to the surface as an important element of the nature-based environment, in many studies natural loose parts found in or on this surface were a vital element of the nature-based environment affording specific play activities. Harwood and Collier (2017) even went a step further by not operationalizing the observed activities of the children afforded by nature-based outdoor environments, but by operationalizing the activities that the natural loose parts performed in the child’s play narrative. In this view, the agency of sticks in children’s multi modal texts was afforded by the children. This post-humanist perspective (as they called it) was interesting as it described how the agency of the children was enriched by focusing on the agency of the stick. To acknowledge the agency of nature-based environments might be a key factor in describing the special way it affords play, compared to other environments.

Three studies used a theory of place. These theories account for the fact that a child’s identity is nurtured and shaped by place ( Gruenewald, 2003 ; Adams and Savahl, 2017 ; Crippen, 2017 ). Children have strong attachments to the places they play in and actively construct places for imaginative play ( Hart, 1979 ).

Meta data analysis

In step 3 we compared and contrasted the key concepts found in the studies to one another to establish overarching themes (reciprocal translation). Most of the studies showed that aspects of children’s play quality are related to aspects of nature-based environments which might lead to benefits for child development if mediated in certain ways by early childhood educators. However, this relationship is complex and it is not easy to isolate the elements of the physical environment from all other factors that influence play quality. In order to find how the outcomes of studies were related, we grouped the studies according to (1) aspects of play quality (2) aspects of nature-based environment, and (3) aspects of teacher-child interactions.

Theme 1: Aspects of play quality: play actions, play attitude, and cognitive play

All studies pointed out that there was a relation between children’s play actions and nature-based environments. Firstly, compared to a non-nature-based environment, there was more variety in play categories while children played in nature-based environments. In the studies, a non-nature-based environment mostly afforded a more physical type of play whereas nature-based environments afforded more diversity in type of play. For instance, Luchs and Fikus (2018) observed that children showed play patterns in which they combined different play types. Six studies reported more socio-dramatic play in the nature-based environment. In the study of Coates and Pimlott-Wilson (2019) , for example, children reported that the forest site where they played offered them opportunities to make things and be creative, and enact their own stories.

Secondly, the vast majority of the studies reported how play in nature-based environments was related to children’s social-emotional attitude during play. Interesting were the studies that included children’s own perspectives on their play experiences in nature-based environments: Children often reported joy, wellbeing, and enthusiasm. For instance, in the study of Moore et al. (2019) they included “stories of agency” in which children demonstrated a strong sense of comfort and self-confidence with the nature-based environment, by telling about the freedom they felt to make footprints anywhere or to cool down in the grass. This sense of confidence was also found in the studies that observed more risky play in nature-based environments, or a higher degree of risk afforded by nature-based environment. In the study of Mcclain and Vandermaas-Peeler (2015) , the degree of “wilderness” of the environment (a creek compared to a river) afforded the degree of challenge and risk in the observed play behavior. Some studies emphasized the possibility of the nature-based environment to sustain the play story, resulting in longer play episodes, compared to episodes on the non-nature-based playground. But also in using more play space, as the nature-based environment helped them to meander from one area to another. This relates to the studies that pointed to more explorative play behavior or higher involvement and engagement during play in nature-based environment. For example, McCree et al. (2018) found high scores of involvement during play sessions on a forest school site.

Thirdly, besides the fact that playing in a nature-based environment interacts with how children play in such an environment, five studies described how this is related to children’s cognitive development. In early childhood, cognitive development as an outcome of play activities is highly dependent on how much a child is involved in play and the extent to which the child experiences wellbeing. Seven studies observed explorative play behavior, problem solving and creativity and related this to the nature-based environment. For example, in the study of Puhakka et al. (2019) , increasing biodiversity and the amount of greenery of school yards led to more explorative play, more multi-sensory play experiences, and better pre academic skills (i.e., counting) than before the intervention. In the longitudinal study of McCree et al. (2018) an improvement in academic attainment (i.e., reading, writing, and maths) was seen after 3 years of attending weekly forest school sessions compared to their non-participating peers at school. Richardson and Murray’s (2016) study was the only study that measured richer language use during forest school sessions, in terms of noun diversity, and the use of adjectives and verbs.

To summarize this step of reciprocal translation: when children play in nature-based environments, the quality of their experiences during play is improved. This is shown by a greater diversity in play actions while at the same time the duration of the play episode was extended, compared to their play in non-nature-based environments. Children’s involvement and wellbeing during play was intensified while playing in nature-based environments. Furthermore, they were not only physical active but also used different cognitive skills in their play.

Theme 2: Play aspects of nature-based environments

Although in theme 1 we showed that playing in nature-based environments relates to higher play quality, it was not yet connected to specific aspects of the nature-based environment. Theme 2 reveals that this higher play quality is connected to specific aspect of the nature-based environment. Most of the studies indicated a clear relation between nature-based environments and playing with loose or fixed natural materials. Playing with loose materials often leads to construction play. For instance, in the study of Puhakka et al. (2019) the researchers observed that children were doing more arts and crafts with the loose natural materials. In many other studies we reviewed, sticks were mentioned as natural materials with special interest. For instance, in Canning’s (2013) study children used sticks to lay out a ladder and to pretend to climb in it. In the study of Harwood and Collier (2017) the sticks even had agency, for instance they were friends carried and cared for by the child, being able to change the play narrative of the child. In four studies play with small creatures was mentioned (e.g., insects, worms, and snails), as well as care for plants and vegetation. These studies also pointed to the importance of the notion of abundance of natural materials as opposed to the notion of scarcity (for example of toys) in non-nature-based environments. Zamani (2013) described how the living character of nature-based zones sparked curiosity and wonder, and invited play with critters and plants. Also in the study of Wight et al. (2015) the fact that nature “lives” made children caring for it. In three studies the notion of place was connected to the possibility to immerse or hide in it, for instance a shrub or high grass, or to offering objects (leaves and sticks) that can be used to transform the space into a place of imagination for sociodramatic play.

Reciprocal translation led us to conclude that when children played in nature-based environments, specific aspects of the nature-based environment, such as the abundance of materials and substances to play with might be connected to quality of children’s play activities, which is related to the cognitive outcomes mentioned above. At the same time the nature-based environment owns agency in play, “it/he/she plays back, nature instigates play.

Theme 3: Teacher-child interactions

In most of the studies in this review, children’s play in nature-based environments was child initiated, not teacher led. However, the role of the teacher is part of the children’s play environment and in four studies this teacher’s role in nature-based environment was specifically investigated ( Mawson, 2014 ; Mackinder, 2017 ; Akpinar and Kandir, 2022 ). They found that the role of the teacher influences play quality. In the study of Mawson (2014) the outcomes of a hands-off approach to teacher child interactions, where children could freely roam throughout the woods, was compared to a hands-on approach with teacher-led activities. These two approaches resulted in differences in child behavior. In the hands-off approach, children were taking more risk and challenged themselves more and also engaged in more socio-dramatic play, while in the hands-on approach the teacher was directing children’s attention toward objects for play and shared more factual information.

It is important to also consider other factors that support possibilities of nature-based environments for children’s learning and development. Specifically, including assessments of teachers perceptions of their children’s underachievement, along with their supervisory/teacher style. In the study of Maynard et al. (2013) , most of the children in the study that were perceived as “underachieving,” changed their behavior while playing in a nature-based environment to such extent that this “underachievement” was not seen anymore. To be outdoors in nature with more space and less constraining by teachers offered the children the opportunity to show differences in social, emotional, and learning behavior, for instance children were more cooperative, showed more pro-social behavior and remained more on task.

Reciprocal translation led us to conclude that when children play in nature-based environments, the character of the teachers’ mediation between children and between children and the environment influences how the affordances of the nature-based environment are actualized in play. When children received greater independent mobility license from their teachers ( Kyttä, 2004 ) it not only offered more opportunities for risky play, but also for more independence in being creative, explorative, and self-confident. Moreover, teacher’s mediation itself is impacted by the nature-based environment: the nature-based environment changed their expectations of children’s skills and behavior, which in turn influenced children’s independent mobility license. The more affinity with the nature-based environment teachers had, the more they were able to reinforce children’s mobility and agency toward the nature-based environment, by balancing between child initiative and teacher initiative, transferring some of their own initiative to the nature-based environment.

Taken together our qualitative synthesis suggests that the affordances for play in nature-based environments experienced by children and teachers are not only different from the affordances for play in non-nature-based environments, which is obvious, but the affordances of the nature-based environment might also improve the quality of play. This is interesting for ECE teachers, since high quality play will yield children’s learning and development ( Rubin et al., 1983 ). The studies also indicated that the relation between a nature-based environment and play quality is complex. Although the body of research into this topic is growing, more work needs to be done. The qualitative studies reviewed in this article forms a useful complement to the most recent systematic review on this topic from Dankiw et al. (2020) , which reviewed primarily quantitative studies. Insights from the current review can support our understanding of the meaning of play that is enabled and sustained by the nature-based environment for children in ECE. Taken together, our review gives a first indication of the importance of play in nature-based environments for children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development.

Qualitative research can thus unravel how children’s play and the nature-based environment are mutually constitutive and how play processes are mediated by teachers to support children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development. Through an interpretation of the synthesis, below we present a “line of argument”–step 4 in the meta-ethnography–about how nature play can promote child development. We refine parts of play theory, by elaborating on the importance of the distinctive living character of the nature-based environment and its ability to “play back.” Besides, we will use the affordances theory to reframe the concept “afforded play actions.” We argue that reciprocity and diversity are unique qualities of nature play, contributing to child development if teachers permit and support children to explore the conceptual, social, technical, and metacognitive aspects of the nature-based environment in play.

Line of argument, the value of nature play

Play theories explain how children’s active engagement with the surrounding world (i.e., play) results in knowledge of different aspects of the world, while in the meantime they learn to take part in it ( Bakhurst, 2009 ; Piaget, 2013 ; van Oers, 2013 ). This qualitative synthesis illuminates the uniqueness of nature-based environments for meaningful play activity which is largely ignored in play theories Firstly the “living character” of the nature-based environment, the fact that it has a life of its own, accounts for reciprocity and diversity in children’s play. Secondly the fact that children use tools (or toys) during play is commonly accounted for in play theories, whereas nature-based environments provide an ample and diverse supply of loose parts ( Speldewinde and Campbell, 2022 ). Which results in creative and imaginative play. Furthermore, both the stress reduction theory (SRT) as well as the ART account for the special connection between humans and nature-based environments ( Ulrich, 1983 ; Kaplan, 1995 ; Adams and Savahl, 2017 ). These theories imply that being in nature contributes to wellbeing, but do not refer to interactions with nature. For children, being in an environment leads to interaction with it, and play theory shows that the quality of these play interactions is important ( Burghardt, 2012 ; Speldewinde and Campbell, 2022 ). The current synthesis shows that, for children, not only being in nature but also interacting with nature is important, as they experience that these interactions are reciprocal. Nature has agency in these interactions and is adaptive toward diversity in children’s needs. Children listen to and tune into the nature-based environment, for example they gather sticks, pile them up for the imaginative bears to crunch them up during tea time. As such the environment instigates and enriches play.

In line with Gibson’s affordances theory, this review acknowledges how play actions are afforded by specific features of the physical environment and a specific user. However, we found that the affordances theory might overlook the complexity of the concept of “play” as it tends to look at individual play actions afforded by specific environmental features, such as a tree trunks affording jumping off. Using the affordances theory in this way, the attention will automatically be drawn to physical actions. Based on this qualitative synthesis, we argue that nature-based environments afford play activity on a more complex level than physical play actions alone. As we saw in the example of the children serving imaginative bears sticks during tea time, nature affords not only play actions, but also play scripts. The individual play actions are part of play activity that guides children to transform the perceptual world into a conceptual world. Our review indicates that nature-based environments afford the conditions for play, wellbeing, and involvement, as well as sociodramatic play and cognitive play, while in the meantime serving as a communicative context for sharing concepts together.

Our line of argument helps us to answer our research question: what is the value of play in nature-based environments compared to non-nature-based environments for developmental outcomes of young children (2–8 year). Our answer lays in defining how nature-based environments afford play in a distinctive way resulting in the concept of “nature play”: “play” in a nature-based environment consisting of natural loose and fixed elements (trees, vegetation water, sand, sticks, and stones) where children have the opportunity to engage in activities in which they are highly involved and where they have (some) freedom to develop their own play script, while interacting with and tuning into the affordances of the nature-based environment. Nature play has outcomes for cognitive, social-emotional, and cognitive development. In nature play, children have the possibility to find out how they are part of a living system. Early childhood educators are key actors in how children engage in play in the nature-based environment. They can support them to discover the conceptual, social, technical, and metacognitive aspects of nature-based environments. They need to expand children’s independent mobility to encourage them to explore the environment as well as to mediate between the child and the environment.

Strengths and limitations

The strength of this systematic review is that it synthesized the meaning of play in nature-based environments in ECE across qualitative research. It is worth noting that although the synthesized studies were small-scale studies, these studies were particularly respectful to the way children interact with the world and sincerely tried to give voice to the view of these children and their teachers. Nevertheless, small scale studies are often context-specific lacking the scale to “follow through to the implied logical entailed conclusion” ( Nye et al., 2016 ). Synthesizing the findings of these studies helps us to present new understandings of our topic, by drawing relationships between the individual studies. We acknowledge that the way we have refined and extended theory is not without its problems. A possible bias in the range and nature of qualitative research synthesized here is that outdoor play in ECE is mostly done for the reason of recess and to relax. For example, the strong emphasis on wellbeing and physical play in both the experiences of teachers and children, might reflect a western view on outdoor play in nature-based environments. Therefore, the reciprocal translation of the findings around cognitive skills were harder to synthesize although the importance of these findings for ECE should not be underestimated. Certainly, the strength of the meta-ethnographic approach is that it combines findings from multiple sources to increase validity and takes it a step further than primarily providing a narrative review of individual studies. Instead, it develops higher-order explanations. The consistency in the findings of studies in this meta ethnography supported its value, as the studies were undertaken in different educational settings, with nature-based environments varying in size and design. Another limitation is that in our attempt to translate themes across studies to arrive at higher order concepts during “step 2” of the synthesis, we may have lost some of the meaning and depth of key concepts and themes. However, we sought to preserve individual authors’ interpretations in our reciprocal translation of all the key concepts by memoing the key concepts. These memo’s contained comments on how the concepts were developed, connecting these concepts into meta themes, meanwhile we re-aligned our line of argument with the findings of the individual studies.

Future research

This systematic review provides some suggestions for future research. The first promising line for new research would be to include a deep theoretical understanding of play for the development of young children when studying interventions in nature-based environments. Although the affordances theory seems to explain how the environments afford play actions, it is not sufficient to move beyond the individual play actions. From an educational perspective we argue it is important to shift our view of outdoor play from “letting off steam” to playing in nature-based environments for children’s cognitive development.

From a methodological perspective, future research could benefit from the post humanist view in the study of Harwood and Collier (2017) . Taking the agency of the nature-based environment in the play of young children seriously, we might find new perspectives on how humans and nature are connected. This is in line with the movement of acknowledging the rights of nature, as was done for the first time with the Te Urewera Act in New Zealand ( Parliamentary Counsel Office, n.d. ). In this act, it is acknowledged that Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care. In a western view of nature-based environments we tend to look mostly at the human perspective of interaction with the nature-based environment, whereas in this synthesis it is clear that children experience nature as something that “plays back.”

Results of this systematic review using a meta ethnographic approach indicates that playing in nature-based environments not only supports young children’s healthy physical development (e.g., physical activity and motor development), but might also support their social-emotional, motor, and cognitive development. Although the studies we reviewed were mainly explorative and small-scaled, they do indicate that nature-based environments have far more to offer than only a space to relax or let off steam. Nature-based environments function as a play partner that helps children to transform the perceptual world into a conceptual world, because it diversifies play, is sensory rich and it plays back. When playing in nature-based environments, children have the possibility to connect with it in an interactive way. When teachers know how to mediate children’s interactions with the nature-based environment, these interactions will have developmental value. Therefore, we encourage early childhood teachers to change their practice of playing outdoors into “nature play” as a daily activity that supports cognitive, social-emotional, as well as motor development. Finally, as we have seen the value of nature-based environments for play, in line with in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( United Nations, 1989 ) we might even consider nature play as a fundamental need and right of children. A need for and right to play in nature based environments that needs to be respected in the lives of young children.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in this study are included in the article/ Supplementary material , further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

This work was supported by SIA, part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), (project number RAAK.PRO 02.079).


We thank Mrs. Nicole van den Bogerd for her contribution to the keywords for nature-based environments, and Mrs. Mireille Smits and Mrs. Elizabeth Wynberg for their contribution to the validation of the study selection process.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.995164/full#supplementary-material

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Keywords : play, nature-based environment, play environment, early childhood education, nature play, cognitive development

Citation: Prins J, van der Wilt F, van der Veen C and Hovinga D (2022) Nature play in early childhood education: A systematic review and meta ethnography of qualitative research. Front. Psychol. 13:995164. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.995164

Received: 15 July 2022; Accepted: 04 October 2022; Published: 10 November 2022.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2022 Prins, van der Wilt, van der Veen and Hovinga. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Jannette Prins, [email protected]

† These authors have contributed equally to this work and share last authorship

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

New Early Childhood Education Research Project Topics and Materials

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All the current Early Childhood Research Project topics and materials are available here. The Early Childhood Research Project (ECE Ed)Topics are all available for N5K, irrespective of the one you want (No level discrimination for postgraduate and undergraduate students).  The Early Childhood Education (ECCE) Materials are well research. It will serve as a useful  guide  in your research. The compete research project goes for N3000. Each ECE Project contain chapter 1-5.  All current lists of Early Childhood Education has been indicated on this page.

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education and the importance of play in the development of children between 1 to 6 years case study gashua in yobe state, full project – the impact of absentee parenthood on child development, full project – the impact of orphanage home on child personality development in nigeria, chapter 1-5: strategies for improving early childhood education programme in federal college of education (technical) umunze. anambra state., full project – impact of learning corners on the pre-schoolers’ academic performance in early childhood education, full project – effect of learning centres on the pre-schoolers’ academic performance in early childhood education, full project – teachers’ attitude towards inclusion of children with special needs, full project 1-5 -teacher’s creativity on early childhood development in abuja, nigeria, download the full project – impact of family life and sex education on the prevention of teenage pregnancy among secondary school student in lagos state, full project – influence of classroom management in early childhood care and education in pre-nursery schools in lagos plus questionnaire, full project – appraisal of child labour on the punctuality and study habits among selected primary schools in eti-osa, lagos state, full project – patterns and incidence of child abuse among primary school pupils in lagos metropolis, full project – factors motivating career choice among senior secondary school students, full project – leadership styles of principals and school organizational performance, full project-sexual activity and level of education as determinants of high increase of hbv among pregnant women in lagos metropolitan city, full project- school plant planning on students’ academic performance in senior secondary schools in education district ii lagos state, project-influence of parents scientific background on students’ achievement and career aspiration in basic science, project-sexual activity and level of education as determinants of high increase of hbv among pregnant women in lagos metropolitan city, the influence of information and communication technology on child’s education in nigeria.

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Effects of Observational Strategy on Preschool Pupils Social Skills and Cooperation during Play in Educational District IV Lagos State

Effects of Observational Strategy on Preschool Pupils Social Skills and Cooperation during Play in Educational District IV Lagos State

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  2. PDF Child Development and Early Learning: A Foundation for Professional

    development and early learning makes clear the importance and complexity of working with young children from infancy through the early elementary years. Research during the past decade has revealed much about how children learn and develop. Studies have shown that early childhood is a time when developmental changes are happening that can have

  3. (PDF) Research Methods for Early Childhood Education

    Abstract. Research Methods for Early Childhood Education takes an international perspective on research design, and illustrates how research methods are inextricably linked to cultural and ...


    According to Manas (2019), Early Childhood Development is the term used to describe a child's physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socioemotional development from conception until age eight. This ...

  5. PDF Sustaining the Benefits of Early Childhood Education Experiences: A

    Rebecca E. Gomez is an assistant research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. M y oldest nephew is six years old and in first grade. Despite overcoming signifi-cant challenges during the first five years of his life, he is doing pretty well.

  6. PDF Early Childhood Education in The United States: What, When, Where, Who

    This chapter concerns the state of the literature on early childhood education (ECE) - formal programs offering group instruction for children younger than the standard eligibility age for public education. I describe how ECE programs can be convincingly evaluated and why they may or may not work to narrow gaps in well-being across the lifecycle.

  7. (PDF) Research Projects in Early Childhood Studies

    Abstract. Anyone interested in early childhood will come into contact with research. Advice given to you as practitioner, student or parent may be based on research studies, you may read about ...

  8. PDF Contemporary Perspectives and Research on Early Childhood Education

    The volume is divided into eight parts encompassing the major topics influencing the field of early childhood education, including curriculum, assessment, science and mathematics, play and the arts, teacher training, ... Contemporary Perspectives and Research on Early Childhood Education 3 about problem-solving skills related to different ...

  9. Complexity and change: Contemporary research in early childhood

    PDF / ePub. This special issue celebrates selected papers from the 2021 AJEC Symposium, Complexity and Change: Contemporary Research in Early Childhood, held in the second year of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The stressors caused by the pandemic have been felt across the early childhood sector and a growing body of research explores the ...

  10. PDF Top 20 Principles for Early Childhood Teaching and Learning

    Giving children practice modulating their motor behavior through song and dance helps to build the self-regulatory "muscle.". For example, games synchronized with music and others moving in the same way (e.g., stop-go, high-low, fast-slow, loud-soft) helps to build executive function skills in young children.

  11. Research Topics

    European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 17(3), 363-375. Lee, L. (2009). Marry the prince or stay with family—That is the question: A perspective of young Korean immigrant girls on Disney's marriages in the United States.

  12. PDF Research on Early Childhood Education

    The early childhood education research underscores the importance of parent participation, including the finding that the more intensively parents are involved, the greater are the cognitive and noncognitive benefits to their children (Bronfenbrenner 1974; Irvine 1982). As Bronson, et al. (1985) summarized,

  13. Methodology for Research with Early Childhood Education and Care

    Niklas Pramling is Professor of Education at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He is Director of two national research schools for preschool teachers (funded by the Swedish Research Council). He conducts communications research in early childhood education and care settings and beyond.

  14. PDF Research Trends and Development Perspectives in Early Childhood Science

    Department of Educational Sciences and Early Childhood Education, University of Patras, 26504 Patras, Greece; [email protected]. Abstract: This article serves as a critical approach to both the emergence and the identity forma-tion of Early Childhood Science Education (ECSE) as a new scientific field, consolidated within the association of ...

  15. PDF Early Childhood Curriculum

    The second edition of Early Childhood Curriculum provides a comprehensive and lively introduction to curriculum theories, approaches and issues in early childhood settings. Drawing on contemporary research and case studies, the book employs a cultural-historical framework to illustrate a variety of approaches to early childhood education.

  16. Early Childhood Education: Academic and Behavioral Benefits of

    One often-discussed topic is the optimal age to begin early childhood education. Barnett (1995, 2008) reviewed more than 30 studies and found that early childhood education to be positive for children living in poverty. Most individuals realize that the benefits of early childhood education exist, but the extent of those benefits and benefit ...

  17. Frontiers

    Synthesizing the fragmented literature will contribute to a useful resource for guiding future research on this topic and inform early childhood educational practices, valuing nature-based play environments as intrinsically linked to play quality. We systematically reviewed studies into play in nature-based environments in ECE.

  18. New Early Childhood Education Research Project Topics and Materials

    New Early Childhood Education Research Project Topics and Materials. All the current Early Childhood Research Project topics and materials are available here. The Early Childhood Research Project (ECE Ed)Topics are all available for N5K, irrespective of the one you want (No level discrimination for postgraduate and undergraduate students). The Early Childhood Education (ECCE) Materials are ...

  19. Early Childhood Education Research Paper Topics

    Early Childhood Education Research Paper Topics - Free download as PDF File (.pdf), Text File (.txt) or read online for free. early childhood education research paper topics

  20. Topics

    Learn about the collaborative initiative to advance a unified early childhood education profession. ... Stay up to date with research-based, teacher-focused articles on birth to age 8 in our award-winning, peer-reviewed journal. ... Explore key early childhood topics such Developmentally Appropriate Practice, play, and math.

  21. PDF Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education

    collaboration with the early childhood profession. With its specific focus on advancing equity in early childhood education, this statement complements and supports the other foundational documents that (1) define developmentally appropriate practice, (2) set professional standards and competencies for early childhood educators, (3) define

  22. (PDF) Early Childhood Education

    PDF | On Mar 23, 2018, Radhika Kapur published Early Childhood Education | Find, read and cite all the research you need on ResearchGate

  23. Innocenti Global Office of Research and Foresight

    Research and foresight that drive change for children Our projects and reports. Latest work Report. Early Childhood Education Systems in Pacific Islands Status report See the full report. Report. Cash Plus Model for Safe Transitions to Healthy Adulthood

  24. (PDF) Introduction to Research-Based Practice: A Study of Students in

    Introduction to Research-Based Practice: A Study of Students in the Early Childhood Education Teaching Degree Programme March 2023 Journal of Educational and Social Research 13(2):26

  25. How to Do Action Research in Your Classroom

    Home How to Do Action Research in Your Classroom. This article is available as a PDF. Please see the link on the right. Audience: Faculty, Teacher. Topics: Other Topics, Research, Teacher Research. Advertisement. Action research can introduce you to the power of systematic reflection on your practice.