Inside vs Outside: Involvement Level of Preschoolers at Play


E. Crowley-Sullivan & John T. Cheffers


A pilot study previously conducted provided the impetus for this research work. The purpose of this study was to determine the type and degree of involvement of four year old children during two distinct natural play settings. The children were observed (1) inside a nursery school classroom and (2) outside at play. Involvement levels were recorded for each of the seventeen (N = 17) subjects who attended the four year old afternoon session of a nursery school in a western suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. Engrossed behaviors were further studied to determine the nature of the permanent focus. Were behaviors predictable with some measure of evaluation, or were the behaviors initiated and unpredictable?

Subjects were observed on eight separate occasions - four inside the classroom and four outside at play. The systematic observation instrument employed was Individual Reaction Gestalt (IRG),

Version IV. Involvement of the preschool children was recorded by a group sweep technique. Involvement was described and recorded with the use of a continuum of intensity ranging from low, no apparent involvement, to high, intensive involvement. Three of Cheffers' Adaptation of Flander's Interaction Analysis System (CAFIAS) behavior categories were employed with the Engrossed Involvement category to determine the nature of involvement. Results showed the play outside to be of a nonverbal (74.9%) and emotional (5.5%) nature as compared to nonverbal inside (43.3%) and (2.3 %) emotional involvement. Outside subjects were engrossed or totally involved in the activity 93.2% of the time as compared to 73.3 % when inside. Furthermore, the nature of the engrossed involvement indicated 2.3 % of the behaviors were unpredictable when the subjects played inside. On the other hand, outside 18.8% of the behaviors were unpredictable.

Based upon the findings, it appeared that the children were more engrossly involved with unpredictable behaviors and more apt to show stronger, positive emotions when playing outside. Inside the children were more verbal and their behaviors were predictable. It appeared that the children enjoyed their play outside when they were left to initiate their own level of involvement.