Date of Conferral







Sallie Jenkins


Early childhood education (ECE) teachers have indicated that they are interested in supporting children’s learning outdoors but have been challenged with intentional use of the outdoor learning environment (OLE). The purpose of this qualitative study was to illuminate ECE teacher experience with and knowledge of supporting children’s learning in the OLE, specifically using affordances for teaching and learning. The conceptual framework was based on the Reggio Emilia approach, Gibson’s affordance theory, Dewey’s ideas regarding educational experiences, and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. The key research question addressed teachers’ experiences and knowledge of affordances in the OLE. The 12 participants were teachers who had at least 1 year experience teaching in a program that served children who were 1, 2, 3, 4, and/or 5 years old and were working at a program that had an outdoor space that was used a minimum of four times a week. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews and analyzed through an iterative process to determine codes, categories, and themes. The results revealed six themes: participant recognition and understanding of the differences and relationship between indoors and outdoors; participants’ understanding of affordances in the OLE; teacher roles/actions and engagement with children in the OLE; the range of comfort levels with risky play and affordances; affordances in the OLE; and participant interests for further learning. The study holds implications for positive social change for the ECE field by providing insight for developing and enhancing college courses and in-service trainings. For the participants, awareness of affordance theory may bring more intentionality to their teaching practice.