Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA)


Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning

Committee Chair(s)

Keith M. Christensen


Keith M. Christensen


Michael L. Timmons


Kaelin Olsen


Concern for child wellness has led play professionals to explore natural playscapes as a means to enhance free play and consequently child development. For preschool children, dramatic or make-believe play is particularly beneficial for enhancing cognitive, social, and emotional skill. Dramatic play in collaboration with other children (sociodramatic play) and, surpassing that, complex socio-dramatic play (group make-believe with a sustained theme that uses sophisticated symbolism) are most valuable for development.

This study compared natural and manufactured outdoor play settings to determine which provided the most opportunity for quality dramatic play. Twenty-four 3- to 5- year olds were observed during daily playtime on a "natural playground" and an equipment-based "manufactured playground." By tracking children's play behaviors with the specific locations where they occurred; the settings that supported the most solitary dramatic play, group dramatic play, and complex group dramatic play were identified.

The data suggests that play environments designed with manipulable parts that allow children to create their own spaces, intimate semi-enclosed places, and surrounding vegetation are more likely to support complex dramatic play. Therefore the intentional inclusion of these design elements may support more developmental play and learning on the preschool playground.