What social ecological components of school play spaces would encourage children to be physically active?

Document Type


Publication details

Hyndman, B, Telford, A & Finch, C 2011, 'What social ecological components of school play spaces would encourage children to be physically active?', paper presented to the International Society of Behavioral Nurtition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) 2011 Annual Meeting, Melbourne, Vic.,15-18 June.

Abstract available on Open Access



School play spaces are acknowledged as a key setting for children’s physical activity, however it remains unclear what factors within school play spaces facilitate children’s physical activity. The aim of this research was to investigate children’s perceptions of which factors within school play spaces would encourage them to be physically active, within the context of a social ecological framework.


Focus group discussions and cognitive mind mapping were conducted across four government schools (two primary & two secondary) in Australia. Focus group discussions consisted of 54 children aged 9-13 years, each with 6-10 per group until saturation of themes was obtained. The mapping exercise included 22 children, each with 2 to 5 drawers per group. Each focus group and mind mapping session ran for approximately 40 minutes in duration. Questions focussed on children’s perceptions of existing play spaces, ideal play spaces and ideal play spaces to facilitate physical activity.


Social ecological themes that emerged from children’s perceptions of their ideal school play spaces included the social environment: teacher role models and peers; physical environment: natural environment, built environment; and school policy: supervision, access to sports equipment, safety rules, safe surfaces and structures and access to areas by year level. Mind maps revealed children consistently included features to facilitate physical activity that contrasted their existing play spaces.


The findings of this study suggest there is a contrast between physical activity features within children’s existing and ideal school play spaces and provides direction for the development of future school-based physical activity interventions.