An exploration of outdoor play and wellbeing in Northern Irish primary schools

  • Catherine Latimer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There is concern that children in Northern Ireland are not availing of opportunities to play outside, and that this is having a negative impact on their wellbeing. This is reflected in increasingly poor physical and mental health outcomes resulting from a sedentary, indoor lifestyle (Mental Health Foundation, 2016; NICCY, 2018; RCPCH, 2017; The State of Child Health Report, 2017). Outdoor play – if delivered meaningfully – has the potential to alleviate these negative outcomes. For many local children, the school playground is the only accessible outdoor space available to them on a regular basis and is therefore a critical site in terms of promoting wellbeing. By applying the Affordances framework (Gibson, 1979), this thesis argues that the school playground shapes the way in which children access outdoor play through its physical, policy and social setup. The research takes an explorative approach which asks how children and teachers view and experience play within these spaces, using mixed methods to gather data via a survey (n=150), semi-structured interviews (n=10) and mosaic methods with children across 3 schools in the Greater Belfast area (n=33). Findings indicate that children in Northern Ireland are not being consulted in terms of their play space, and schools lack policy and opportunities for staff training around outdoor play which would benefit children in the long-term. These findings link to key themes of rights, risk, and wellbeing which underpin how play is conceptualised and delivered in schools, in a manner which is often well-meaning but confused.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorKaren Winter (Supervisor) & Katrina Lloyd (Supervisor)


  • Wellbeing
  • play
  • outdoor play
  • education
  • primary school
  • playgrounds

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