In this era of high-stakes testing, play is viewed by a growing number of school officials as a misuse of instructional time. I regularly receive emails from parents in my home state of Michigan seeking advice on state policy because recess is to be eliminated in their child's school. Unfortunately, the Michigan State Department of Education seems to equate physical activities with recess, thereby providing schools the opportunity to eliminate recess by incorporating short sessions of calisthenics throughout the school day. This policy and others like it are part of a nationwide trend to under appreciate the holistic importance of outdoor play in helping children mature intellectually, socially, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.
Historical arguments for and against outdoor play have had a small set of data upon which to formulate their cases. In Outdoor Play, Perry presents an ethnographic analysis of children's free play from the perspectives of children and two teachers with different styles of interaction with the children. The work provides a rich data set that adds greatly to our understanding of outdoor play. The result is a fascinating examination of strategies that help early childhood teachers organize the outdoor play environment and employ appropriate interventions in order to facilitate learning and positive development.
The book opens with a review of some of the seminal research that has helped to describe the outdoor play setting and which has influenced Perry's conceptual framework. She characterizes the role of a teacher as an organizer of the play yard's physical space to promote specific developmental goals, an observer of children's behavior as they engage in indoor and outdoor play activities, and a promoter of rich opportunities for children to engage in extended, self-directed play and effectively negotiate the social landscape.
Chapters two through five provide ethnographic analyses of four specific play episodes. Descriptions of the events, including extensive dialog, are divided into initiation, negotiation, and enactment phases. Interspersed throughout the text are Perry's commentaries on the teachers' perceptions and intentions as they interact with children. Connections to extant theoretical and empirical literature are presented to help the reader make meaning of the events as they unfold. Each chapter concludes with a cogent analysis of the players' and the teacher's actions.
The final two chapters consider specific strategies teachers can employ to promote rich play opportunities for children and the sociocultural features intrinsic to the indoor-outdoor play continuum for both children and teachers. The teacher strategies are clearly articulated and skillfully connected to the data presented in the preceding chapters. Perry's discussion of peer culture in the play yard provides a powerful understanding of a play routine's characteristics as initially described by Corsaro.
Anyone interested in early childhood education and development should add Outdoor Play to their collection. Teachers and directors of early childhood centers should be using the book to examine the role of outdoor play in their own curricula. Perry's descriptions and analyses are a welcome addition to the literature related to outdoor play. Her focus on motivations and perceptions provides a unique insight into the role of outdoor play in fostering positive development in young children. The direct connections to the teaching-learning enterprise distinguish this work from most other books on outdoor play. Although Perry details her data collection techniques, she does not elaborate on her methods for data sorting and analysis. This work had the potential to make an even greater impact if early childhood educators could have learned from her procedures to carry out research at their own centers and schools.