Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Early Childhood Education

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Amy Malkus

Committee Members

Pam Evanshen, Jane Broderick


The purpose of this study was to investigate the state of outdoor education in preschool classrooms in Northeast Tennessee, with a specific focus on preschool teachers’ attitudes toward outdoor education. This comparative, mixed-methods study focused in part on teachers’ current beliefs about outdoor education, how they use the outdoor environment, and whether their attitudes influence their lesson planning for outdoor education. Participants were preschool teachers in public, private, church-affiliated, and Head Start preschools in 4 counties in northeast Tennessee. The study sample consisted of 81 participants (80 female; 1 male). Ages ranged from 20-65 years (M = 40.76). The survey consisted of 42 questions, including demographics, outdoor education experiences, and attitudes toward outdoor education. Teachers were compared on several factors: attitudes toward outdoor education, their early experiences in the outdoors, and how they use the outdoor environment. Thirty-three outdoor environments in the aforementioned preschools were assessed using the Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale (POEMS) (DeBord, Hestenes, Moore, Cosco, & McGinnis, 2005). Eight preschool teachers from the pool of 81 participants were selected at random based on their school’s playground/outdoor environment assessment (high vs. low quality) and their own attitudes (positive vs. negative) toward outdoor education. Interviews were conducted to give a more complete picture of preschool outdoor education.

Results showed that preschool teachers had relatively high attitudes on outdoor education (M = 75.86, SD = 7.99) on a scaled score where 100 was the highest possible. Teachers who reported planning lessons for outdoor learning had slightly higher attitudes (M = 76.9, SD = 7.6) toward outdoor education than those who do not plan (M = 74.1, SD = 9.0), although differences were not significant F(1, 76) = 1.134, p = 0.29. Most teachers referred to the outdoor area as a playground (84%) and used it used it most frequently for supervised play (99%). These findings, along with others reported, indicate that although preschool teachers see the benefits of outdoor learning, there are still barriers to outdoor education.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.