The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Children in Outdoor Contexts. Affordances and Independent Mobility in the Assessment of Environmental Child Friendliness

Marketta Kyttä

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to be presented with due permission of the Department of Architecture for public examination and debate in Lecture Hall E at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 19th of December, 2003, at 12 o'clock noon.

Overview in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-6873-6)   [1853 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-22-6858-2)


According to James J. Gibson, the concept of the affordance refers to the functionally significant properties of the environment, and provides a psychologically relevant means to analyze evolving child-environment relationships. Affordances operationalize the transactional approach. Thus the concept allows researchers to bring the material environment back into the realm of environmental psychology.

The framework of ecological perceptual psychology, and in particular the concept of the affordance, was utilized in determining the criteria for child-friendly environments. An assessment model for a child-friendly environment was constructed, which comprises two central criteria for environmental child friendliness: children's possibilities for independent mobility and their opportunities to actualize affordances. By combining various degrees of these two criteria, four hypothetical types of environment were distinguished, Bullerby, Wasteland, Cell, and Glasshouse. The Bullerby type represents a child-friendly environment, as it allows a positive interactive cycle to develop between a child and the environment. In the Bullerby type sufficient possibilities for independent mobility enables to a child to discover environmental affordances. Actualized affordances for their part motivate the child to move around more in the environment, which creates more possibilities for new affordances to become actualized.

The empirical results from the study of eight- and nine-year-old children indicated that the developed model was sensitive enough to assess the child friendliness of different communities in Finland and Belarus (Belorussia). All hypothesized environmental types appeared in the data. Each neighborhood had a unique combination of affordances and independent mobility in terms of the model. The Bullerby type of setting abounded in the Finnish communities. The Cell, Wasteland, and Glasshouse types of environment were the most common in the Belorussian data. In general, the proportion of Bullerby-type settings decreased and that of Glasshouse-type settings increased as the degree of urbanization rose.

The two-dimensional assessment model presented here could be further developed so that it includes a third dimension such as, for example, the emotional value of affordances for children. At the same time an essential future challenge for ecological perceptual psychology, that of studying the motivational basis of affordances, could be met.

As the transactional approach of environmental psychology allows for the integration of children's experiences with the material world, it provides information that can be used in the design and planning of child-friendly environments.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 5 publications:

  1. Kyttä M., 2002. Affordances of children's environments in the context of cities, small towns, suburbs and rural villages in Finland and Belarus. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22, number 1-2, pages 109-123. © 2002 Elsevier Science. By permission.
  2. Kyttä M., 2004. The extent of children's independent mobility and the number of actualized affordances as criteria for child-friendly environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology 24, number 2, pages 179-198. © 2004 Elsevier Science. By permission.
  3. Korpela K., Kyttä M. and Hartig T., 2002. Restorative experience, self-regulation, and children's place preferences. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22, number 4, pages 387-398. © 2002 Elsevier Science. By permission.
  4. Kyttä M., 1997. Children's independent mobility in urban, small town, and rural environments. In: Camstra R. (editor), Growing up in a changing urban landscape. Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, pages 41-52. © 2004 by author and © 1997 Royal Van Gorcum. By permission.
  5. Kyttä M., Kaaja M. and Horelli L., 2004. An Internet-based design game as a mediator of children's environmental visions. Environment & Behavior, accepted for publication. © 2004 SAGE Publications. By permission.

Keywords: affordances, ecological psychology, children, child-friendly environment, Bullerby model

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© 2004 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26