Behavioral mapping of children's physical activities and social behaviors in an indoor preschool facility: methodological challenges in revealing the influence of space in play

Int J Health Geogr. 2019 Nov 20;18(1):26. doi: 10.1186/s12942-019-0191-y.


Background: GIS (Geographic Information Systems) based behavior maps are useful for visualizing and analyzing how children utilize their play spaces. However, a GIS needs accurate locational information to ensure that observations are correctly represented on the layout maps of play spaces. The most commonly used tools for observing and coding free play among children in indoor play spaces require that locational data be collected alongside other play variables. There is a need for a practical, cost-effective approach for extending most tools for analyzing free play by adding geospatial locational information to children's behavior data collected in indoor play environments.

Results: We provide a non-intrusive approach to adding locational information to behavior data acquired from video recordings of preschool children in their indoor play spaces. The gridding technique showed to be a cost-effective method of gathering locational information about children from video recordings of their indoor physical activities and social behaviors. Visualizing the proportions of categories and observed intervals was done using bubble pie charts which allowed for the merging of multiple categorical information on one map. The addition of locational information to other play activity and social behavior data presented the opportunity to assess what types of equipment or play areas may encourage different physical activities and social behaviors among preschool children.

Conclusions: Gridding is an effective method for providing locational data when analyzing physical activities and social behaviors of preschool children in indoor spaces. It is also reproducible for most GIS behavior mapping focusing on indoor environments. This bypasses the need to have positioning devices attached to children during observations, which can raise ethical considerations regarding children's privacy and methodological implications with children playing less naturally. It also supports visualizations on behavior maps making them easier to interpret.

Keywords: Free play; GIS; Gridding; Indoor environments; Physical activity; Social behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings* / psychology
  • Schools, Nursery*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*