Paper Type

Doctoral Dissertation


College of Education and Human Services

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Leadership, School Counseling & Sports Management

First Advisor

Dr. Katrina Hall

Second Advisor

Dr. Hope Wilson

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul Parkison

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Anne Swanson

Department Chair

Dr. Amanda Blakewood Pascale

College Dean

Dr. Jennifer Kane


Unstructured outdoor play is critical to a child’s healthy development. Often the only outdoor unstructured play opportunities occur during recess. Unstructured play and recess are supported as childhood necessities and human rights by the American Pediatric Association and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. These pronouncements and grass roots support have fueled the creation of legislation that requires recess during the elementary school day. As of 2022, Florida was one of 10 states enacting legislation requiring recess. However, the maximization of the recess experience is largely dependent on the quality of the space and facilities that provide for that experience. The development, renovation, and maintenance of those spaces and facilities are often not addressed.

This dissertation explores how an urban professional development school’s outdoor spaces accommodate and holistically support a student’s needs and how those spaces can be designed to maximize a student’s cognitive, emotional, social and cultural needs. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory of Human Development was used to create an ecological connection between the spaces and activities of the school’s recess and its students. This study explores the existing recess practices and outdoor play spaces at the study school through the author’s on-site observations, interviews with the school’s principal, executive director, and physical education teacher, and two design charrettes conducted with faculty volunteers. The result is an inventory and analysis of the school’s existing outdoor facilities and the creation of a program and conceptual design that will help the leaders optimize the school’s outdoor space for unstructured outdoor play during recess.