Children and the Physical Environment

Lorraine E. Maxwell and Gary W. Evans

Cornell University, U.S.A.


Although the topic of environments and child development is not a new one to researchers, the scholarship on the physical environment and child development is relatively recent. The role of the physical environment is implied in two major theories of child development. Piaget (1969) emphasized physical attributes of the home environment for the child's motor, cognitive, and intellectual development during the sensorimotor stage. Bronfenbrenner's theory of nested environments encouraged researchers to examine children's lives in all of their complexity (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). According to this bioecological model, child development is regarded not only as a product of the child's biology and his or her home but a more complex relationship between biology, the social and physical environment of the home, and other settings in the “microsystem,” the larger community such as a parent's place of employment (exosystem), and intangibles such as culture and social class (macrosystem). A microsystem, as defined by Bronfenbrenner (1979), is a place where enduring personal relationships are established and children spend the majority of their time. The child's world consists of several microsystems including home, child care outside of the home, school, and the immediate neighborhood. Children's everyday experiences typically take place in a mesosystem which is a combination ...

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