Defining Dispositions and How They Relate to Outdoor Play

Topic Progress:

There are many images that emerge as one thinks about the word dispositions.  How would you describe the word?  Click on the word DISPOSITIONS to see how we define it.


Dispositions are described as consistent and frequent patterns of behaviour wherein an individual has a tendency to intentionally act or think in a particular way. They are “relatively enduring habits of mind or characteristic ways of responding to experiences across types of situations” (Katz, 1993, p. 10).

Children’s dispositions differ from attitudes, habits, and traits. Attitudes can be described as “pre-dispositions to act positively or negatively with respect to a particular phenomenon” (Katz, 1993, p.10). For example, some children express their attitudes about their likes and dislikes.  They may also have attitudes about particular topics that they keep to themselves.  Habits and traits are more behavioural patterns without conscious attention.  For example, think about how different children approach constructing a fort outdoors. Some will exhibit enthusiasm from the time the idea is identified until the project is completed.  Other children will observe the situation and be cautious before engaging in the activity.

Children’s dispositions toward outdoor environments are influenced by:


In essence, children’s dispositions are environmentally sensitive and are influenced by the feeling, tone, opportunities, interactions, and experiences within the space.  Bertram & Pascal (2002) described environmentally sensitive in this context to mean that children’s dispositions are acquired, supported, or weakened by the interactive experiences in an environment that occur with adults and peers (ros-Vaseles & Fowler-Haughey, 2007).

Early learning teachers become significant role models to children.  How the teachers interact with children and the environment influences how children develop their attitudes and connectedness to outdoor environments.

Click on each of boxes below the graphic to gain further information on each disposition.

Inborn Dispositions

Inborn dispositions refers to the typical zest of young children to exercise their curiosity, explore and learn.

Social Dispositions

Social dispositions that are viewed as more positive in nature are described by Katz & McClellan (1997) as those that have the “tendency to be accepting, friendly, empathetic, generous, or cooperative” (p. 7).

Intellectual Dispositions

Intellectual dispositions refers to making predictions, solving problems, testing ideas, seeking answers and working through ideas.  Katz (1997) reminds early learning teachers not to be confused by academic and intellectual dispositions.  She identifies academic as specific bits of information while intellectual is aligned with the process behind thinking, reasoning and understanding.

Children learn dispositions such as curiosity, creativity, cooperation and friendliness primarily from the people in their daily lives. For example, children that are exposed to other children and adults who exhibit a high level of curiosity for the outdoors are more likely, over time, to exhibit that characteristic. Adults that nurture children by using phrases such as “What do you think will happen if…?” Rather than identifying that “We must do this and then this” will reinforce to children that they have a voice and are seen as competent partners.  Adults pay attention to how they encourage and nurture children’s positive dispositions. This includes how they approach outdoor play. For example, how adults present outdoor play to children when it is cold, windy or snowy, directly influences children’s dispositions.  Adults who are consistently enthusiastic about going outdoors when there is rain or snow will positively influence children’s attitudes toward being outdoors in these types of weather. Conversely, when adults take the children outdoors in these types of weather conditions and either via their body language or discussions with children suggest that it is too cold or ask “do you want to go indoors now”, children connect this to not wanting to be outdoors. Adult attitudes and their dispositions directly affect children’s life experiences and how their dispositions are developed.