An investigation into the relationship between the quality of children’s speech and early years environments

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this study was to ascertain if factors in three different learning environments; indoor classrooms, outdoor classrooms and natural environments, for children aged 3-5 years, are associated with the quality of their utterances and if so, the nature and effects of those factors.

Adopting a theoretical framework of interactionism and a philosophical stance of transcendental idealism, meant that this study built on the belief that knowledge is gained from what is innate and what is experienced, and that development is built on interactions, whilst building on the innate knowledge that already exists. A paradigm of interpretivism ensured as an onlooker the research was undertaken whilst aiming to present views and opinions from multiple perspectives and meanings. Through a phased approach, and by using interviews (n=63) and observations (n=43), data was collected.

This comprehensive study has identified that within the study settings the quality of young children’s utterances does differ depending on the environment in which the children are playing and learning, with outdoor classrooms producing the highest quality of utterances. By defining the features of the environments, through interviews, it has been possible to devise a Transferable Quality Assessment Framework (TQAF), comprising of 27 elements. This TQAF identifies and assesses these 27 features across different environments. Through empirical evidence it has been possible to establish that the 27 elements, which fall into the broad areas of resources, the environment and the atmosphere, are needed to constitute a high-quality learning environment for young children’s speech and language development. By then analysing young children’s lexical diversity alongside the TQAF analysis, it has been possible to argue that there is a positive association between the quality of the environment and the quality of children’s utterances within the four study settings. It is argued that it is possible to define a high-quality environment, for the purposes of speech and language development and this definition may be used to enhance practice and improve outcomes for children accordingly.

This thesis contributes to existing scholarship, methodologically by providing a quality rating scale that is transferable between different play and learning environments, and through providing knowledge on how the quality of young children’s speech and language is influenced by the environment in which they are immersed.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorPaul Bracey (Supervisor), Jane Murray (Supervisor) & Perepa Prithvi (Supervisor)


  • speech and language development
  • high quality
  • play and learning environments
  • multiple perspectives
  • environmental analysis

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