A meta-study of qualitative research examining determinants of children's independent active free play

Homan Lee, Katherine A. Tamminen, Alexander M. Clark, Linda Slater, John C. Spence, Nicholas L. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To produce a meta-study by completing a systematic review of qualitative research examining determinants of independent active free play in children. Method: Following systematic electronic and manual searches and application of inclusion/exclusion criteria, 46 studies were retained and subjected to meta-method, meta-theory, and meta-data analyses, followed by a final meta-synthesis. Results: Identified determinants of independent active free play were child characteristics (age, competence, and gender), parental restrictions (safety concerns and surveillance), neighborhood and physical environment (fewer children to play with, differences in preferences for play spaces between parents and children, accessibility and proximity, and maintenance), societal changes (reduced sense of community, good parenting ideal, changing roles of parents, privatization of playtime and play spaces), and policy issues (need to give children voice). An ecological model depicting these factors, and the relationships therein, was created. Conclusions: This comprehensive meta-study helps establish a knowledge base for children's independent active free play research by synthesizing a previously fragmented set of studies. Parents' perceived safety concerns are the primary barrier to children's active free play. These safety concerns are moderated by child-level factors (age, competence, gender) and broader social issues. Interventions should focus on community-level solutions that include children's perspectives. From a methods perspective, the reviewed studies used a range of data collection techniques, but methodological details were often inadequately reported. The theoretical sophistication of research in this area could be improved. To this end, the synthesis reported in this study provides a framework for guiding future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan. 2015


  • Meta-synthesis
  • Parents
  • Safety
  • Theory


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