Frequency and duration measurements of children’s outdoor free play: A Scoping review

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Outdoor play, Unstructured play, Child health, Child development, Measurement


Outdoor free play encompasses unstructured, self-directed play in the outdoors and has been shown to support children’s health and development. Accurate and reliable measures are required to conduct research on children’s outdoor free play and examine cross-sectional and longitudinal variation. This study systematically reviews and evaluates measurement approaches for children’s outdoor free play used in existing literature. A scoping review was conducted to identify English-language peer-reviewed and grey literature that included measurements of the occurrence, frequency or duration of outdoor free play with children aged 2 to 17 years old. Studies were excluded if the outdoor free play measure included structured settings or activities, or focused on a specific location or play activity. Quantitative and qualitative content analysis was used to consider outdoor free play terminology, definition, and operationalization; positioning in relation to other variables and the topic of interest; and data collection context. A total of 4,860 unique studies were identified. After screening and full-text review, 184 papers were taken forward for analysis. Parent-recall questionnaires were used in 70.1% of included studies to measure outdoor free play, often using a single question to capture the variable. A lack of differentiation between outdoor play emanating from structured and unstructured settings was common, as was limited consideration of contextual factors such as season, school or non-school days, and time of day. The implications of existing approaches to measuring children’s outdoor free play and the need for valid and reliable measures to further research examining children’s outdoor free play are discussed.


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How to Cite

Ramsden, R., O’Kane, M., Oberle, E., & Brussoni, M. (2024). Frequency and duration measurements of children’s outdoor free play: A Scoping review. Journal of Childhood, Education & Society, 5(1), 1–40.