Outdoor activities are major contributors to young children's holistic development, yet outdoor time for many children in early childhood programs tends to be limited. A qualitative meta-synthesis of the published research was conducted to gain a better understanding of the outdoor activities and environment included in early childhood education in Turkey.
The meta-synthesis process included a systematic review of related literature and an integration and interpretation of qualitative research findings. Data from twenty studies (16 journal articles, 1 master's thesis and 3 doctoral theses) were included in the analysis. The data was based on responses from 398 parents, 382 children, 418 teachers, and 85 institutions. Two research questions guided the data analysis: one focusing on how outdoor play activities and outdoor environment in preschools is discussed in qualitative research conducted in Turkey; the other on what studies have contributed to the justification for outdoor play activities and preschool outdoor environment in Turkey.
Most of the studies were conducted with teachers and focused on their thoughts about outdoor activities. While most of the teachers believe that children's play outdoors contributes to their overall development, they are generally hesitant about taking children outside. When they do so, they tend to focus on physical activity only versus other areas of development, such as language and cognitive development. Mathematics activities were sometimes conducted outdoors, but on a very limited basis. Table activities related to literacy and art were generally not offered outdoors. Teachers' concerns about outdoor activities related primarily to risks of injury. Other barriers to outdoor activities as identified by the teachers include lack of adequate physical spaces, bad weather conditions, parental concerns about health and safety, and the presence of children with special needs. The teachers' perceived role while outdoors generally related to being a “playmaker,” “leader,” or observer. As observers, they generally focused on dangers and risks. When asked about their preferences for outdoor activities, children identified “outdoor music gardens, activity areas, hills on which they can climb and play, areas where they can play with water, and pet coops.”
This research highlights the need for changes in the way educational policymakers, teachers, and parents in Turkey view and implement outdoor play activities and outdoor environments in early childhood education programs. Special concerns needing to be addressed relate to the accessibility, the quality, and adequacy of outdoor spaces. In spite of these limitations, teachers of young children are encouraged to include outdoor activities in their practices on a regular basis. To build support from parents, workshops and other forms of information sharing may need to be provided. For a more in-depth understanding of reasons, motivations, and barriers related to outdoor activities for young children, further research is needed.