Can you believe summer is already over? I thought this would be a great time to discuss the benefits of leisure education for Recreation Therapists and other Activity Professionals.
Leisure education serves a vital role in helping our participants realize the importance of recreation in their lives. It’s not merely teaching a participant to do an activity. It’s a process where the participant learns how positive recreation can transform their lives.
In short, leisure education can provide those “ah-ha” moments that shift attitudes and beliefs about leisure time and recreation.
The Basics: What is Leisure?
Let’s start by defining leisure. Leisure is, of course, your free time. It’s the time spent when not sleeping, working, and doing chores and errands. It’s that little window of time where you actually get the freedom to choose what you want to do.
The choices made during leisure time can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Sadly, many people waste their leisure time with unfulfilling activities. Those with disabilities and other issues may not even have the knowledge or resources to make the best of their free time.
At best, leisure time is an opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. It is also a chance to participate in activities that allow a person to reach the flow state. That’s when you get so engaged in an activity or leisure pursuit that you temporarily lose track of time and self.
Those regularly reaching the flow state often report a better quality of life. Why? The activities they do seem more meaningful and fulfilling. For example, instead of sitting passively watching television or internet videos, a participant may choose an engaging activity that challenges them and provides personal satisfaction.
We can guide the importance of positive leisure in our participants lives’ through leisure education groups and classes.
So what is leisure education? Why is it so important?
Benefits of Leisure Education
Let’s sum up the definition of leisure education from a popular textbook many of us older Recreation Therapists used back when college was much more affordable.
To paraphrase A Manual of Therapeutic Group Activities for Leisure Education from 1981 I found on the Therapeutic Recreation Directory website:
Leisure education is an assistive tool helping participants gain a better understanding of how, when, why, and with whom they can pursue leisure experiences and interests. Also, leisure education helps participants to learn more functional responses based on their individual strengths, limitations, and environment. This learning process will also illuminate non-adaptive behaviors and attitudes and how they affect the quality of one’s leisure time.
I might have used a couple too many “college type” words.
Let’s break it down a little further.
Leisure education can use curriculums, activities, group sessions, and even worksheets to help participants improve the quality of their lives. Some subjects include:
- Identifying attitudes towards leisure
- Barriers to leisure activities
- Adapting to leisure barriers
- Accessing community resources
- Exploring new leisure activities
- Building and practicing social skills
- Learning to budget for leisure
- Decision-making abilities
- And, of course, more based on your participants particular needs.
Adding these leisure education subjects into your Recreation Therapy curriculum has several benefits–for participants and about anyone involved in your program. Here are just a few benefits I’ve noticed over the years:
- Understanding free time choices contributes to health, happiness, and personal transformation
- Learning how attitudes affect leisure choices
- Giving a platform to explore and experience new activities
- Revisiting previous activities once found fulfilling
- Increasing social skills
- Decreasing anxiety and depression
- Replacing boredom with meaningful activities
- Developing a personal schedule for leisure time
- Building resources to help achieve a positive leisure lifestyle
For the Recreation Therapist:
- Getting a better understanding of your participants and their motivations
- Providing activities and experiences to increase camaraderie between participants
- Highlighting upcoming activities and events and how they can be beneficial
- Getting new ideas for recreation programming based on group discussions
For Families and Other Staff:
- Getting a better understanding of why Recreation Therapy is important
- Providing insights into helping a participant achieve a better quality of life
- Giving suggestions to increase engagement for a participant
- Allowing experiences to improve relationships
- Encourage cooperation with other disciplines
And really, these lists can go on and on.
But let me tell you about some of my experiences with leisure education.
Leisure Education in Action
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you probably know I worked with at-risk adolescent boys in a drug rehab/mental health setting for almost a decade. Many of these kids were inner city youth tied to the criminal justice system. Also, many had gang affiliations.
Years ago, I started a leisure education program due to a gap in time where the gym or other areas of the building were not available. I had a couple of the Leisure Education books written by Dr. Norma Stumbo. I took a handful of the activities in those books and kind of modernized and adapted it to the adolescents I served.
It was trial and error. Some activities went well, others seemed to either be above the boys or simply not interesting for them. Of course, over the years, I learned a lot and fined-tuned the curriculum.
Always Refine and Evolve Your Leisure Education Programming
As the years passed, for several reasons, the boys admitted to our program became more challenging. They seemed to be exposed to more trauma, having more co-occurring mental health disorders, and generally didn’t have much interest in leisure. Being so entrenched in gangs and other high-risk behaviors, their focus was more about survival and living life to the fullest. Sadly, many felt in danger for their lives just about every day.
Also, the boys had a relatively short stay in the program–one to three months usually. They counted the days instead of making them count. Worksheets and discussions weren’t going to cut it for several reasons.
I kept things interactive. Kept the boys moving. Encouraged team building activities as a way to teach social skills. They loved doing surveys like the Color Personality test and talking about how their personality affects their leisure choices and interactions with others.
I had them draw advertisements of their favorite positive leisure activities highlighting the benefits of those activities. We played Leisure Pictionary where they had to come up with leisure activities for the other team to draw.
Not every leisure education session was a success, but I want to think I planted some seeds of thought that may help them later in life.
Don’t preach. When I found myself going into lecture mode–I could almost feel the boys’ attention spans snap. Their eyes wandering. Them just existing in a group so they can make their points for the day to receive privileges.
Nobody wants to be told what to do. What to think. What activities are best for them. When participants discover these ideas on their own (with a little guidance, of course) it becomes their idea. Something they can own and work on.
What does this mean for you?
Be creative. Engage the participant. Work together to develop a fulfilling leisure education program. Don’t be afraid to take chances and go out of your comfort zone.
Some of my best teachable moments came when a leisure education activity didn’t go as planned.
Stay tuned for more leisure education ideas. I think this is a great topic that isn’t discussed as much as needed.
Share with the Real Recreation Therapist Community
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What are your thoughts about leisure education?
Do you have a favorite leisure education activity?
How does your population respond to leisure education?
What challenges do you have in your leisure education program?
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