Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Family Leisure and the Play Desert

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Family Leisure and the Play Desert

Article excerpt

Park and recreation agencies could better serve their communities with family- focused programming

It is not surprising to anyone that families who spend more time together are happier, stronger and demonstrate better-functioning relationships. On a similar note, we know that the healthier these family activities are, the more likely the entire group is to live a better, more satisfactory life. De- spite the fact that we are familiar with the importance of healthy family time, many families are often left to their own devices and have few programs or settings in which to participate in leisure as a family. While this is not a prob- lem for some families, it might lead to sedentary behaviors - mainly in- creased screen time - in others.

As a field that aspires to be on the forefront of health promotion and community building, we rarely provide opportunities for families to recreate together. Look at any community around the U.S. and you will find programs for children, teenagers and youth, senior citizens, women, women with babies, and sometimes families. You will also find that the opportunities that do attempt to foster family leisure are often limited to providing a place for families to be entertained by others - such as at a sporting event, art fair or movie in the park - rather than engaging in activities together. Very rarely can you spot a program that is designed to provide families with opportunities to recreate and have shared family experiences in an activity together.

It is easy to understand - serving families is a rather challenging task. Differences in age and maturity lev- el between different family mem- bers, their level of physical, mental and emotional abilities, problems with scheduling time that would work for everyone, and issues re- lated to pre-existing relationships between family members are just a few problems that recreation pro- fessionals serving families will face. We also often assume that family time will happen organically on its own in the backyard or the park down the street. However, research shows that these types of experienc- es are happening less and less often for myriad reasons, including two working parents, limited free time and changes in urban settings. Still, there are several examples of pro- grams that can offer family mem- bers not only space to recreate but also meaningful activities in which to participate. One such example is family fun runs that invite both parents and children to participate. These races not only encourage healthy lifestyles but also provide healthy competition and rewarding topics for discussion. Moreover, if a family takes the race seriously, it increases the time they spend to- gether in preparation for the event.

In planning recreational oppor- tunities for families, we should re- member that we are trying to foster interaction, teamwork and shared enjoyment. Art fairs are a great op- portunity for families to get together and enjoy shared time. However, a fair that offers games and activities for the whole family to participate in will help to create fun and long-last- ing memories.

Big events and vacations are im- portant components of family lei- sure, but every day, cheap and read- ily available activities are the ones that often "make a family." Thus, offering regular leisure opportuni- ties for families will help them grow stronger by having the responsibil- ity of developing and following a shared schedule, working on shared goals and celebrating shared ac- complishments. …

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