Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bringing Family Back to the Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bringing Family Back to the Park

Article excerpt

Families that play together, stay together.

It's a no-brainer that family recreation plays a vital role in the development of family health, function and strength. Poll a sample of recreation professionals about why they are in this industry and you will hear many responses, one of which will likely be that they feel passionately about the positive influence recreation can have on people.

This type of feel-good statement keeps us going through the day, but is there any real proof that what we are doing helps our community? As people who influence recreation design, we have a direct effect on the quality of the environment, which in turn has a dramatic impact on the duration, frequency and success of family visits.

One of the key elements required for family development is simply time spent together. This is where our opportunity lies, and where we must ask, "How can we, as recreation professionals bring families together more often?"

A University of Michigan study regarding children's use of time indicates a trend toward structured play (programmed sports and art activities), and notes a decrease in the amount of free time available to children. As parents' schedules become hectic and more regimented, so do their children's. This trend can be seen through an increased demand for programming and activities of recreation providers to supplement a family's ability to recreate together. Knowing this, it is imperative that family needs are not overlooked when designing facilities and programming.

It is no secret that activity promotes physical and mental health. This widely accepted statement is supported by countless studies and is one of the cornerstones of organized sports. Recent trends toward reducing obesity in children, and even legislative etforts to promote physical activity such as the Get Outdoors Act, clearly indicate that recreation improves individual health, which is the basic platform for improved family health.

Walk the Talk

Communication is the key to many different forms of success, and relationships that help each other communicate more effectively are essential to family function. A recent study from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association concludes, "In modern society, leisure is the single most important force developing cohesive, healthy relationships between husbands and wives and between parents and their children."

Although the complete answer to strong family function does not lie solely within recreation, family recreation advocate Ramon Zabriskie says, "Researchers have utilized the Family Leisure Activity Profile to examine a broad sample of families from parents, youth and family perspectives. Findings from all three perspectives indicate that families with more joint leisure involvement have higher levels of family functioning than those with less family leisure involvement."

Like most things, practice makes perfect. Communication and interaction between siblings and parents are no exception. Recreation environments provide a neutral, safe and fun arena for these interactions to occur. The Minnesota Family Strength Project indicates that strong families are healthy families. Of the five themes that were found to contribute to family strength including spirituality, communication, physical and mental health, time spent together and physical and emotional support, the last four can be directly obtained in a recreation environment.

Properly planned recreation environments offer opportunities for achievable success and recoverable failure. Successes like traversing a playground suspension bridge or failures like a strikeout in baseball are potential points of family contact, communication and strengthening. Yet, with all the benefits of family recreation, why aren't our parks filled to capacity with people every day?

Our world has changed dramatically in the course of one generation, creating a sharp increase in marriage statistics yielding single parent households and a predominance of two-income families in dual-parent households. …

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