Urban Orienteering: An Opportunity to Practice Learned Leisure Education Skills in a Function Community Environment

By Green, Frederick P. | Parks & Recreation, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Urban Orienteering: An Opportunity to Practice Learned Leisure Education Skills in a Function Community Environment


Green, Frederick P., Parks & Recreation


Urban orienteering is a one-day competition that affords leisure education program participants an opportunity to put recently learned skills to the test. The event is a unique approach to treatment-related therapeutic recreation goals within a functional community environment. Skillful practitioners can design an urban orienteering experience that will improve specific functional capacity, while simultaneously preparing individuals to participate in leisure experiences that are personally satisfying.

A practical agent of change, urban orienteering is most effective as a culminating leisure education event. Originally designed for adults with physical disabilities preparing to make the transition from residential rehabilitation to community life, urban orienteering was traditionally used as the final activity in a leisure education program. The primary purpose for these types of programs is to assist participants--most of whom are learning to adapt to recently acquired physical disabilities--in expanding personal leisure repertoires, identifying and overcoming barriers to leisure involvement, developing an intrinsic loci of control, and developing skills necessary to make personal decisions regarding community participation (e.g., social interaction, communication, and utilization of community resources). As the final leisure education event, urban orienteering provides an opportunity for participants to apply their newly developed skills in a functional, yet controlled environment.

Urban orienteering is patterned after the competitive outdoor sport of orienteering, where individual competitors, using a compass and a topographic map, race to complete a pre-designed course through wooded areas. Urban orienteering, however, takes place in a community environment and more closely resembles a variation of the sport called "score" orienteering, where participants are given a map indicating the location of a large number of controls, or "points to be found." Each control is assigned a point value based on its degree of difficulty. The objective is to acquire the highest number of points by finding as many controls as possible within a given time limit. Since there are usually more controls than one can possibly find in the allotted time period, competitors are challenged to develop a strategy to locate as many controls as possible. Successful "score" orienteering requires a combination of skills including endurance, speed, map reading, decision making, strategy, and time management. It is this particular variation of orienteering that serves as the basis for urban orienteering as therapeutic recreation.

To design an urban orienteering event, facilitators first select an urban environment that offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Often the community into which the individual will be returning serves as an ideal environment. However, downtown areas, areas near college campuses, malls, or any other area that is often frequented for leisure purposes will suffice. In urban orienteering, maps are optional, but they seem to help participants orient themselves to new areas. Many downtowns, malls and college campuses already have detailed maps, which can be modified for use with very little difficulty.

Next, the facilitators create a series of questions and requests for the participants. At this point, urban orienteering begins to resemble a scavenger hunt for adults. However, thoughtfully planned urban orienteering questions will require the participants to utilize newly developed skills as they attempt to respond. For example, a question may read "Anthony is the clerk at the candle shop on fourth street. What is the name of Anthony's dog?" For this particular question, a competitor must be able to locate the candle shop on fourth street (knowledge and utilization of resources), navigate to and into the candle shop (mobility skills), and seek out and begin a friendly conversation with Anthony (social interaction skills). …

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