Monthly Archives: May 2014

Championing Leisure Education as a Fundamental Component of the National Framework for Recreation in Canada

For the last 10 months, I’ve been writing blog posts about various topics related to leisure, recreation, parks, and sports with a goal to raise awareness about leisure, educate about factors that create meaningful and satisfying leisure experiences, and create opportunities for personal reflection related to leisure. I’ve also suggested, in some posts, the need to advocate for recreation and leisure (e.g., for leisure/recreation opportunities for people who have mental health issues, for children’s right to play and recreation, and for infrastructure that creates and supports safe, accessible recreation in neighbourhoods).

Recreation practitioners and leisure/recreation scholars must also advocate for recreation/leisure (and sometimes for specific aspects or principles related to recreation/leisure).

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend three days “retreating” in Gaspereau, Nova Scotia with a collection of scholars, practitioners, and students who were all interested in and passionate about leisure education. The “Gaspereau Group” had discussions about the concept of leisure education, leisure literacy, and the challenges or issues associated with educating our modern/changing society about and for leisure. One of our action items included taking the time to think about and respond to a document released in April 2014 – the draft of the National Framework for Recreation in Canada. The document was  created with the intention of setting an agenda for Recreation in Canada for the next 20 years.

pathways to wellbeing framework for recreation in Canada

Our feeling was the concept of leisure education (and associated principles), while incorporated into the document, was not recognized or championed as a fundamental component of recreation engagement in Canada. Below, you will find our collective response which we respectfully submitted yesterday.

Pathways to Wellbeing: A National Framework for Recreation in Canada
Comments on the Draft of April 2014
Submitted by: The Gaspereau Group

This submission has been prepared by a group of practitioners and scholars from across the country committed to leisure literacy (through leisure education) for all Canadians. We are motivated by the potential of the leisure field to make a significant difference in shaping individual lives and communities. We support the need for a unified vision and a collective direction for our field and are specifically interested in ensuring that the importance of leisure education is recognized as a fundamental component of recreation engagement in Canada.

The draft paper titled “Pathways to Wellbeing: A National Recreation Framework for Recreation in Canada” seems to focus on the present and aligning our field with other agendas in contrast to inspiring and guiding our field toward a unique and vital future. Perhaps greater focus should be placed on what sets the recreation field apart from others, not on what makes us the same as others.

Leisure education is one of the most significant and unique contributions that our field can make in managing societal issues and creating a civil leisure society. This function should be central to public sector recreation and should be a cornerstone of our strategic direction. The last few decades we have seen a shift away from this fundamental role of educating people for leisure. In a world changing so rapidly, individuals and communities need to have the capacity to make decisions and provide for themselves in terms of leisure. Change toward a more healthy society will require informed decision making regarding leisure time. Individuals, families and communities will need the skills and attitudes necessary to plan for and make positive decisions regarding leisure. Leisure education is the ideal vehicle to help ensure these individuals and communities have appropriate knowledge, skills, awareness, and opportunities to engage in a satisfying leisure lifestyle.

Sustainable public recreation services will require investments in both community building and in leisure education processes. Investment in these empowerment processes will help individuals and communities to become self-sufficient in meeting many of their recreation and leisure needs and not as dependent upon recreation departments and other government services. This is critical if we hope to support a goal that sees individuals engaged in recreation across the lifespan. If individuals see their leisure/recreation as their responsibility, are aware of opportunities, and have learned how to negotiate some of the barriers they face (e.g., modern lifestyles that tend promote sedentary, indoor, and technology-based leisure), then municipalities will be able to focus on the services deemed as priorities in their role within the recreation system.

From teachable moments to comprehensive programs, leisure education should be central to recreation service delivery, equipping people to make informed choices, change old lifestyle behaviours and even create new leisure opportunities for themselves, their families and their communities. At the National Recreation Summit (2011), leisure education was one of the five topics brought forward by participants. Approximately twenty-five participants engaged in discussion about leisure education/leisure literacy. The strength of the voices and ideas brought forward in that discussion do not seem to be reflected in the current draft. The document discusses “recreation education” (priority 1.4). While the inclusion of “recreation education” is a step, it doesn’t reflect the scope of what leisure education is or could be. It does not reflect the course offerings at universities in “leisure education” that seek to educate students about how to facilitate leisure learning in various contexts and with various populations. It is also not a term consistent with the body of research and scholarly work on leisure education. This seems to be a missed opportunity to demonstrate the unique power of the recreation field to educate for and about leisure – something that is not being done well by anyone else – and to pull evidence from research on leisure education to demonstrate its value and role. Further to this point, physical literacy is highlighted in the document, but there is no mention of “leisure literacy” – something that our field should be prioritizing above physical literacy because, while physical educators and sports leaders have an investment in physical literacy, once again, no one else is doing the leisure education work (e.g., not schools, not recreation departments, not the health care system).

At the organizational and community level, leisure education can increase demand for other core recreation services, help to support the recreation delivery system, and create a society where individuals, families and communities are leisure literate. However, to do this well requires attention to the complexities of change at each of these levels as well and to the capacities (e.g., knowledge and skills) needed by recreation leaders to be facilitators of, and advocates for change. Care must be taken with statements such as “making the healthy choice the easy choice” (goal 4). This statement oversimplifies the complicated processes involved in accessing and participating in recreation and leisure and risks marginalizing those for whom the “easy choice” is far from easy even when some barriers are lessened or eliminated. If recreation education does not have a more prominent role in the document, it may be difficult to even ensure that the healthy choice is the “easier” choice for some individuals in our communities.

It also is not enough to simply say that we will ensure “no one in Canada is denied access” (priority 2.1) based on ability to pay. This places too much responsibility on those who are economically disadvantaged (and who therefore may not have the knowledge, values, attitudes, or skills that support recreation participation) to overcome the barriers on their own and reach out to try and access recreation opportunities. It also assumes that cost is the only issue for those who are economically disadvantaged. Is this the message we want to send to politicians? Do we really want to suggest that if recreation were free, everything would be fine – everyone would be engaged, “community” would be developed, and individual wellbeing would be enhanced? We know that it is more complicated than that. Work needs to be done to help individuals value recreation in their lives, awareness of opportunities needs to be created, and interests in recreation opportunities (unstructured, structured, home-based, nature-based) need to be nurtured. That is the important work we can do that no one else is doing.

While the focus given to new Canadians (priority 1.4) is admirable and important, we would argue that there are many Canadians who are not familiar with recreation and who do not use services in ways that help to build skills, wellbeing, and a sense of belonging. If leisure/recreation education was identified as an important, unique role/vision of the recreation field and recognized as important for all members of our Canadian society given the vast array of challenges, then particular groups wouldn’t need to be singled out. The risk of singling out particular segments of the population is that we communicate to politicians and other fields (e.g., health, social services) that our services are only essential “pathways” for some people, for some special populations but not for everyone. This is simply not the case.

If the priority for public recreation is for all Canadians to engage in meaningful recreation, then “three basic conditions are required;

  1. societal knowledge, and acknowledgement, of the value of recreation;
  2. a broad range of accessible opportunities must be available; and
  3. individuals must possess appropriate levels of knowledge, skills, and motivation (literacy) to enable participation in the opportunities.

Traditionally, the field has tended to put its greatest effort into the provision of opportunities, paying less attention to who was participating (or not) and to why that might be the case” (Nova Scotia Response, May 2013). Perhaps the time has come to revisit our core roles within the recreation sector. Although it is paramount that we collaborate with others to enhance the lives of individuals and communities, there is still much to be done looking inward (goal #5) to define what our core business is and how we employ our unique strengths to achieve the vision set out.

And, – as a last word – let’s not forget about the pursuit and value of recreation for its own sake and not always for another purpose.

Respectfully Submitted by:

Carol Petersen, BPR Consulting – Alberta
Dr. Charlene Shannon-McCallum, University of New Brunswick, New Brunswick
Dr. Shannon Hebblethwaite, Concordia University, Quebec
Dr. Helene Carbonneau, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Dr. Susan Hutchinson, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia
Dr. Jacquelyn Oncescu, University of Manitoba, Manitoba
Dr. Brenda Robertson, Acadia University (retired), Nova Scotia
Cheryl Jeffers-Johnson, Capital Health Addictions and Mental Health Program, Nova Scotia
Marie-Michèle Duquette, MA student, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Marie-Pierre Nadeau, MA student, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Quebec



WiFi Coming to a National Park Near You: What to Do?

On April 29th, as I scanned the news, I was surprised and a little disappointed to see the headline, “WiFi Hotspots Coming to Canadian Parks“. I’m not a wilderness adventurer nor much of a camper (I camped for the first time in my 20s and only a handful of times since). My surprise and reaction was not based on a sense that my personal experience would necessarily be compromised. Instead, it was based on my understanding of the value of getting away from it all, the solitude that is available in these spaces, and the benefits of experiencing the natural environment and communing with nature. I did become curious about how those who are regular users saw this decision/opportunity interacting with their experience in parks.

WiFi in Canadian National Parks

Shortly after noon April 29th, the CBC shared an online article that captured its readers’ perspectives and reactions to the original posted piece. I’ve pulled a few to include here, but the article has many more if you’re interested. The first reaction speaks to the role of technology in contemporary lifestyles:

parks wifi reaction1

Another CBC reader suggested that perhaps we need to see the WiFi issue as an opportunity. It is available, but we don’t have to use it.

park wifi reaction2

This is a fair point. If, however, we consider the perspective of this next user, WiFi’s availability in National Parks may not be as simple as making your own choice to use or not use it. WiFi in National Parks could create user conflict by negatively impacting or interfering with the experiences of others.

User Conflict in Parks WiFi

The fact that some people have suggested that simply “turning your WiFi off” is the solution suggests that we may need to do a bit more to educate park users about the impact of their behaviour, including technology behaviour, on others. One article titled, “Don’t Want WiFi in Parks? Don’t Use It” raised the issue of self control (a good point – we need to teach and learn about how to manage technology in our lives). While useful to consider, self-control with regards to personal use of technology doesn’t account for how the technology use of others might affect our experiences.

I did happen to have an opportunity to hear from a local municipal recreation practitioner this week who commented that her understanding was that Parks Canada felt it needed to be more “relevant”. This seemed to reflect what Andrew Campbell, Director of Visitor Experience with Parks Canada said in his response to the negative reactions. There seems to be a need to attract younger people to the Parks and to meet the demand of potential park users who wanted to be connected. I do think it is unfortunate that it may take WiFi at visitor’s centres and campgrounds to attract the younger generations as well as those who may feel they can’t leave their work or social networks behind.

Meeting this “demand” for WiFi serves as a caution. I worry that this signals how difficult a task it is to educate people about the value and benefits of solitude and nature; how difficult it is to ignite interest in nature and motivate engagement in and use of our National Parks; and how difficult it is to for people to disconnect (from work or their social lives) even in the midst of the most natural, pure, protected environments.

In the face of these challenges, I want to offer some “food for thought” as you consider how to interact in natural spaces where you have WiFi available.


National Parks offer opportunities for solitude. Even if you are on a family experience, there may be opportunities to venture away from your group to experience solitude. Researchers (Long, Seburn, Averill, and Moore, 2003) found solitude to be a source of spirituality (defined as a sense of transcending everyday concerns and being in harmony with the natural order) and one that is more likely to be experienced in the natural environment (67%), as opposed to in public buildings (10%) or at home (23%). It is possible that WiFi use could disrupt solitude or make it more difficult to grab the opportunity for solitude.

Getting Away From It All:

Garst, Williams, and Roggenbuck (2009) found that camping experiences offered campers that opportunity for rest and restoration and escape. The attraction for campers was getting away for aspects of their home environment such as the phone and a schedule. WiFi, if available and too hard to resist, could mean that escape is not possible and restoration (reduction in stress, arousal, anxiety) may be compromised.

Improving Family Cohesion:

Researcher on campers have found that family functioning and cohesion can be improved within a camping context (Garst et al., 2009; Hornig, 2005). A participant from Garst et al.’s study offered, “When we’re camping there’s no TV. We talk more. We talk, sit around and just talk. You communicate a little better . . . get a little closer maybe. When you’re camping you’re all in one little tiny box and you get close” (p. 97-98). If a goal of visiting a National Park is to have shared family time, foster relationship building, and create memories, it may be important to think about how WiFi may affect that and consider boundaries that could be set to ensure that the opportunity for family bonding is not adversely affect (e.g., only 15 minutes a day of facebook, only connecting to WiFi twice during the week-long camping excursion; no tech during the family camping experience; use WiFi to “Google” something you saw or experienced to learn more).

Children’s Learning:

This was another theme from Garst et al.’s (2009) study. Children engaged in forest camping experience had the chance to develop knowledge and learn new skills. Parents saw the camping opportunity as a chance for their children to learn to play, to be creative, to enjoy the outdoors, and to appreciate nature. In some cases, a nature experience and doing without the modern conveniences may be unfamiliar and even uncomfortable initially. However, parents saw value in the learning that occurred and the appreciation of nature that was fostered. Again, WiFi and bringing along technological devices on a camping trip might contribute to some children resorting to their more familiar or comfortable behaviours. Again, setting boundaries could be helpful here.

My hope is that Parks Canada is going to monitor the impact of WiFi on users – perhaps a bit of research to be done to understand how those who use WiFi experience the parks as well as those who do not, but who are in spaces with park users who are on WiFi. And, I urge Parks Canada goers to think consciously about: 1) the value of a nature-based experience and what is being sought from that experience; 2) the opportunity National Parks offer to disconnect from social media and work while connecting with family or friends during while camping or visiting the park; 3) how technology can be used to enhance the experience (e.g., using devices for geocaching) without compromising some of the identified benefits (e.g., solitude, family bonding) and opportunities (e.g., learning).


Garst, B. A., Williams, D. R., & Roggenbuck, J. W. (2009). Exploring early twenty-first century developed forest camping experiences and meanings. Leisure Sciences, 32(1), 90-107,

Hinds, J., & Sparks, P. (2009). Investigating environmental identity, well-being, and meaning. Ecopsychology, 1, 181–186.

Hornig, E. F. (2005). Bringing family back to the park. Parks & Recreation, 40(7), 47–50.

Long, C. R., Seburn, M., Averill, J. R., & More, T. A. (2003). Solitude experiences: Varieties, settings, and individual differences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 578–583.

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