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



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One thought on “Championing Leisure Education as a Fundamental Component of the National Framework for Recreation in Canada

  1. […] I wanted to provide the link to the response that the “Gaspereau Group” developed during the consultation process on the Canadian […]


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