Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dogs and Leisure: Celebrating National Dog Day

It’s National Dog Day and being a dog owner, how could I possibly let the day go without a post? It would not seem right.

Over the last month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to think quite intensely about the role of pets in people’s lives. On July 11th, my sister said goodbye to the family dog of 12 years, Monty. Many days since that goodbye, she and her family have been sharing Monty stories and reliving the joy that he brought to their lives. Of course dogs are work and sometimes an inconvenience, but they also can enhance even the simplest of leisure experiences such as watching a movie (can’t pass up those dog snuggles) and walking in your neighbourhood. They can encourage leisure behaviour such as playing with pets or getting out to walk your dog if you’re not someone who normally walks. Dogs can also help create fabulous memories on vacation (like the time Monty stepped off the wharf thinking the green algae was grass – thankfully, he had on a doggie life jacket). As I think about Monty and other dogs (including my own dog, Chuckie) who have enhanced my life and the lives of friends, I wanted to take some time to share the research on dogs and leisure.

pets and leisure

Monty as a puppy. He seemed to prefer playing with his food at this particular stage.

Despite the rise in dog ownership over the last 30 years in North America, there is not an overwhelming amount of research on the topic of dogs and leisure. What does exist in terms of research suggests that there are considerable mental and physical health benefits to having a dog and that dogs do create and enhance the leisure experiences of their owners. This is likely not a surprise to dog owners.

Happiness and Dogs

Research has found that having a dog can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and increase an individual’s sense of security and happiness (Sable, 1995). Dogs can provide companionship throughout the life cycle – for single adults, empty nesters, and children without siblings (Anderson, 2008; Hodgson & Darling, 2011). The interaction children have while caring for and playing with their dog can increase children’s attachment and in turn, their psychological health (Salmon & Timperio, 2011). Through leisure, children and adults can let go of pent up frustrations and stress emotions and playing with dogs is one particular leisure activity that allows for this opportunity. Although there is a lack of academic research on it, I have been more aware recently of dogs being calming companions for individuals who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dogs Promote Social Contact

Dogs encourage owners to engage in outdoor recreation and interact with others in the broader community (Wood, Giles-Corti, & Bulsara, 2005; Wood, Giles-Corti, Bulsara, & Bosch, 2007). Graham and Glover (2014) describe dogs as “social facilitators” indicating a dog’s role in fostering opportunities for social leisure and engagement. Beck and Meyers (1996) found that dog owners had more and longer conversations while walking their dogs than people walking alone.

An interesting study by Graham and Glover (2014) focused on dog parks. They found that initially, human dog park visitors only knew other human visitors by their dogs’ names. Study participants discussed that how their dog interacted with other dogs and with the other humans in the dog park influenced the way they, as dog owners, were welcomed and/or treated and how they welcomed and developed relationships in turn. As time passed, some dog owners arranged to meet at the park at certain times so they and their dogs could interact. Some dog  owners also eventually developed relationships that extended outside of the dog park. The study also provides examples of social support being accessed by dog owners when they were facing a difficult time (e.g., sick dog, sick child). Visiting dog parks provided opportunities for those with similar interests (i.e., dogs) to come together, to meet, and develop relationships that provided to be valuable, beneficial, and supportive.

Dogs and Physical Activity

It appears that having a dog can be good for your physical activity levels and has even been proposed as a solution to obesity (Boisvert & Harrell, 2014; Salmon, Timperio, Chu, & Veitch, 2010). One Canadian study found that those adults with dogs walk almost twice as much as those who do not have dogs (Brown & Rhodes, 2006). Cutt, Knuiman, and Giles-Corti (2008) found that getting a dog not only increased individuals’ recreational walking, but also their intention to participate in recreational walking. The responsibility to care for a dog (which includes proper exercise) is likely a key motivator in getting dog owners out walking. The researchers also believed that acquiring a dog may be significant in influencing continued walking behaviours over time. Also, they point out that while life transitions (e.g., moving from singlehood to couplehood) can result in decreases in physical activity, dog ownership and the sense of responsibility to exercise the dog, may allow dog owners to maintain physical activity levels during times of transition.

Dogs and Vacations

We enjoying taking our shih tzu, Chuckie, on vacation. Recently, I went to Prince Edward Island with a friend and for the first time, left Chuckie at home with my husband. It was strange. The routine of taking him for a walk in the morning was missing. We even missed rushing back from our various adventures on the Island to hang out with him. And, we missed taking him for a car ride in the evenings when we went to watch the sunset. When we visit my mother in Nova Scotia, Chuckie loves going to the beach and it brings us great joy to watch him enjoy that part of our vacation as much as we do.

There is research on pets and travel. One Australian study found approximately 95% of dog owners preferred to take their dogs on vacation (Carr & Cohen, 2009). Another US-based study found that 78% of dog owners preferred to take their dogs on vacation (Hotel Online, 2003). Carr and Cohen also found that dog owners wanted to bring their dogs on vacation because it add to the “pleasure, enjoyment, and relaxation gained by them from the vacation experience” (p. 294). While the desire to take pets on vacation is quite high, pet owners also identify constraints in doing so – mainly a lack of pet-friendly accommodations. This can mean that travellers may choose (or be forced) to camp, stay with friends who welcome dog visitors, or book more expensive accommodations (e.g., cottages) as part of their vacation plans.

When dogs cannot accompany families on vacation, this increases the vacation planning as owners need to work out suitable arrangements for their dog and may also experience anxiety about how their pet is doing in their absence (or maybe that’s just me). In my own case, I find myself planning my vacation in a way that can include our dog and so my attachment to him influences the types of vacation experiences I seek.

Chuckie enjoying Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia. July 2014.

Chuckie enjoying Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia. July 2014.

I wish all dog owners a happy National Dog day. For those who recently lost a dog, I hope that the day is a chance to focus on the joy your dog brought and perhaps is an opportunity to anticipate the joy that a dog will bring to your life in the future.

References:

Anderson, P. E. (2008). The powerful bond between people and pets: Our boundless connections to companion animals. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Beck, A. M., & Meyers, M. (1996). Health enhancement and companion animal ownership. Annual Review of Public Health, 17, 247–257.

Boisvert, J. A., & Harrell, W. A. (2014). Dog walking: a leisurely solution to pediatric and adult obesity?. World Leisure Journal, 56(2), 168-171.

Brown, S. G., & Rhodes, R. E. (2006). Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking in Western Canadian adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30, 131–136.

Cutt, H., Knuiman, M., & Giles-Corti, B. (2008). Does getting a dog increase recreational walking? International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 17. Available at: http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/5/1/17

Graham, T. M., & Glover, T. D. (2014). On the Fence: Dog Parks in the (Un) Leashing of Community and Social Capital. Leisure Sciences, 36(3), 217-234.

Hodgson, K., & Darling, M. (2011). Pets in the family: Practical approaches. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 47(5), 299–305.

Hotel Online . ( 2003 ) The Sheraton, Westin, and W Hotel brands drop restrictions for dogs; Starwood survey convinces chain to include market niche of 62 million U.S. dog owners: http://hotel-online.com/archive/archive-7292.

Sable, P. (1995). Pets, attachment, and well-being across the life cycle. Social Work, 40(3), 334–341.

Salmon, J., & Timperio, A. (2011). Childhood obesity and human-animal interaction. In P. McCardle, S. McCune, J. A. Griffin, & V. Maholmes (Eds.), How animals affect us: Examining the influences of human-animal interaction on child development and human health (pp. 183–192). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Salmon, J., Timperio, A., Chu, B., & Veitch, J. (2010). Dog ownership, dog walking and children’s and parent’s physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 264–271.

Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., Bulsara,M., & Bosch, D. (2007).More than a furry companion: The ripple effect of companion animals on neighborhood interactions and sense of community. Society & Animals, 15(1), 43.

Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science and Medicine, 61(6), 1159–1173.

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Considering Leisure Education Opportunities for Homeschooled Students

The start of the new school year is only a week away. While many children will be going back to a public school in their community, there are about 5% of children who will be learning at home. My nieces are two children who form the homeschool population in Canada. As my sister has shared thoughts as she prepares for the year ahead (one niece in Junior Kindergarten; one in Senior Kindergarten), I’ve become curious about the interaction between homeschooling and leisure. I have very little knowledge about homeschooling – I wasn’t homeschooled; to my knowledge I have only taught one student who was homeschooled in my 12 year career; and I only met two people who were homeschooled. Despite my lack of knowledge, I wanted to take some time to begin a discussion on some of the potential challenges and opportunities for leisure education within a homeschooling environment. I say “potential” challenges and opportunities because there is a lack of academic research on homeschooling and leisure. Therefore, I’m applying my understanding of leisure and how children experience leisure through their traditional pathway of public school in this discussion.

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Photo credits to Wel@Home

To begin, leisure education is a process of developing the attitudes, knowledge, and skills

needed to make positive leisure choices (Robertson, 2007). Leisure education is a lifelong process but it is quite critical for young people because childhood leisure influences leisure well into adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). There are a few key aspects of leisure that homeschooling parents might want to think about and explore.

Opportunities for Socialization. Developing social skills through socializing with others is an important leisure skill and one that is argued to be the a key influence on the quality of our lives and leisure (Mundy, 1998) . Children who lack social skills sometimes struggle to make friends because of challenges in starting and engaging in conversations, listening and understanding, and/or initiating invitations. They may also be challenged to expand and deepen relationships. Ensuring children have opportunities to socialize and develop these skills is important.

I suspect that most homeschooling parents give the socialization of their children significant consideration and look to provide opportunities through various activities for their children to engage with others their age. In some communities, recreation departments create opportunities for children who are homeschooled to come together with others to participate in activities. For example, last year, when my oldest niece with in junior kindergarten, she participated in swim lessons on Friday afternoons. They were offered for children who were homeschooled. What a great opportunity to not only develop her swimming skills, but to also socialize with other kids who were homeschooled. My sister needed to participate in the class with my niece, but for parents of older children, this was also an opportunity for homeschooling parents to socialize with each other during the instruction time.

Obviously, this type of opportunity costs money. However, youth free swims or free skates, library programs, or youth drop-in centres within communities offer other, less-expensive opportunities for children who are homeschooled to meet and interact with others their age. Church communities and neighbourhood playgrounds are also chances for interaction and friendship development. And, some cities and towns have their own homeschool networks or support groups where events are planned to bring homeschoolers together and provide opportunities to connect (my sister and her childhood friend have created WEL@home – a group for homeschoolers in the west end of Ottawa).

Exposure to Diverse Leisure Activities and Interests. In a classroom of 20 or more students in a school of 100 or more students, children have the chance to observe, listen to, and interact with a large number of children. This creates opportunities to become aware of and learn about different leisure activities in which children participate. For example, I did not figure skate, take piano lessons, play baseball, draw or paint, or grow my own vegetable garden at home, but I had classmates who did. I learned a lot about these activities because of the regular interaction with kids who had interests I did not. Since these classmates were not necessarily the friends I spent non-school time with, I likely would not have developed an awareness and understanding of these activities if it were not for our school interactions. I also learned how to play hopscotch, skip rope, play four square, and play marbles because this is what others in my age group were doing at recess and lunch time play periods of the playground. This group of kids exposed me to and taught me different activities that I would not have explored on my own. Exposure is a key first step in developing a large and diverse leisure repertoire. Research suggests that the leisure interests and skills children develop by the age of 10 tend to be the ones they carry throughout their lifetime. Meaning… if you don’t know how to skate by age 10, you’re unlike to do this activity as a teenager, young adult, or parent.

For homeschooling parents, awareness of the importance of this exposure may help them consider ways to ensure their children are exposed to a wide range of leisure activities and not just those activities in which their children express interest. Homeschooling networks are excellent ways to increase the opportunities for homeschooled children to meet and interact with others who may have interests that are different from their own. Facilitating opportunities for children to share what they like to do for fun or to talk about their favorite activity is one way to get the ball rolling with discovering diverse interests. For those involved in such groups, here’s one exercise you might want to do to begin discussions about leisure activities and interests (Find Someone Who…).

Another way of increase children’s exposure is to take them to spectate a variety of activities. Attend high school football, basketball, or volleyball games. Go to a rowing regatta. Keep your eye out for martial arts demonstrations (they seem to occur often at the mall in my city). Get tickets to the community dance studio’s year-end production. Watch sports on TV (I’m a big fan of using the Olympics as a way to increase children’s exposure to various activities). Attend concerts in the park; go to art demonstrations (e.g., pottery; basket weaving). All of these experience create an opportunity to discuss the activity or hobby, explain rules of sports or how activities are done, and gauge the interest/curiosity of your child as it relates to that activity.

Acquiring Leisure Skills. Within a school context, children do experience instruction in a number of activities – art, music, and sports (although the quality of this instruction likely various depending on the school district and the certifications that teachers are required to have to offer instruction).

In the absence of physical education classes, parents of home schooled children need to consider how to develop their children’s physical literacy. While homeschoolers estimated spending an average of 4 hours per week in physical education (i.e., being active), they indicated they spend little time in instruction of fundamental motor skills, team sport skills, or individual/dual sport skills (Gregory, 2005).  A few studies have found that homeschooling parents rely on youth sport program and homeschool support group sponsored physical education for instruction (Baker, 1999; Gregory, 2005; Waters, 1998), however, the quality of that instruction can vary depending on the qualifications of the leaders and may not . Gregory (2005) found that few parents in her study were aware that fundamental motor skills needed to be taught at an early age (they do not develop naturally) and expressed concern that homeschooled children may not be developing the necessary skill for mature, proficient movement. One advantage for homeschooled children is the opportunity to have personalize instruction of fundamental motor skills based on the child’s characteristics whether this is by a knowledgeable parent or by an instructor. Parents can read more in the report – Developing Physical Literacy: A Guide for Parents of Children Ages 0-12.

I see tremendous opportunity for parents to develop art and music skills through homeschooling. My own experience with art in public schools was… well… lackluster to say the least. I really did not develop much of an appreciation for art nor did I develop any real, specific skills. In music, I learned the recorder in Grade 4. I took part in choir. But, I did not learn to read music or play an instrument or anything that created lifelong enjoyment. I participated in dance, but that was outside of school and that’s where my real love of music (listening mainly) came from. I do believe that parents who homeschool have the opportunity to do a much better job fostering leisure skills in the areas of art and music. The flexibility of a homeschooling schedule and the opportunity for one-on-one attention could allow for skills to be explored and talents to be nurtured. If parents can afford to designate money for art and music skills, there may be opportunities to learn to paint or draw; scrapbook; quilt; do pottery; play the piano, violin, or the guitar. These skills may be developed through private instruction (either by a parent with expertise or other instructor), but time to practice and further hone skills can be included within the homeschooling schedule which sends a very positive message to children and youth that developing these leisure skills – that could turn into life long interests – is as important as typical school subjects. I’m all for this type of messaging!

Incorporating Leisure Learning into Traditional Subjects. Homeschooling parents have the advantage of being able to educate their children about and for leisure through their teaching of subjects like math, social studies, and language arts. Math learning can involve examples that relate to travel or sports. Rather than using grocery store prices when teaching about money and addition, costs of various leisure activities could be used (generating awareness). Children can write stories that relate to their leisure – their favorite activity, what they liked about attending a festival, or their best memory on vacation. Social studies offers opportunities to discuss leisure in different places, how leisure has changed over time (e.g., invention of the television), and could even foster leisure planning skills (e.g., what would you need to take on a vacation to Iceland in February; what could you want to do there; how much money would you need to take to do all the activities you might like to do). These are chances to draw attention to leisure and for discussion about what children value in terms of their free time, can generate leisure awareness/knowledge, and develop various leisure skills.

Summary. Homeschooling presents parents with both some challenges regarding leisure (e.g., social leisure; exposure to diverse leisure; skill instruction). However, with an understanding of what might not be accessed through a homeschool experience, parents also have the opportunity to take charge in fostering the development of leisure awareness, the acquisition of leisure knowledge and skill, and an appreciation of leisure’s role and importance in one’s life. I also think it is important to acknowledge that not all leisure-related experiences within school are positive and therefore, for some children, homeschooling means that leisure learning could be designed and delivered in a more meaningful way and in an environment that may not produce some of the negative experiences that are reported in traditional school environments.

References:

Baker, R. K. (1999). Physical education in the home school. Uppublished doctoral disseration, University of Georgia.

Gregory, E. R. (2005). Curriculum and the status of physical education in homeschooling. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Texas A & M University.

Mundy, J. (1998). Leisure education: Theory and practice. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Robertson, B. J. (2007). The leisure education manual. Wolfville, NS: Leisure Experience Associates.

Shannon, C. S., & Shaw, S. M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30, 1-16.

Waters, G. J. (1998). Homeschool physical education instruction: An initial study. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

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