Leisure Education

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Leisure education refers to organized instruction about leisure and leisure opportunities. Such instruction has been provided to children, adolescents, adults, and members of special populations by a variety of sources for more than a century in the United States. Students studying recreation will be educated about leisure so that they can implement effective recreation and leisure programs upon graduation. Children attending summer camp will likely participate in a number of fun activities that have an educational purpose. Older adults may need some assistance identifying activities for participation. Because of the wide variety of possibilities of leisure education, the following sections will attempt to break these factors down and a clear definition of leisure education will then be provided in the conclusion of this article.

Leisure Education in the United States

The idea that leisure education should be incorporated into schools and universities has a long-standing history. As early as the 1890s, urban school boards introduced leisure education as a concept in the form of after-school programs. These efforts were supported by the National Education Association, through the recommendation for the use of public buildings for community recreation and social opportunities. In 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary School Education of the National Educational Association issued the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, which set forth seven objectives of education, including the "worthy use of leisure." At this time, leisure was typically seen as inferior to other aspects of life. However, in 1966, Charles Brightbill suggested that the most important responsibility of education is to ensure adequate provision of recreative leisure for health purposes as well as for the sake of its psychological and social benefits.

In 1972, the Society of Park and Recreation Educators (SPRE), a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), developed a national policy regarding the role of higher education in educating students about the personal and social implications of leisure. As a result of the support of SPRE and NRPA, the first leisure education conference was held in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1975. At the same time, the Lilly Endowment also supported the need to educate for the use of discretionary time, by providing a grant to NRPA to develop leisure education within existing curricula. This project was entitled the Leisure Education Advancement Project (LEAP). In the 1980s, the American Alliance for Leisure and Recreation (AALR), also supported the importance of leisure.

Once again, more recently, there is evidence of the continuing need to understand the role of leisure education within school curricula. In March 2002, a number of recreation and leisure scholars were involved in a taskforce on leisure education in schools and presented a position statement to AALR. Therefore, it is likely that this area will continue to develop in a wide range of recreation settings, including the outdoors, schools, and clinical settings.


There are two relevant questions when examining leisure education: (1) who provides leisure education, and (2) who benefits from leisure education? First, trained recreation and leisure professionals provide leisure education both formally and informally. In many college and university recreation and leisure studies departments, leisure education is an ongoing element in all recreation courses, directly or indirectly. Without training in this area, it is impossible to provide effective recreation programs because the professional cannot articulate to those individuals they are serving the value of leisure. In answering the second question, there are two groups that can benefit: those providing leisure services, and all other human beings. As noted previously, leisure professionals need to have the skills to educate others about leisure, so they will only benefit from leisure education themselves. And given the benefits of leisure, all other persons can benefit from leisure education. At times, specific groups are studied in relation to the influence of leisure education such as youth at risk, older adults, retirees, and many others. However, because of the many health, societal, and economic benefits that have been linked directly to leisure, it can be argued that all individuals will gain from leisure education. It is only when people are educated about these and other benefits that they can begin to understand the importance of leisure in their own lives.


There are two ways of viewing leisure education—education for leisure and education through leisure. When people talk about education for leisure, they are talking more specifically about the process of recreation and leisure professionals educating the general public of leisure involvement. As educators, recreation professionals are interested in providing information so people can participate in leisure opportunities. This is a necessity, because individuals require knowledge about skills, programs, and resources to be able to participate in leisure. In addition to this specific knowledge, individuals must be given the opportunity to increase self-awareness in relation to leisure. This enables the individual to have a deeper understanding of the relationship between him- or herself and leisure, as well as the relationship between leisure and society. It is important that leisure educators help people clearly define what leisure means to them.

On the other hand, examining what is meant by education through leisure is also important. Leisure can also provide an excellent medium for education, both about leisure and a number of other topics. Again, the role of the leisure educator is to provide individuals with opportunities to utilize the skills and knowledge they have gained from previous education. It is crucial that individuals be encouraged to gain experience in leisure activities in order to improve skills and knowledge. In addition, such opportunities enable individuals to learn skills that can be transferred to other life domains. For example, consider the adolescent who participates in an obstacle course with a group of peers. Although this may be a fun activity, the adolescent can learn a number of valuable lessons from participation, including how to work in a group, how to make decisions, and how to solve problems. Through participation in this activity, the adolescent may begin to learn how to transfer these skills to life outside of this recreational opportunity. In this case, the adolescent is being educated through the use of leisure as a medium.


Leisure education is a developmental process, so it should be ongoing over the course of the lifespan. For leisure service providers, education should be an important element of their work. One way of ensuring this is by having a professional organization that requires continuing education units to maintain certification. So while some formal education is necessary, leisure educators must remain aware of leisure in their own lives as well. For some outside the leisure profession, leisure education may take the form of participation in a formal class, whereas for others, it will consist of self-education of the skills, resources, and availability of leisure opportunities. While formal education may not continue, some form of reflection and evaluation of one's own participation in leisure should be happening on a regular basis.


Again, it is somewhat challenging to identify a specific "where" in relation to leisure education. However, a number of places have been developed to meet the requirements of leisure education, including in hospitals, schools, adventure-based camps, community centers, and universities, to name a few. Leisure education is often a crucial factor in therapeutic recreation. In fact, leisure education is one of the primary components of the most commonly used therapeutic recreation service delivery model. Without some form of education, individuals with special needs cannot begin to experience independent leisure participation. Leisure is often used in schools to provide opportunities for children and youth to learn skills that will transfer to other aspects of their daily lives. Adventure-based camps such as Outward Bound rely on the principles of experiential education to teach a number of different groups various life skills. Similar activities have also been implemented as part of a wellness program offered by some larger corporations to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Leisure education can occur anywhere a need is identified. Again, as noted above, some of these settings may have been developed for leisure education, while others may be a little subtler, depending on the needs of the persons involved.

"The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Having leisure at one's disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically . . . . All of this evidence points to the fact that the average person is ill equipped to be idle"

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p. 65.


Leisure ideas have been traced back to the beginning of time, with notions of leisure evident in the work of Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. Leisure was viewed as a method of personal growth and social advancement. Although this perspective changed drastically in the 1500s with the introduction of the Protestant work ethic, in which leisure was viewed as sinful, we have also seen the pendulum swing again the other way, where leisure participation is viewed as an important part of a balanced lifestyle. In addition to the historical roots of leisure, it is also important to consider the health and economic benefits associated with leisure. Studies have shown that leisure is associated with psychological health and that leisure helps reduce the consequences of stress. Some specific examples of these health benefits include improved mood, increased self-esteem, increased life-satisfaction, and decreased depression, anxiety, and loneliness. With such benefits possible from leisure participation, it is evident that leisure education is a valuable tool to all individuals who hope to improve their overall quality of life.


How is leisure education implemented? Again, it is important to consider both the formal and informal aspects of leisure education. Students in leisure studies departments are educated formally so they can provide leisure opportunities for others. Part of this education consists of how to develop, implement, and evaluate programs, while another part of this education involves the assessment of personal values, attitudes, and beliefs of leisure as well as personal involvement in leisure. Teaching another individual something that does not have some personal meaning to the teacher is impossible. For example, an individual cannot teach another person how to drive a car if that individual has not driven one. An understanding of how to drive a car, without the personal experience of actually driving, is not enough when teaching another individual. The same can be said of leisure. If a leisure-service provider does not understand and practice involvement in leisure, how can such a person be expected to guide another person to participate? With almost all types of leisure, the service provider is offering some kind of leisure education. Whether by educating a group on how to play basketball or providing the opportunity for that group to play so that skills may be enhanced, leisure education is happening.

Defining Leisure Education

Based on those elements discussed above, leisure education carries diverse connotations. To some, it means teaching sports, while to others it means providing information about leisure in the education system. Leisure education has been viewed in two main ways: as the process of teaching knowledge and skills about a number of activities, or as the process of educating people of the importance of leisure by providing opportunities for participation. The most common understanding of leisure education, however, has been that of teaching others how to best use their free time. Leisure education then should be viewed in terms of process rather than content. It is viewed as a process though which individuals develop "an understanding of leisure, of self in relation to leisure, and of the relationship among leisure, their own lifestyle, and society" (Mundy, p. 5). The primary goal then of leisure education is to enable individuals to enhance the quality of their lives through leisure.

Domains of Leisure Education

Although there are a number of different models of leisure education, there are some commonalities among the domains to be addressed in such a model. In this section, these domains will be discussed in a general manner; however, more detailed treatments of any of the specific models are available as well (such as, Bullock and Mahon; Dattilo, Leisure Education Program Planning; Mundy). Typically, leisure education models will include leisure awareness, self-awareness, social skills, leisure skills, and leisure resources.

Leisure awareness focuses on helping an individual understand the concept of leisure. One way of addressing this is by exposing the individual to a variety of leisure pursuits. Self-awareness helps the person individualize his or her understanding of leisure. A primary goal of this element is to assist the individual to identify preferred leisure opportunities. Social skills are those that are needed to interact with other people. These skills are often crucial for inclusion in leisure opportunities, as many pursuits tend to involve others. Leisure skills include two types of skills, those that are required to participate in a specific opportunity such as playing badminton, and more indirect skills, such as decision making, planning, and problem solving. Individuals require both types of skills, sometimes referred to as traditional and nontraditional, to participate in a variety of leisure pursuits. Finally, the individual has to gain an understanding of leisure resources available to him or her. These may include people, places, and equipment, but unless an individual can access leisure, he/she will be unable to participate.

Leisure-service providers must be aware of each of these components and include them in some manner when providing leisure education. Without addressing each factor, an important element of the experience may be lost. Providers do not need to develop their own model for practice; they need only look to those who have already created such models. In selecting a model that fits the needs of a client group, leisure-service providers will find some models that are more appropriate for client-centered clinical settings, while others are more general and can be used in almost any setting.


In many ways, leisure education has become a significant component of leisure-service delivery in almost all settings, including treatment centers, schools, community centers, and corporations. Consequently, leisure-service providers must develop a solid understanding of leisure education and how to provide such education in a wide array of contexts. To ensure this happens, those training future professionals must provide necessary training and encourage others to seek out educational opportunities to ensure the best practice possible for clients.

See also: Adapted Leisure Formats, Adult Education (Earlier), Disability and Leisure Lifestyles


American Association for Leisure and Recreation. Leisure Education in the Public Schools. Reston, Va.: AAHPERD, 1986.

Brightbill, Charles, C. Educating for Leisure-Centered Living. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1966.

Bullock, Charles, C., and Michael J. Mahon. Introduction to Recreation Services for People with Disabilities: A Person Centered Approach. Champaign, Ill.: Sagamore Publishing, 1997.

Caldwell, Linda, L., E. A. Smith, and Ellen Weissinger. "The Relationship of Leisure Activities and Perceived Health of College Students." Society and Leisure 15 (1992): 545–556.

Coleman, David. "Leisure Based Social Support, Leisure Dispositions, and Health." Journal of Leisure Research 25 (1993): 350–361.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.

Dattilo, John. Leisure Education Program Planning: A Systematic Approach. 2d ed. State College, Pa.: Venture Publishing, 1999.

Dattilo, John, and William, D. Murphy. Leisure Education Program Planning: A Systematic Approach. State College, Pa.: Venture Publishing, 1991.

Iso-Ahola, Seppo E. "Leisure Lifestyle and Health." In Leisure and Mental Health. Edited by David M. Compton and Seppo E. Iso-Ahola. Park City, Utah: Family Developmental Resources, 1994.

Kelly, John R. Leisure. 3d ed. Needham Heights, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, 1996.

Kelly, John R., and Geoffrey Godbey. The Sociology of Leisure. Champaign, Ill.: Sagamore Publishing, 1992.

Mundy, Jean. Leisure Education: Theory and Practice. 2d ed. Champaign, Ill.: Sagamore Publishing, 1998.

Pesavento, Lisa C., ed. "Leisure Education in the Schools." A position statement presented to the American Association for Leisure and Recreation, 2002.

Peterson, Carol Ann, and Scout Lee Gunn. Therapeutic Recreation Program and Design: Principles and Procedures. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Anne-Marie Sullivan