When Sally thinks of her childhood she doesn’t generally day-dream or smile at memories of doing homework or spending time alone watching TV. The times she cherishes most are camping with her family and watching her brother hook a fish for her, then pretending she didn’t know as she reeled it in. Sally thinks of playing catch with her brothers or Barbies with her sisters. She remembers her dad teaching her how to play basketball and baseball and her mom playing Cinderella with her as they did chores singing throughout the house. These are things that have helped Sally personally to have an appreciation of her family. Now that she and her siblings are adults, they are still close and passing these things on to the next generation. Sally’s nephew asked her sister why she doesn’t always go to play at her friend’s houses like he does and she replied that she does—his aunts, uncles, and grandparents’ houses because her siblings are her best friends. This friendship and cohesion started as children when Sally and her siblings learned to play together.
Today’s society is becoming increasingly more concerned with achievement, particularly the achievement of our children. Because of this emphasis on achievement and getting ahead early in life, children are losing their free time, or time for unstructured imaginative play. According to the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health in 2000, “growing numbers of children are suffering needlessly because their emotional, behavioral and developmental needs are not being met by the very institutions that were explicitly created to take care of them.” Play, particularly as a family, can help children in ways such as increasing independence, competence, and connectedness. Play also helps improve family communication and facilitate individual and family identity development. A number of other positive outcomes have been associated with family play including good health, talent development, positive social interaction, intellectual enhancement, increased self-esteem, increased family cohesiveness and functioning, and improved communication skills. Some of these benefits are the greatest when play is experienced outdoors.
Recreation has the ability to offer positive and negative outcomes to character. The character you build depends on how you use your leisure time. If you watch TV, abuse drugs, or participate in illegal activities in your leisure time, bad character will be built. To the contrary, if you take time to assess what’s needed and then frame a recreation activity around the need or the needed character strength, positive outcomes will result. Society has the responsibility to raise healthy children and instill within them positive characteristics. This can be done through recreation programs.
In the past, lifestyle problems have increased with children, adults, and families because of the increased rate of obesity, poor social skills, and rising stress. A recent theory, nature-deficit disorder, credits some of these problems with the lack of involvement with nature. Not interacting with nature is hindering the growth of several characteristics within a person. Currently, 85% of United States citizens are living in cities and no longer have a connection with nature. The inactive state of children and adolescents in the United Stated is increasing and the lack of outdoor connection has and continues to decrease. Instead of playing outside, children are watching television and movies, surfing the Internet, and spending hours playing video games. Outdoor recreation has been proven time and time again to be an invaluable tool in improving peoples lives.