National Recreation Association

The National Recreation Association was originally called the Playground Association of America (PAA), which was formed in 1906 to further the playground movement in America. Over the years the mission of the organization shifted from playgrounds to emphasize a broad spectrum of recreation activities for all ages and abilities.

By the early 1910s, a distinction was being formed between the terms “play,” “relaxation,” and “recreation.” The Playground Association of America defined children's activities to be “play” and the term “relaxation” referred to the leisure activities of adults. “Recreation” included activities for both adults and children. Thus, when the PAA broadened their mission beyond playgrounds to include youths and adults, the name was changed to the Playground and Recreation Association of America (PRAA) to reflect the change in their name and their mission. Their focus shifted to recreation, social reforms, and civic programs.

The reformers of that time saw the play yard as “an ethical laboratory” and felt that they were shaping the country's future American citizens through organized play. This was especially pertinent for all the immigrant children in the inner cities. One reason the reformers began to include youth and adults was due to the leisure “challenges” to their morals with activities such as the questionable influence of the “pool rooms, motion pictures, and street corner rendezvous.”1 They noted that “natural instincts lead youth to want play and fun, but could also mislead them. Recreation channeled and refined the play instinct.”2

For these social reasons, by 1930 the playground focus was dropped in favor of recreation, and the organization became known as the National Recreation Association (NRA).3 Their mission concerning recreation came to include physical fitness, sports, and the performing arts for youth and adults. Over the next three decades, NRA services broadened to include providing public information, consultations, personnel services, site visits, training institutes, and services for the ill and disabled. They also conducted research in the growing field of recreation.

The PAA journal initiated in 1906, the Playground Magazine,4 changed along with the organization. With the increasing shift to recreation through first the PRAA and then the NRA, beginning in the mid-1910s, the journal became known as Recreation.

Changes came again in 1963 when five organizations began negotiations to merge and create the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). They felt that one national park and recreation organization would decrease the competition for members, advertisers, and exhibitors between their similar organizations. The resulting NRPA would also facilitate working with the federal Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.

The largest of these groups was the NRA with its operating budget of $924,000, 100 full time members including 30 professional experts in recreation work, New York City headquarters and Washington, D.C. office, 8 regional offices, and nearly $1 million in endowment funds. The other organizations were the American Institute of Park Executives (AIPE), the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), the National Conference on State Parks, and the American Recreation Society (ARS).5

These philosophically disparate groups grappled with the composition of the proposed NRPA: would it be a professional organization or a citizen-based group, would it be for park professionals or recreation professionals, and would it be a public service organization or a professional organization. After three years of negotiations, the NRPA was formed as a public service organization with a leadership of both citizens and park and recreation professionals. With this merger, the National Recreation Association and its journal Recreation ceased to operate separately.

  • 1. Frost, Joe L. A History of Children's Play and Play Environments. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. p. 106-107.
  • 2. Anderson, Linnea M. '“The playground of today is the republic of tomorrow”: Social reform and organized recreation in the USA, 1890-1930's.' The encyclopaedia of informal education. < > 15 Feb. 2012.
  • 3. Op.cit., Frost.
  • 4. Curtis, Henry S. The Play Movement And Its Significance. New York City, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1917. p. 16.
  • 5. Hartsoe, Charles E. “The Birth of NRPA.” Parks & Recreation. < > 17 Feb. 2012.