Recreation has been defined as a refreshment by means of some pastime, diversion, exercise, or other activity that results in relaxation and enjoyment.1 Research has shown that recreation improves the quality of life for individuals, raising their overall satisfaction with life. It can also help counteract stress and contribute to an individual’s health and wellness.2

Since recreation is anything that is stimulating and rejuvenating for an individual, there is a wide range of activities to be enjoyed that are voluntarily chosen by an individual’s interests and preferences. Nature hikes, fishing, skiing, swimming, and camping can all be considered recreational activities as well as organized sports, such as football, baseball, soccer, and hockey. Afterschool recreation for children might be participating in martial arts, a dance class, band practice, a chess tournament, or a pick-up basketball game.3

Recreation commonly occurs during an adult’s free time away from work or outside of school for children. The amount of free time has significantly increased for both adults and children in the last 150 years. Until the early twentieth century children worked long hours alongside adults in factories and mines, usually six days a week, with little free time until child labor legislation freed them from this burden. With unoccupied free time available, children were seen as a problem as they engaged in drinking, gambling, and other unlawful activities. Concerned that children needed safe, protected, and stimulating places to play, the public demanded structured play opportunities and supervision that prompted the playground movement. Organized recreation programs were promoted by civic associations, city governments, law enforcement agencies, and churches. The National Association of Boys’ Clubs was founded in 1906, the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls in 1910, and the Girl Scouts in 1912.4

In 1918, the National Education Association (NEA) adopted the “Seven Cardinal Principles of Education,” one of which was the “worthy use of leisure.” This encouraged a relationship with schools and recreation that promoted school-sponsored activities. Extra-curricular activities are often related to course material taught within the classroom, such as band, debate, choir, special interest clubs, hobby groups, and intramural activities.5 Approximately 45 million children play competitive school sports. The top team sports for children ages 6 through 17 are basketball, baseball, soccer, football, and volleyball.6

Local governments are involved in offering organized activities, such as Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, AYSO soccer, and summer recreational programs.7 Public parks have areas designated primarily for public recreational use that include ball fields and playgrounds. Greenways, trails, nature preserves, and open space areas are governed by park and recreation associations.8

In 2016, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) released the results of a Penn State University study that found Americans strongly support their park and recreation services with 90% identifying parks and recreation as an important service provided by their local government. On average 80% of Americans had visited a local park or recreation facility within the past year on an average of slightly less than 29 times per year. The primary reason given for visiting local park and recreation facilities was to be with family and friends, with other reasons given to increase their level of physical activity and the desire to be closer to nature.9

Private for-profit companies have emerged to offer recreational activities, such as river rafting and mountaineering. The desire for more extreme sports have added sky diving, bungee jumping, BASE jumping, hang gliding, rock climbing, caving, backpacking, snowboarding, and skiing to the list of adventurous recreation.10

  • 1. “Recreation.” 19 July 2017.
  • 2. “The Health and Social Benefits of Recreation.” California State Parks. March 2005. < > 19 July 2017.
  • 3. Pan, Wendy. “Examples of Recreational Activities – Fun Things to Do.” 19 July 2017.
  • 4. “Organized Recreation and Youth Groups.” Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. 19 July 2017.
  • 5. “The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education.” University of Notre Dame. < > 19 July 2017.
  • 6. Langhorst, Paul. “Youth Sports Participation Statistics and Trends.” Engage Sports. < . 19 July 2017.
  • 7. Op. cit., “Organized Recreation and Youth Groups.”
  • 8. “What is ‘Parks & Recreation?’” 12 Nov. 2010.
  • 9. Roth, Kevin. “Public Park Usage: Motives and Challenges.” National Recreation and Park Association. < > 19 July 2017.
  • 10. “List of Extreme Sports: Expression Through Action.” EXTREME. < > 19 July 2017.