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Recreation Programs in the Schools

School-Sponsored Recreation, Community-Sponsored Recreation, School-Community Cooperative Partnerships, Current Trends

As early as 1918 the relationship between the school and recreation was identified when the National Education Association (NEA) adopted the "Seven Cardinal Principles of Education," one of which was the "worthy use of leisure." Today, schools are involved in the provision of recreation using three approaches: school-sponsored activities, community-sponsored activities, and school–community cooperative partnerships.

School-Sponsored Recreation

School-sponsored recreation often relates to course material taught within the school system, but it provides learning experiences in addition to academic studies. Programs aimed at the school's student population are called extracurricular activities and include such things as bands, debating teams, choral groups, athletics and intramural activities, hobby groups, and interest clubs. For many students, these activities fill an important need in their school experience.

Schools also offer programs for adults within the community, and these are commonly referred to as continuing education. Historically, the intent of these programs was to enable adult learners to enhance career-related skills and knowledge. Continuing education programs have expanded, however, to include a variety of lifelong learning opportunities and currently include language classes, computer courses, fitness programs, auto mechanics classes, public speaking programs, and travelogues.

Community-Sponsored Recreation

Community-sponsored programs are activities that are planned and implemented by various community groups for all residents within the community. Local schools are used as the program site during evening and weekend hours when the school would otherwise be empty. When one considers that the typical school timetable occupies only 18 percent of the hours available in the school year, the potential for increased use is obvious. Schools, situated in neighborhoods and close to residents, provide excellent satellite locations for community-based programs because of their accessibility. Examples of these types of programs include recreational sports leagues, ballroom dancing classes, card clubs, neighborhood festivals, and local theater groups.

School-Community Cooperative Partnerships

Partnerships between schools and community agencies is a third way that leisure-related programs are aligned with the schools. The Kids at Hope program is one example of a national program where multiple community agencies form partnerships with the schools to develop extracurricular programs for youth. Sharing a belief that all children can succeed, the teachers and community volunteers, who implement the program, seek to affirm the skills, abilities, and talents of children to boost their self-esteem in a safe and supportive environment. Similarly, the Partnership for Civic Change (PCC) program in Waco, Texas, is a partnership among agencies and schools organized to provide positive after-school and summer recreation alternatives for youth. The programs offered through PCC are aimed at preventing at-risk youth from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Current Trends

There are three key trends emerging in the early twenty-first century that are affecting recreation programs in the schools: fiscal restraint in the public sector, changing family demographics, and the development of innovative programs.

Fiscal restraint in the public sector. The climate of fiscal restraint prevailing in the early twenty-first century presents a challenge for school administrators whose primary mandate is the delivery of academic programs. Increasingly, schools have fewer resources for school-based recreation, and there is a recognition that a decrease in recreation programs in the schools could result in an increase in activities that are commonly perceived to be a negative use of leisure time (drug use, vandalism, and high-risk activities). As a result, there is a growing impetus to find ways to ensure the future of recreation programs in the schools. Creative ways to meet this challenge are emerging and include such things as increased relationships with community agencies, the development of unique partnerships, the use of volunteers, and an increase in corporate support.

Changing family demographics. North American family structures are changing radically. With the increase of single-parent families and parents who hold jobs outside the home, schools and community agencies have a shared role in child care extending beyond the usual class times. Of particular concern are children and youth from economically disadvantaged households with few resources available to them for positive recreation activities or constructive play. For these families, dependence on extracurricular programs in the schools has been increasing.

Innovations. A number of innovations are emerging in regard to recreation programs in schools. In 1940 the NEA urged school districts to make their facilities available for community use. This has led to the common practice of joint facility planning. This trend is growing with the inclusion of a broader range of partners, including the school board, local government, community groups, individual donors, and the private sector. For example, a library may be planned so that the school and all members of the community have shared access to the collection and the library staff. Another common partnership is the development of parkland adjacent to school lands so that outdoor athletic fields can be developed for the use of both the school and community members.

In addition to joint facility and site planning initiatives, some schools and communities are developing funding partnerships so that building expenditures can be met. These partnerships can include funding from corporations, public sector organizations, local service clubs, and private donors.

It is apparent that recreation in the schools has grown beyond the traditional extracurricular programming. There is a greater understanding of the important role that recreation plays in the quality of community life. It is through the combined efforts of schools and community partners that recreation in the schools continues to play a key role in the provision of positive alternatives for children and families as they attempt to find channels for individual and creative expression.


BECK, TERESA; REYNOLDS, JOYCE; and GAVLIK, SALLY. 1995. "Partnerships for Civic Change." Leisure Today 66 (4):14.

COMMISSION ON THE REORGANIZATION OF SECONDARY EDUCATION. 1918. Cardinal Principles of-Secondary Education. Washington, DC: Bureauof Education.

CROMPTON, JOHN. 2000. "Sharing Space: Schools Can Serve as Recreation Facilities to Benefit the Community." Parks and Recreation 35 (3):100–105.

KRAUS, RICHARD. 2001. Recreation and Leisure in Modern Society, 6th edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

MILLER, RICK. 2000. From Youth at Risk to Kids at Hope. Chicago: Chicago Education Alliance.

RUSKIN, HILLEL. 1995. "Conceptual Approaches to Policy Development in Leisure Education." In Leisure Education Towards the Twenty-First Century, ed. Hillel Ruskin and Atara Sivan. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University.



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