What Are Recreation, Fitness, and Leisure?

Recreation and leisure are terms often used interchangeably. Both relate to what people choose to do in their free time; time that is not otherwise used for work, school, or other activities like appointments and chores. Leisure time is any free time that can be used to pursue personal interests. Recreation is an individual’s preferred pleasurable and enjoyable activities in which they engage during leisure time.

Recreational activities can be sedentary in nature, like knitting, chess, playing musical instruments, or social networking in person or on the computer. It can also be active and enhance physical fitness and well being. Examples of active recreation include walking, skiing, dancing, bowling, hiking, rock climbing, boating, bicycling, weightlifting, and goalball.

Why Teach Recreation, Fitness, and Leisure as a Specific Area?

Children with visual impairments, blindness, or deafblindness need systematic and purposeful instruction beyond the general education curricula to gain the skills necessary to be independent, productive, educated members of society. Recreation, fitness, and leisure are some of the instructional areas that need to be addressed. Knowledge of recreation, fitness, and leisure provides critical support to a wide range of student capacities in the areas of social interaction, orientation and mobility, independent living, and self-determination. Developing recreation, fitness, and leisure skills can have far-reaching positive effects on the lives of people with visual impairments.

Research has shown that recreation is an important factor in quality of life for everyone, including people with disabilities. People who engage in recreational activities will likely benefit by having improved cardiovascular function, better ability to sleep, improved self-esteem, increased stamina, and decreased stress levels, all of which not only improve quality of life but also have positive benefits for other activities.

Beyond the health and wellness benefits of physical fitness touted in the media, when one’s body is more accustomed to the different types of physical movements inherent in recreation and fitness activities, that person generally has better flexibility, strength, and stamina. With improved physical fitness, independent living skills are easier to perform and less stressful on the body. In addition, recreation is a highly social phenomenon organized around friendships or family groups, and these social interactions buffer the effects of stress on health. With this in mind, recreational activity that increases physical activity and improves fitness should be encouraged.

How Do Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) Approach Instruction?

Recreation and fitness for children with visual impairments cannot be learned by passively observing others at play. Recreation must be intentionally and systematically taught with disability-specific techniques and safety in mind. The foundation for recreation can be learned in physical education (PE) courses with accommodations and adaptations. Children with visual impairments benefit from learning the components of recreation and fitness in PE because many other components of the expanded core curriculum are also covered to some extent during the course of the year. By participating with classroom peers, students with visual disabilities learn the foundational sport and fitness skills that enhance the lives of all children. They are also empowered to make the self-determined decisions necessary to have control over their free time and make life-long health choices.

Teachers of students with visual impairments approach instruction in this area by providing students with specific information about recreation and leisure activities. They also collaborate with PE teachers and other professionals to determine how activities can be adapted for these students to maximize their opportunities for independent participation and learning. For example, a tee might be used in softball instead of having the ball tossed to the student, or a beeper ball might replace the standard ball.

For activities like basketball, things such as tape can be placed on the ground to mark the boundaries of the court, and a beeper can be placed on the basketball hoop to help the student identify its location. These students can also be introduced to sports that have been specifically created for those who are blind and visually impaired, such as goalball and beep baseball.

Teachers of students with visual impairments also support recreation by describing the activities in which the student’s peers are participating. They model those activities for the student and school staff who work directly with the student in other areas.

The teacher of students with visual impairments might teach the student how to play games that classroom peers are playing or show the student how the activities can be adapted. For example, braille might be added to playing cards, or friends might read game materials to the student.

The teacher of students with visual impairments can also orient the child to the school playground or PE field and show the child how to use various play areas and equipment.

During direct instruction, teachers of students with visual impairments or orientation and mobility instructors (O&Ms) describe the recreational activities in which people around them are participating. In addition to verbal descriptions, tactile maps and diagrams can be used to teach layouts of various activities. Examples include a tactile map of a baseball or football field that may indicate the different player positions.

Even if youths who are blind and visually impaired choose to not participate in every sport or recreation activity on their own time, they should learn what the rules are and how to play them. Knowing the rules of different games and keeping abreast of sports offers a student with visual impairments opportunities for social interactions with peers.

Remembering that recreation, fitness, and leisure skills encompass more than physical activities, students with visual disabilities should be introduced to a variety of hobbies they may find interesting. Even if a student chooses to not participate in a hobby over the long term, the student will have a greater understanding of how people spend their free time and be able to participate in conversations about these activities. The overall goal of the teacher of students with visual impairments is to help the student identify recreation, fitness, and leisure activities that he or she enjoys and can pursue throughout life.

How Can We Support Instruction in Recreation, Fitness, and Leisure in Schools?

As with all people, regardless of ability or personal interests, recreation, fitness, and leisure skills are an important expanded core curriculum area that supports the sense of both well-being and quality of life for students who are blind and visually impaired. Because these students have difficulty seeing how others spend their free time, teachers of students with visual impairments and O&M instructors systematically and purposefully help these children discover and learn about activities they may enjoy.

Participating in recreation, fitness, and leisure helps youths with visual impairments develop social, career, and problem-solving skills. Engaging in this expanded core curriculum area also increases self-esteem, self-determination, and overall health.

Students who are challenged and achieve goals they thought might be impossible or too difficult, develop confidence which positively impacts all areas of their lives. To that end, teachers of students with visual impairments should be aware of how to adapt a variety of recreational activities for these children and work with PE instructors to ensure that they are included in their PE classes.

We do not want youths with visual impairments to be idle bystanders in life; they should be engaged in recreation, fitness, and leisure activities alongside their peers to ensure they learn the skills necessary to make purposeful and self-determined life choices.