The benefits of recreational activity as a family

We all know it’s important to get out, have fun and enjoy ourselves, but research suggests it’s actually good for our relationships and our families. Here we take a look at the evidence, and signpost to some helpful resources.

For parents of disabled children, heading out for the day or enjoying a recreational activity outside the house usually requires a lot of organisation and planning ahead. It’s not always possible to just jump in the car and go, especially if your child needs supportive equipment or relies heavily on a rigorous routine.

Having to plan everything to the letter can take the fun out of days out, and breaking routines can make things more difficult, but recent research suggests that doing an activity out of the house together as a family might well be worth the effort.

“While the study has positive implications for the family as a whole, these outcomes were emphasized as particularly important for the children with a developmental disability.”

A 2004 study from Mactavish & Schleien [1] found this to be especially true if families can:

  • get a change of environment/scenery
  • experience some spontaneity, and
  • get a chance to socialise.  

 
“Recreational activity” is just a catch-all term for a range of social, play, entertainment, and sporting activities. In the study, parents said the most popular activities by far were the physical ones, which included swimming; roughhousing games like catch or basketball; walking; and bike rides.

Here are a few experiences from parents trying out more recreational activities as a family: 

I give my child my undivided attention when we do activities together – where else is he going to get that? A chance to learn things, and a chance to feel more connected – for him and the rest of the family. Also, I do things in the hope that what we’ve done together will carry over to other things he does later on in life.
Sam, as a 4-year-old, has a life almost as scheduled as mine – and I’m a lawyer! Needless to say, he’s exhausted by everything else that he’s programmed into . . . so although we think that activities that help him work on basic skills are beneficial . . . just as important to us, and probably more important to him, is that he gets to escape back to the life of a 4-year-old.
Planning, planning, planning! That’s what it takes to get any family recreation activity going in our family – probably in any family with a kid with a disability. On the upside this is one way of making sure that everybody has a good time. On the downside, nothing is ever very spontaneous . . . so family recreation tends to get boring. Getting out of the house and doing things out in the community helps to make things feel a little less routine, less predictable.

When those parents were asked about the main benefits of recreational activity together, here’s what came up as the most popular:

  1. “It makes us closer as a family”
  2. “It gives us something fun to do as a family”
  3. “It improves parents’ communication with the children”
  4. “It improves quality of family life”
  5. “Our children learn family values”

Parents also said that family recreation time helped improve the quality of the couple relationship. Monotony can be a bit of a drain on couples just like it can with families - a simple change of scenery and a break from the norm can really create some space to enjoy one another’s company in a family context. It also builds on something known as ‘feelings of togetherness’ which make you resilient and help you cope with stressful situations.

Together you form the foundation of the family setup, so getting some focused and intentional time together (away from the house, phones and computers) to just be together as a family will help solidify and strengthen that foundation.

 References


[1] Mactavish, J., & Schleien, S. (2004). Re-injecting spontaneity and balance in family life: Parents’ perspectives on recreation in families that include children with developmental disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 48, 123-141.

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