The Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies is a division of the Faculty of Health
Nothing beats organizing a day-long community event for young families at a busy location when it comes to experiential education.
For seven years now, students taking a program management and evaluation course in Recreation and Leisure Studies have organized the Waterloo West Neighbourhood Fest (WWNF) at the Stork Family YMCA and Harper Branch Library. In order to turn theory into practice, the students plan all types of free activities for children aged 2-12 – from creative play, to scientific exploration, to physical fitness events.
However, Professor Troy Glover, who is teaching REC 120, says the real emphasis is on using these activities as a way to solve a need. “We take an innovative approach to program design,” he says. “The focus is on meeting the needs of an intended beneficiary – in this case, children of various ages. We teach programming in terms of finding solutions to problems, rather than just organizing activities.”
The class uses design thinking, a problem-solving process that some disciplines use to design products that can address complex issues. It consists of five steps: Empathizing with intended beneficiaries, defining the problem, brainstorming ideas, prototyping a mock program, and testing the program.
Sydney Mitton, a student whose group is catering to pre-school-aged children, says their activity will allow children to build their own water bottle snow globe to take home, or participate in an ice castle and snowman-building station with blocks and other miscellaneous building supplies for autonomous play. The theme is ‘Frozen’ because of the season and the continued popularity of the Disney movie.
“We decided to incorporate aspects of creativity, socialization, as well as fine and gross motor skills, which are important aspects of early childhood development, into our program,” says Mitton.
Glover says that until students actually run through the event, the learning process is not complete. “Students can do all the backstage planning they want, but until they are actually ‘onstage,’ they don’t know how things will go and how they will have to adapt. That is the value of experiential education and real-life context.”
Student Donovan Taylor adds that leadership and programming skills are important to him, but so are the connections he can make with the Waterloo West neighbourhood. “Being able to provide this programming is a great opportunity to bring people together and form new, strong relationships with people living in the same community.”
Typically, more than 300 people take part in the Neighbourhood Fest at the end of Fall term.