Boosting mental health by focusing on promotion of school and leisure activities.
Vision Statement

All children and youth have a right to participate in and enjoy healthy hobbies and interests in inclusive school and community settings.

This initiative is all about 'making leisure matter' for all children and youth!

Leisure can be thought of as any out-of-school activity that is of personal interest to a young person. Examples include: sports, arts & crafts, games, music & theatre, outdoor activities, etc. Our aim is to help all youth explore, identify, and participate in healthy hobbies and interests. 

Making Leisure Matter aims to maximize the benefits of school and leisure, and in turn boost mental health for all children and youth - in the classroom and beyond.Why is leisure important?
The activities we engage in help define who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. We want to hear children say things like 'I love to draw' or 'I love basketball' or 'I love to do puzzles'. So, ask the question, "What do you like to do for fun after school?" and take an interest.

Benefits: Youth who engage in one or more structured leisure activities after school do better social, emotionally, and academically. Specifically, participation in out-of-school structured leisure activities is associated with improvements in:

  • academic achievement1
  • personal development (identity and skill development, development of hobbies & interests, development of initiative)2
  • interpersonal development (social skills and friendships)2,3
  • development of beginning work skills (time management, persistence, following directions)4
  • social and emotional development (managing feelings, controlling impulses, improved self-esteem)3

The purpose of the Making Leisure Matter initiative is to: 
1. Educate school personnel, youth workers, and parents about the physical and mental health benefits of out-of-school leisure participation; and
2. Promote leisure participation within a multi-tiered framework at the universal, targeted, and individualized levels. 

When people learn to enjoy complex occupations that provide challenges corresponding to their skills, they are more likely to develop innate abilities, experience a positive self-esteem, and be happier over-all.5
Improving school and leisure participation improves student mental health

Multi-Tiered Framework Guiding Leisure Participation

Applying a multi-tiered framework to address school and leisure expands our efforts beyond individual services to considering the benefits of small group interventions and universal whole school and community initiatives.6

The three major tiers of leisure promotion include:
MTSS tiers to promote positive mental health by maximizing school and leisure participation and enjoyment for all students - including those with and without disabilities Tier 3: Individual Leisure Coaching for children and youth who have no leisure interests or who are deprived of opportunities to participate in leisure. Individualized intervention focuses on leisure coaching with the young person and family in order to foster successful leisure participation.
Tier 2: Targeted Prevention efforts focus on reducing the occurrence of leisure deprivation by providing services such as small group interventions for youth at-risk (e.g. children with disabilities, social challenges, or those living in poverty).
Tier 1: Universal Whole School or Community-Based Strategies for promoting healthy leisure participation in all children and youth with and without leisure deficits. Leisure promotion emphasizes competence enhancement as well as environmental modifications to support leisure participation.

Key Approaches for Promoting Leisure Participation

Based on current literature on promoting enjoyable leisure, it is important to foster exploration and participation in a variety of structured activities within natural settings. A number of  intervention approaches guide the Making Leisure Matter initiative and are described below.

Promotion of school and leisure activities with the Making Leisure Matter program

(Tier 3) Individual Leisure Coaching

Making Leisure Matter focuses on maximizing school and leisure time to promote positive mental health among all kidsFor children and youth who have little or no leisure participation, individual leisure coaching may be effective.
Evaluation: First, identify who may need leisure coaching by evaluating the young person’s leisure participation.
Leisure Coaching: Then, use the leisure coaching process to foster the development of healthy hobbies and interests!
Success stories demonstrating leisure coaching outcomes in school and clinic settings are also provided. Details provided below!

(Tier 2) Targeted Leisure Groups

School and leisure time are important opportunities to boost student mental health. Making Leisure Matters is a program to maximize out-of-school leisure activities.Targeted services emphasize both the prevention leisure deprivation due to risk factors (e.g. disability, mental health challenges, poverty) as well as the promotion of a variety of healthy and meaningful leisure interests.13

Leisure Groups can be an important strategy for fostering hobbies and interests in at-risk youth. Within small groups, youth can be exposed to a range of potential leisure activities giving them a change to try something new, identify hidden strengths, and develop new interests. There is strong evidence to support activity-based groups for enhancing children’s social participation and mental health.21 By ‘doing’ together, activity-based groups help youth work together in a cooperative manner, experience group cohesion, and build friendships.

(Tier 1) Universal Leisure Promotion

It is critical that parents and school personnel be made aware of the multiple benefits of structured leisure for their children – that participation in self-selected structured leisure provides positive opportunities for fostering health, identity work, and life skill development. Developing an awareness of the school and communities’ extracurricular activities is important so that school providers can foster exploration and participation for all youth with and without challenges. Being knowledgeable about community leisure is useful for actively advocating for inclusive participation – another important aspect of the therapist’s role. Read about these success stories!