leisure and OT with students

Students and leisure – it’s good for all of us!

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Adolph Meyer wrote that leisure is

“[one of] the big four – work and play and rest and sleep, which our organism must be able to balance even under difficulty”.1

And, recent research suggests that leisure may be an important part of identity formation – since leisure allows exploration of who one wants to be as an adult.2

Why leisure?

During leisure, unlike in education and work activities, a student maintains a great deal of control over the experience. They can determine in what, where, and with whom they participate.   As students explore new leisure experiences, they can also choose to continue or cease participation of their own volition.2

Unique benefits of leisure

The OTPF identifies leisure exploration and participation as occupations.5   Psychological theories support leisure as a vehicle to identity and social connectedness

  • Social connections can be formed during leisure since leisure can connect strangers through a mutual interest.2 Social connections made during leisure can also lead to other new experiences. In addition, shared leisure can be a tool for enhancing relationships both in early formation stages and later on in established relationships. And, these new relationships expose individuals to novel experiences and ideas.2
  • Leisure facilitates occupational balance.  Students who have positive balance profiles (balanced or exploring) may participate in leisure that facilitates feelings of well being.3 While students who have a resigned balance profile may not participate in leisure pursuits at all.  Finally, those who have an imbalanced profile may participate in more negative patterns of behavior in general.

The dark side of leisure

If leisure is performed in unbalanced or unhealthy ways, it has the potential to distract students from active identity exploration, thereby delaying or interfering with the identity process.2 In addition, those activities that are less productive or positive (ie excessive drinking and violent video games) might influence identify formation and allow an emerging adult to flounder into adulthood.4

How to facilitate healthy leisure:

For OTs that want to address leisure with their students:


You can use time use diaries to determine level of leisure involvement.  Check out this previous blog on time use for more tools and how to measure what students are doing during the day. 

The Occupational Questionnaire (free from MOHO) can also help determine if the student considers activities throughout their day as work, daily living, recreation, or rest.   The Modified Interest Checklist (also free from MOHO) looks at possible leisure activities and requests information about how often a person participates in them, if at all, and if they would like to try the activity, if they do not currently participate. A UK version is also available.

Another leisure interest checklist was developed by an occupational therapist, Carolyn Fitzgibbon, and it is called LISTS (Leisure, Interests, Sports, Through the Senses) and is available in the Sensory Modulation Resource Manual. It looks at leisure activities by sensory system (it is great!).


Leisure exploration:

  • Identify new opportunities for leisure on/off campus.
  • Reflect on interests and suggest leisure that might “fit” with students current interests.

Leisure participation:

  • Help the student know where or with whom to learn the skill (a friend, a class, the OT?).
  • Help the student with time management strategies and/or habit formation strategies.
  • Discuss budget and how to participate in leisure within their budget; also, explore low cost or free leisure.
  • Explore transportation and community mobility that supports leisure, if needed.


  1. Meyer,  A.  (1922).  The philosophy of occupation therapy. Archives of Occupational Therapy, 1(1), 1-10.
  2. Layland, E.K., Hill, B.J., & Nelson, L.J. (2018).  Freedom to explore the self:  How emerging adults use leisure to develop identity.  Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(1), 78-91.
  3. Eakman, A.M. (2016).  A subjectively-based definition of life balance using personal meaning in occupation. Journal of Occupational Science, 23(1), 108-127. doi:10.1080/14427591.2014.955603
  4. Nelson LJ, Padilla-Walker LM. (2003). Flourishing and floundering in emerging adult college students. Emerging Adulthood, 1(1):67–78.
  5. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1–S48. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

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