Recreational therapy degree programs teach students to develop and organize therapeutic recreation programs. Students learn to plan and schedule activities that are aligned with the recreational care goals of nursing homes, community centers, youth clinics, assisted living centers and hospitals. Opportunities as activities assistants may be available to those with only a high school diploma or GED, but prospects are best for those with postsecondary training.
Recreational therapy degree programs are offered at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels. These programs require a high school diploma. Working as an activities assistant requires customer service skills, organization skills, communication, public speaking skills, and a positive attitude when interacting with others for all programs.
Associate of Science in Recreational Therapy
An associate's degree program in recreational therapy prepares students to work as activity professionals in various work environments. Students learn foundational concepts behind recreational therapy and leisure services. Programs allow students to gain experience with basic program planning and client interaction. Common courses include:
- Theories of recreation and leisure
- Recreation for special populations
- Recreation activity leadership
- Recreation therapy techniques
- Business practices in recreational activities
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Bachelor of Science in Recreational Therapy
Activities assistants can gain advanced recreational therapy skills and knowledge through a bachelor's degree program. Students learn practical leadership and management skills and explore administrative aspects of activity planning and recreational therapy. Most programs offer internship opportunities with local nursing homes, hospitals or assisted living centers. Programs may include courses in:
- Activity program planning
- Recreation services for geriatric populations
- Outdoor recreation services
- Recreational therapy management
- Life span development
- Client assessment in recreational therapy
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Most employers do not require activities assistants to be certified. Voluntary certification is available from the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP), the only organization that provides certification is the activities industry. The organization offers three certification paths for activities assistants, all leading to the Activities Assistant Certified (AAC) credential. Each track requires activities assistants to have a combination of experience, training and continuing education credits. With AAC certification, activities assistants can demonstrate recreational proficiency to employers.
Training workshops for activities assistants are offered by employers and schools with recreational therapy degree programs. Additionally, the NCCAP shares information about seminars and workshops sponsored by businesses and organizations within the industry. Workshops typically address activities practices for specific populations. Some may be used for college or continuing education credits.
The NCCAP provides an online bulletin board with professional development resources, including industry articles, continuing education courses, job opportunities, salary statistics for activities professionals and a list of NCCAP standard and best practices.
In addition to the NCCAP, the National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) offers professional development resources for members. The NAAP focuses on activities professionals who work with elderly populations. Membership provides activities assistants with information on industry conferences and professional standards. Activities assistants can also gain knowledge and skills by reading Creating Together Journal, a publication that focuses on activity ideas and quality business practices.
A degree in recreational therapy gives applicants of activities assistant jobs an advantage. Recreational therapy degree programs at both the associate's and bachelor's levels learn activities program planning skills, as well as management and leadership skills.