Meet Joyce Hemphill,
the “Queen Of Play”

Hello! This is Joyce Hemphill, and I am one of guest bloggers for the US Play Coalition.

So who am I? Many of my colleagues refer to me as the “Queen of Play.” I think of myself as a Play Advocate – someone who promotes the value of play. Simply put, I am passionate about play. AND I want others to be equally enthusiastic about play.

My background in and expertise on play comes from two sides – my personal side as the parent of two sons, now grown, and the professional side as a professor of child development. The mom side has 28 years of hands-on experience watching my sons. I was fascinated by the ways they learned about their world and gained an understanding of who they were through their various adventures in play.

The professional side of me holds a doctorate in developmental psychology and almost 30 years of college classroom experience teaching infant and child development as well as cognition and learning. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison I developed and taught a course on the Importance of Play in Child Development. The course included a service learning component whereby my students and I offered a “PlayDay,” a community play event.

After retiring from UW spring 2012 I began writing “Playing from Scratch” columns for the US Play Coalition and co-authored The Power of Playful Learning (2014) with Laura Scheinholtz and Heather Von Bank. In addition, I started giving workshops for teachers, parents, families, youth groups, and care providers on ways to create playful learning activities. These hands-on experiences have been complemented with my involvement with the Coalition, as well as the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, The Association for the Study of Play, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Construction Junction at Madison PlayDay

As a guest blogger I will share my thoughts on the different types of play, the various benefits of play, and the way play changes as a child grows and develops. Included will be tips, suggestions, and helpful information for parents and care providers. I also hope to increase my understanding of play from your questions and your insights of children’s play behaviors. So until next time, I leave you with a quote from American poet and essayist, Diane Ackerman, who said, “Play is our brain’s favorite way to learn.”  

YiP (Yours in Play)

Playing from Scratch – Jianzi

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning

Jianzi (pronounced schi-an-tshe) is a Chinese game that uses a shuttlecock. The game dates back to the 2nd century BC in China’s Han dynasty. It was developed by the Chinese military as a way to promote physical fitness and improve the stamina of the soldiers. A traditional jianzi is made by wrapping paper around a coin with a hole in the center and then decorating it with feathers.


  • Ring from plastic cap on milk jug
  • Plastic grocery bag
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Large eraser

To make:

  • Lay the plastic grocery bag flat on the table. Using scissors, remove the handles and the bottom seam. Smooth out the bag so that it is flat on the surface. Cut the right side from bottom to top, and cut the left side from bottom to top creating two layers of rectangular plastic. It is OK if the edges are rough.
  • With layers together, turn the plastic so the longer side extends out in front.
  • Place the plastic ring at the top and center of the plastic sheets.
  • With the ring inside, fold the plastic over and over – like a burrito or an eggroll – until all the plastic is wrapped around the ring.
  • With fingers, locate the center of the plastic ring. Using the tips of the scissors carefully cut a small opening through all the layers of sheeting. If this doesn’t work, an adult can use the point of the scissors or pencil to poke a small opening through all the layers. Note: When poking through the layers using a pencil, place a large eraser on the table, lay the sheeting over the eraser, and poke down into the easer.
  • Take one end of the folded sheeting and push it through the opening. (A pencil may be helpful in completing this task.) Once through, pull tight.
  • Take the other end of the folded sheeting and push it through the opening – same way, same direction as the other one. Once through, pull tight.
    • It should look like rabbit ears.
  • Using scissors cut along the folded long edges to create a feathered look.

To play:

The objective is to keep the jianzi in the air as long as possible using only one’s feet and knees.


  • Time how long the jianzi is played without touching the ground.
  • Count how many times the jianzi is kicked or tapped with the knee.
  • Count how many different body parts (e.g., left elbow, right elbow, left knee, right knee, head) are used to keep the jianzi in the air.
  • Count how many times the jianzi is batted between two players.


  1. Tissue paper and balloons made from shiny foil-like plastic can replace plastic shopping bags.
  2. Use large plastic lids or shoe box lids as paddles to bat the jianzi back and forth between players.
  3. Form a circle of players and using feet or knees pass the jianzi from one to another. Try to get the jianzi around the entire circle without it touching the ground.


Food Group Bingo

In honor of World Food Day – October 16, 2017

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “World Food Day (WFD) was established by FAO’s Member Countries at the Organization’s 20th General Conference in November 1979. It has since been observed every year in more than 150 countries, raising awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger.”

• Game card (like the one to the right)
• Grocery store ads and newspaper circulars
• Scissors
• Glue

To Play:
Search through grocery store circulars to find examples of Dairy, Fruit, Grains, Proteins, and Veggies. Cut out the example and paste it onto the card. The first person to fill the card wins.
• Note: NO repeats! So although you may come across several ads for apples, you may only use apples once.

Make it vegetarian! … and use the following food groups: Beans/Lentils, Fruit, Grains, Nuts/Seeds, and Veggies.

Playing From Scratch – ‘Ulu Maika

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.

‘Ulu maika is a game that was played by early Hawaiians. The aim of the game is to roll a disc between two narrowly placed goals a distance away. A 500 foot ‘ulu maika playing field can be found on the island of Moloka’i.

For more information check out the following websites:

2 plastic bottles filled with water.
Empty tape roll, empty ribbon spool

Before play begins, each player is given a spool to decorate with markers. A player can make up a design or research historical cultural ones.

Agree on a predetermined distance from goals; measure.

To Play:
Place the two bottles apart; approximately 4-6 inches wider than the width of the disc being rolled. From a designated distance, roll the disc so that it goes through the opening between the bottles. The first person to get five through wins. Note: The rolling distance can increase as the skill level increases. Also the space between the bottles can vary depending on skill level; starting wider with a novice and narrowing as the aim improves.

Go Go Skateboard!

Celebrate National Go Skateboarding Day – June 21


Go Go Skateboard!

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.


  • Cereal box
  • One plastic drinking straw
  • One round bamboo skewer (12 inches x 3 mm)
  • 4 soft plastic caps from milk jugs
  • Photo or Character from a greeting card (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Large eraser or hand towel (folded)
  • Tape or glue
  • Crayons, markers, stickers, etc. (optional)



  • Create the skateboard deck using the plain side of the cereal box by drawing an elongated oval. (Approximately 5-6 inches long and 2-2½ inches wide.) Cut out the deck and decorate it.
    • Note: It is your skateboard so you can make any shape you want.
  • Cut a drinking straw into two 2-inch pieces. On the underside of the deck tape these pieces; one up towards the front and the other towards the back. (These will hold the skewer axles.) Set aside.

Axles & Wheels:

  • Prepare all four wheels by poking holes in each of the four plastic caps. To do this, place the eraser or multi-folded hand towel on a flat surface. Place the plastic cap with open side down on the eraser/towel. Identify the exact center of the cap. Place the point of the skewer at the center and firmly press down until the skewer pierces through the cap and goes into the eraser/cloth. Run the skewer completely through each cap.

Adding the axles & wheels to the deck

  • Press one cap on the blunt end of the skewer. Slide the skewer through one of the straw bits. Slide a second cap onto the skewer and slide it into position. (This should be on the other side of the skateboard deck.) SNAP the skewer close to the second wheel. Repeat process for the other axle and wheels.
    • Be sure to adjust the wheels to make sure they do not rub against the deck.

Adding the skater

  • To add the skateer, cut around the character making sure to leave a ¼”- ½” tab at the bottom. Make a 90o fold in the tab and secure onto the skateboard using glue or tape.

To Play:

Create a ramp using boards, books, or boxes. See how far you can get your skateboard to go. Challenge friends and family!




Ball-n-Cup Game

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning

• Single serving plastic yogurt cup, clean
• Length of string or yarn
• Hole punch
• Aluminum foil (6-inches x 6-inches)

To make:
• Punch a hole in the side of the plastic yogurt cup
• Thread string/yarn through the hole in the cup and with one end of the string/yarn secure with a knot.
• Place the other end in the middle of the square of foil. Crumple foil to form a ball. The ball can be rolled on a flat surface to make it smoother.
o If using a wooden bead, thread the other end of the string/yarn through the bead; secure with a knot.

To play:
Hold the cup in one hand, letting the ball on the string dangle below. Using only the hand holding the cup, flip the ball up and into the cup. Find the best strategy for getting the ball into the cup every time.

Springtime Number Hunt

HAPPY SPRING!  Celebrate spring with a family walk. Enjoy the colors and sounds as they unfold with the increasingly warmer weather. As you walk challenge one another to a Number Hunt. As the saying goes, “The family that plays together, stays together.”


Number Hunt can be played anywhere and it doesn’t require any additional supplies. To play, carefully look at your surroundings and find one of something. The first person to shout it out earns one point. For example, “I see one dog!” Next, look for two of something, such as “I see two brown birds at the feeder!” Now search for a quantity of three  … and so on. At the end of the walk the person who has earned the most points gets to choose the next game or activity.

A sister game to Number Hunt is Numeral Hunt. The object of this game is to find the numerals starting with zero or one, your choice.

National Tell a Fairy Tale Day Activity

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Albert Einstein

• Fronts of used greeting cards.

To Play:
Note: Please review the elements of a fairy tale before beginning play.

Version 1:
Place a stack of card fronts face down on the table. Each player selects three cards and creates a short fairy tale that incorporates elements from those cards. Players go around the table sharing their fairy tale.

Version 2:
Create a fairy tale cooperatively where by the first play turns over a card. Elements on the card must be used in the creation of the fairy tale. Players take turns going around the circle adding to the storyline. Play continues until the tale reaches a happy ending. Once this tale is complete, the next player turns over the second card and the tale telling begins all over again.

Version 3:
Create a fairy tale cooperatively whereby the first player turns over a card and starts the tale based an image from that card. The second player then flips over the next card and must continue the tale, but must incorporate an element from this new card. Play continues until cards run out or the tale reaches a happy ending.

Elements of a fairy tale:

·        A short story that highlights a problem that gets resolved … thus a happy ending.

·        Typically includes fantastical creatures and/or characters – both good and evil – such as elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, unicorns, or witches … but does not have to include fairies.

·        Typically includes elements of magic or enchantments. Note: magic may be positive or negative.

·        The tale is set in the past.

·        Often objects, people, or events appear in threes or sevens.

·        Usually teaches a lesson or highlights culturally important values.



Make Your Own Kazoo for National Kazoo Day

National Kazoo Day 2017 is Saturday, January 28.  This month’s “Playing from Scratch” is celebrating 165 years of kazoo playing in America with a guide to making a DIY kazoo!


Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.


  • 1 paper tube, 4 to 6 inches in length
  • Wax paper, 4-inch x 4-inch square
  • Rubber band
  • Hole punch


To make:

  • With the hole punch, begin by making a hole in one end of the toilet paper tube, approximately 2 inches from the end.
  • Place the 4-inch square of wax paper on top of one opening at the end of the paper tube. Making sure the wax paper is pulled taught, wrap the excess down along the length of the tube with one had. Secure the wax paper in place with the rubber band, doubling band if it is too loose. The tube should now be closed off on one end.
  • Make sure the wax paper is completely sealed with the rubber band.

 To play:

Place the open end of the kazoo to the mouth and hum into it.

El Gato Tag

El Gato


In honor of National Feral Cat Day (October 16th) and National Cat Day (October 29th) – El Gato!

El Gato is a tag game. And like most tag games, has a number of variations. Below are three versions of El Gato Tag.

Version 1:

One player is chosen or volunteers to be el raton (the mouse) and another is chosen or volunteers to be el gato (the cat). The remaining players form a circle around el raton and join hands to prevent el gato from sneaking in. If el gato gets into the circle, players lift their arms to allow el raton to escape and then quickly lower their arms to keep el gato inside the circle. At this point, el gato must now try to get back outside the circle. The in-and-out-of-circle chase continues until el raton is caught. Once el raton is caught a new el gato and el raton are chosen.

Version 2:

Players form a large circle. One player volunteers or is chosen to be el gato. El gato walks around the inside of the circle, stops in front of someone and asks: “Do you have bread and cheese?” When asked, the person says, “No” and points to someone else. As el gato turns and moves toward to that person around the outside of the circle, ALL of the players quickly exchange places. If the person who was pointed at is caught s/he becomes el gato. Or if el gato gets to that person’s place in the circle before it gets occupied, the one who is without a spot becomes el gato and the game begins again.

Version 3:

Players form a large circle. One player volunteers or is chosen to be el gato.  El gato walks around the inside of the circle, stops in front of someone and asks “Who has bread and cheese?” This person responds with, “My friend ____” giving the name of someone in the circle. Then BOTH the person being asked and el gato run to that friend. The last one to the friend is now el gato and the game begins again.



Quezada, F. (August, 2015) Interview.

Ramos, R. (n.d.) El Gato y El Raton. Retrieved on August 30, 2015 from

West. J.O. (1989) Mexican-American Folklore: Legends, Songs, Festivals, Proverbs, Crafts, Tales of Saints, Of Revolutionaries, and More. August House, Inc.: Little Rock AR