US Play Coalition Partners with Ithaca Children’s Garden for Play Symposium

We are thrilled to announce our northeastern regional play event!  The US Play Coalition is partnering with Ithaca Children’s Garden for their 2019 Play Symposium, Play for All: Equity, Access, and Inclusion, October 4-6 in Ithaca, New York.  The Ithaca Children’s Garden’s Play Symposium is a gathering for change-makers fostering a culture of play in their communities.

According to Stephanie Garst, executive director of the US Play Coalition, “This is a great opportunity for the US Play Coalition to collaborate with the Ithaca Children’s Garden this year.  Both of our upcoming educational events are themed around Play for All.  And we are thrilled that two of our favorite Play Conference presenters, Corliss Outley, Ph.D and Harrison Pinckney, IV, Ph.D., will give the opening keynote at the 2019 Play Symposium.”

Join us at Ithaca Children’s Garden for three days of sharing, discussion, and play, while learning from local initiatives and play leaders from across the US. Featuring panels, play observation, presentations, and more, Ithaca Children’s Garden Play Symposium is highly relevant for educators, parents, play professionals, parks and recreation staff, city administrators, and anyone passionate about children, education, the great outdoors, health, well-being, social justice, or play.

 

 

The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.


September 26th #WePlayChat: “How To Simplify the Messages of Play”

Farrah Zweig (left) serves as the co-founder/Director of programming at Student Fitness Experts and has been a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Physiologist for over 15 years.  She is also the physical education coach at a Los Angeles based private school. A graduate of San Diego State, she holds her bachelor’s in Kinesiology with an emphasis in fitness, nutrition, and health. Spending her initial years improving the health and fitness of adults and pre/post natal women, she turned her attention to youth fitness 10 years ago, after discovering a gap in opportunities for children to learn functional and applied movement skills. Her research interests focus on pediatric exercise science, movement and brain development, as well as physical literacy, play, and the social/emotional/behavioral connections with physical activity. Combining her education, experience, and joy of learning, Farrah has created a pathway to creating ideal learning environments for students that subsequently relate to benefits beyond the playing field. Please join us in welcoming Farrah to our chat!
Here are the questions Farrah will be covering during the #WePlayChat dialogue:
_________________________________________________________________________________
Q1. How are we delivering the messages around play and what is most effective?
Q2 . Which populations are being underserved when it comes to reaching every person with a message of play?
Q3. How do we take effective messaging and tweak, add, and improve it to reach more people, more often?
Q4. What are a few quick and easy ideas we can share with families and centers to help make their communities more active and playful?

#WePlayChat is our monthly Twitter chat for anyone seeking to gain knowledge around the wide open field of play. Launched in 2016, our #WePlayChat participants come from 9 countries, spanning 5 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY. #WePlayChat is the largest monthly Play based twitter chat in the world. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from across the globe.

 

We love sharing the voice of play on Twitter through our #WePlayChat.  We have our chats at different times on different days to get the most involvement across our membership.  You will not want to miss them! Tune in and to join in and contribute to the conversation around the value of play.


Meghan Talarowski Joins the
US Play Coalition Steering Committee

We are pleased to announce that Meghan Talarowski recently joined the US Play Coalition Steering Committee.  Our steering committee consists of 24 leaders from across industry, education and health, all committed to its mission to promote the value of play throughout life. Steering committee members contribute their expertise and insights for the current and future work of the US Play Coalition.

Meghan is founder and director of Studio Ludo, whose mission is building better play through research, design, and advocacy. She believes that play environments in the United States can, and should, be better. Meghan has degrees in architecture and landscape architecture, over fifteen years experience in the design field and is a certified playground safety inspector. Her research focuses on how the design of play environments impacts the physical health and social behavior of children and caregivers.

US Play Coalition Executive Director Stephanie Garst said she is thrilled to welcome Talarowski to the committee.

“Meghan is already a very active member of the Play Coalition, presenting numerous conference sessions (most recently as a keynote panelist!), guest moderating a #WePlayChat on Twitter on “Playable Infrastructure” last fall, and helping to promote the Play Conference to her landscape architect and architect colleagues across the country,” Garst said.

Recently Meghan presented at TEDxPhiladelphia on “Never Too Old to Play: Rethinking American Playgrounds.”  Check it out here!

According to Meghan, “The US Play Coalition brings together diverse people from around the world that are united by their love of play. With every conference and Twitter chat, they help us build a common vision of more playful communities and lives. I would not have found my tribe of likeminded play people without the US Play Coalition!”

 

The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.


2019 Summer PLAY Reading Review

This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources for your Summer Reading List!

PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!

Check out this summer’s PLAY reading recommendations that include books on outdoor play, loose parts play, education and play, the brain and play, and inclusive play:

 

Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, by Angela Hanscom

According to Heather Von Bank, “Hanscom’s book advocates for unstructured outdoors play and promotes it as the most optimal way for children to development healthy bodies, minds, and social skills.”  Read on…!

 

Playing it Up — With Loose Parts, Playpods, and Adventure Playgrounds, by Joan Almon

In August 2017, we published this book review below of Joan Almon’s then-new publication by Debora B. Wisneski, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska- Omaha) with Melany Spiehs and Carol Burk (Omaha Public Schools). As news of Joan’s passing continues to be on our heart, we wanted to include this as a special part of our Summer PLAY Reading Review series.

Upon learning of Joan’s death, Melany Spiehs, one of the co-authors of the review, shared this sentiment: “Joan was such an inspiration and her spirit must live on through us!”  Read the review…

 

 Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, by Deborah Rhea, Ed.D.

This is the new book by our favorite recess advocate Debbie Rhea. Debbie is famous (at least to us!) for her research findings that show that MORE RECESS leads to improved behavior and academic performance in the classroom. This book takes the reader to where it all began – a sabbatical in Finland.  Learn more…

 

Playful Intelligence, by Anthony DeBenedet, MD

It is a “Back to School” edition of our Summer PLAY reading reviews! Julie Padgett Jones reviews Playful Intelligence, the latest book from 2018 PLAYtalk-er Anthony DeBenedet, MD. As an educator of educators, Julie puts a teacher’s spin on the takeaways from this read! As she says it’s “Playful Intelligence… for teachers. Because playing is fun. And school should be.” Read more…

 

You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley

In this  book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”  Read the review…

 

What are some of YOUR favorite PLAY books and resources???!!
Send your suggestions to usplaycoalition@clemson.edu

 

The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is a partnership to promote the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, we are an international network of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. Our membership is diverse – including play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians, parents and more. Membership is free, and simply requires a declaration of shared commitment to the value of play. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.


Summer PLAY Reading Review:
You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play

Paley, Vivian Gussin.(1992) You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Every summer I teach a graduate course on “Play as a Learning Medium,” and I always recommend that the students read a book–any book– by Vivian Paley. I try to coax them into extra reading by adding that Paley’s books on play are great summer beach or back yard reads. From a graduate student’s point of view, Paley’s books of stories about children’s play in her classroom, seems simple and entertaining compared to their regular diet of scientific research articles and dense theoretical essays.  Yet, while Paley’s stories and reflections on children’s play may seem simple, once one begins reading her stories, one may find themselves reconsidering how they understand children, play, and even the world.

Of all of Paley’s books, my favorite is You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play because it challenges children and adults to rethink how we treat one another.  Paley shines a light on one of the more difficult aspects of free play in early childhood education settings—rejection of others.  Teachers can probably attest to the many times they have observed small groups of children excluding another child.  Or many adults may still feel the sting of rejection from their own memories of their childhood play when a classmate or peer said, “NO, you can’t play with us.”  As Paley acknowledges, “Too often, the same children are rejected year after year. The burden of being rejected falls on a few children. They are made to feel like strangers.” (p. 22)

Rather than accepting this behavior as “that’s just the way things are” or ‘we all must get used to rejection,” Paley calls such reasoning into question.  In the book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”

 

After observing the same children being excluded from play in her classroom by the same children who do the excluding, Paley recognized that if not interrupted children grow up thinking it is okay for others with more power to reject others. She asks her students,

“Is it fair for children in school to keep another child out of play?  After all, the classroom belongs to all of us. It is not a private place, like our homes.” p 16

In the book, Paley documents the children’s thoughts on this question from kindergarten to upper elementary.  Their thinking about play is quite revealing of human nature and sometimes difficult to hear coming from such young voices.  The children’s play is also documented and reveals how they learn to treat each other more kindly.  In the end, inclusion in play is not resolved by fixing the rejected individual but by a different way in which, “The group must change its attitudes and expectations toward those who, for whatever reason, are not yet part of the system.” (p 33).

Considering the current state of the world today where policies, systems, and rhetoric often dwell on labeling others and rejecting the powerless, the book You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play offers us an alternative way of being that is more inclusive and reminds us of the power of children’s play.

 

Vivian Gussin Paley is a former kindergarten teacher and a MacArthur Genius Award winner.  She is best known for her storytelling- story acting/play teaching technique and for her many books about the play and stories of the children. Other books she has authored over the years are Wally’s Stories, White Teacher, The Girl with the Brown Crayon, The Kindness of Children and A Child’s Work: The Importance of Play.  A great listener of children and an inspiration for many early childhood educators, Paley passed away this summer July 26, 2019.  “It shall be added to my headstone. ‘Here lies a schoolteacher in whose time ‘You can’t say you can’t play’ was put into rhyme.” (p. 73)

Debora Basler Wisneski, PhD, is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who discovered the joy of learning through play by using Paley’s storytelling/storyacting techniques. She is currently the John T. Langan Community Chair of Early Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska- Omaha and serves on the board of directors for The Association for the Study of Play.


August 28th #WePlayChat: Playful Advocacy In Communities

Join us on Wednesday, August 28 at 7:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Doug Smith, Adapted Physical Education teacher in Charlotte, to discuss the topic, “Playful Advocacy in Communities”.

Doug has been a Physical Education Teacher for past 20 years and is also a National Board certified teacher. He is currently an Adapted Physical Education Specialist in Charlotte, North Carolina. Doug has a blended his passion for play and education in a unique way throughout his career. He has led local play experiences and has helped provide grant capacity to bring new play equipment to his school https://vimeo.com/267631977. Doug has also been featured as a “Teacher Talker” breaking down the American Education system and how it relates to childhood health which you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AB2yUi4QF4.

Here are the questions Doug will be covering during the #WePlayChat dialogue:

Q1. How do you advocate for Play in a school or community?
Q2. How do you engage others in the community to play?
Q3. Have you ever organized a play event or gathering? What made it a success?
Q4. What are some strategies for building a playful community?

#WePlayChat is our monthly Twitter chat for anyone seeking to gain knowledge around the wide open field of play. Launched in 2016, our #WePlayChat participants come from 9 countries, spanning 5 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY. #WePlayChat is the largest monthly Play based twitter chat in the world. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from across the globe.

 

We love sharing the voice of play on Twitter through our #WePlayChat.  We have our chats at different times on different days to get the most involvement across our membership.  You will not want to miss them! Tune in and to join in and contribute to the conversation around the value of play.


Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Playful Intelligence …for Teachers

Playful Intelligence… for teachers.
Because playing is fun.
And school should be.

I first met Anthony T. DeBenedet at the 2018 US Play Coalition Conference in Clemson, SC. He was tasked with the role of keynote- slotted to speak just after the lunch hour. With an audience whose stomachs were full of turkey sandwiches, tomato soup, and one (or in my case, three) cookies, Dr. DeBenedet’s task was to inform and entertain. A tall order for a crowd in a food coma.

There were no fireworks.
There was no fanfare.
What did transpire was 20 minutes of endearing stories- a description of Dr. DeBenedet’s path to discovering the qualities of what would come to be called Playful Intelligence.

I felt myself leaning in.
Then leaning back.
Then leaning in again. Elbow on the table- against my Southern Belle upbringing- I was really listening.

I’ve attended many keynote addresses and listened to the hype of many fads, or what critics would call pop-psychology. As a long time educator, I am highly sensitive to these types of talks.

Refreshingly, this event was not what I feared.

Rather, Dr. DeBenedet spoke to the value of relationships- how he was able to study adult playfulness through genuine conversations with his patients. In his theory, DeBenedet extends the interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences– the knowledge of how playfulness can influence both our inner and outer selves. Of the more than 40 behavioral qualities linked to adult playfulness, DeBenedet found five that may best influence our adult lives.

Imagination

You might expect imagination to be associated here with artistic or musical expression. DeBenedet did too, but that’s not where he found it popping up. In his work, the quality of imagination in healthy adults manifested in the ability to psychologically reframe difficult situations. Not escaping our struggles, but rather viewing them differently- using imagination to problem-solve and cope. Imagination, when practiced through deep play and daydreaming, increases our capacity for empathy.

Imagination is also a quality that helps us move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. For example, take a moment to Google “the Einstellung Effect.” This study, which focused on identifying solution bias, showed participants solving a problem based on previous experience even when a better solution exists. Their mindsets were fixed based on the experiences they had been provided.

If we rely too much on our past experiences to solve a problem, we allow those neural connections to strengthen, thus limiting our ability to think creatively.  We use our thought-defaults and get stuck.  When we exercise our imaginations, we reframe problems, open our minds and look at the world a new way.

How many times as a teacher, do we do it the way it’s always been done because it worked one time in the past? Every class I’ve taught has been different and has required different things from us as educators. Teachers with a strong imagination are able to recognize opportunities to follow paths to new outcomes instead of relying on the same ol’ same ol’.

Sociability

Playful sociability includes the ability to reject a THEM vs. US mentality. Those with the quality of playful sociability see only WE.  Those who embody this trait have a strong sense of egalitarianism, built by the approach to social situations with humility and powerlessness. These people have a way of making everyone around them feel valued. They interact with authenticity, seeing others as humans rather than labels. Teachers who personify playful sociability reject stereotypes, loving their students first and teaching them second.

To truly educate, those with the trait of playful sociability, block labels and listen to student stories.
We must hear them.
We must listen.

These nuggets of authenticity are clues to their needs.

  • Do they need remediation?
  • Do they need challenge?
  • Do they need the connection of friendship?
  • Do they crave leadership roles?

In the medical field, listening is key to diagnosis. In the field of education, listening is key to meeting the needs of our students. In the end, we are all working on the diagnosis of how to be a better human.

In our path to diagnosis, we must beware of the trap of anchoring bias. When we place too much value on initial information (think- data, test scores, grades, last year’s teacher, first impressions), our brain starts anchoring. Once this occurs, it’s hard to adjust our thinking.

Teachers, don’t try to act like y’all don’t know about this… Mrs. Smith the fourth grade teacher runs down the hall at the beginning of every year to tell all the fifth grade teachers about the new batch of “precious kiddos” coming up. Sadly, she never has precious words to say because she just wants to rant about the ones she didn’t like.

Y’all… Shut that down.  Ain’t nothing playful about a gossiping teacher.

Humor

Because we recognize humor as laughter, it is the easiest characteristic of the playful mindset to spot. Insert, neuroscience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The area of the brain that controls laughter is the sub-cortex- the same area that controls breathing and muscle reflexes. The areas of the brain that light up when we experience joy are known as the ventral tegmental area. So, basically we’re looking at the bottom and the back. When we experience joy or laughter, the “pleasure chemical” dopamine pushes from those areas toward the front of the brain (the part responsible for judgment, creativity, and problem solving). Here’s the key. Are you ready? Joy, pleasure, creativity, and critical thinking are connected.

That’s not all.

Our brain’s connective, dendrite-firing awesomeness pairs an emotion with each learning experience. Educators have a choice: we have students potentially shut down from frustration, or we build strong connections by associating learning with positive emotions.

DeBenedet calls this effect resiliency- one of the main benefits of humor.

Another benefit of humor is human connection. The right kind of humor “says to others that it’s safe to explore, play, and nurture a relationship together.” When we use affiliative humor (the kind that puts others at ease, amuses, and improves relationships), we allow ourselves to drop personal walls and engage openly in conversations.

We already know that education is first about relationships, but now you can add humor to that list of essential elements in a successful classroom community.

Spontaneity

Spontaneity is the trait exhibited when we do unplanned things, outside of routine. The art of teaching uses spontaneity when we teach in the moment, when we use student questions to follow curiosities to their aha moments. Students trust us to let them explore, and spontaneity allows exploration to take the lead in classrooms.

There’s a science to spontaneity as well; it manifests itself in our day-to-day lives as psychological flexibility- the mental response to the unplanned and unpredictable.

You know those folks who get all bent out of sorts when they get a new student? When they are given a new paperwork task? When their carefully planned lesson goes off the rails? Those folks might need a little practice in rolling with it- in spontaneity.

I’d like to say I’m the kind of teacher who eases through disruptions, but in reality I feel a little scattered. It’s not that I don’t ease through- it’s that I can’t remember where I was before the phone rang, the visitor came, or where my dog-gone clipboard went. It’s like that old saying about lemons and lemonade, if we have the mindset of psychological flexibility- we don’t get rattled. Our students won’t worry what will set us off. We won’t take away recess because we’ve HAD IT! Or throw silent lunch around like glitter.  We breathe. We smile. We reassess, and we roll through.

How do we encourage spontaneity in our students? We can start by giving them opportunities to problem solve. Did someone in the back say PBL? (That’s project-based learning for those who might not know) Yeah, I heard you. Yes. Any kind of learning situation that’s messy and unpredictable (yes, like real life) will do it. Think about how often we ask students to imagine alternate solutions or reframe problems. In personality science, this is called “openness to experience.”

If we’re open, we’ll be spontaneous.
If we’re spontaneous, we have flexibility.
If we’re flexible, we give ourselves permission to create, have bold ideas, and craft new solutions.

Wonder

You might read this section title and think wonder is the same as curiosity here. While these two can be interchangeable as synonyms, the mindset for wonder here is different.

Curiosity spurs action, but the kind of wonder Dr. DeBenedet is referring to with wonder is the kind that stops you in your tracks. It’s awe. It’s that moment when time freezes and you appreciate the raw emotion in a moment.

Kids experience wonder all the time. They’ll pause to watch a woolly worm make its way up a tree. They’ll turn their heads to the side, mouth falling open as they experience the push and pull of magnetic forces.

The wonder can be seen on their faces.
We know it because their eyes light up.
There may be a grin.
There may be scrunched up eyebrows.
But there’s always a pause.

The pause is when the emotional experience occurs- it’s our brain allowing time to regroup and reflect. Wonder, on a neuropsychological level, is an emotion. I know what you’re thinking here- “Yes! This is great. I’m going to hook all my learners though wonder-ful experiences.” And I do want you to do just that, but if you start making lists of more hooks for tomorrow’s plans, you’ll be going about this wonder bit all wrong. Wonder is not the what of the experience- it’s the how.

The playful quality of wonder is more about focusing on how we perceive our environment than in what we’re seeing. If we keep going bigger and better, allowing our students to experience wonder through the grand and majestic, we’ll cause wonder inflation. Students may begin to depend on the “extra,” and their wonder threshold gets higher and higher.

So what do we do? Easy. We model for our students how we find wonder in the small things. Each experience, each lesson has an opportunity for wonder. Find it, whisper it to them. Your eyes are wide, your voice is low. They’re leaning in… do you see it? Wonder is contagious.

My favorite part

Perhaps my favorite part of DeBenedet’s book is the final chapter. There’s a story he tells that gave me pause. It’s of his encounter and lesson learned from a home visit to Eleanor Schapffer. Seems to me that many educators would benefit from a visit with Eleanor. The lesson you ask? Well, it’s summed up in this [edited] line from DeBenedet’s mentor:

“In the course of your training, you will learn every detail of what we do for [students]. Never forget the power of just being there with them.”

Isn’t that true for us all?

Dr. Julie Jones is the Director for Student Teaching in Converse College’s School of Education and Graduate Studies. She maintains an active research agenda with interests including instructional technology and validated instructional approaches, strategies, and assessments- always with a mix of creativity and play.

Follow her on Twitter @JuliePJones, and view her full curriculum vitae at www.juliepjones.com.


New, Updated “A Research-Based Case for Recess” is Now Available

A new, updated position paper “A Research-Based Case for Recess” is now available as a free download.  This paper made its first appearance in 2013 as something of a review of literature by Olga Jarrett, Ph.D.  Since then the paper has been used by play advocates across the country to support recess in schools and recess legislation at the state level. Six years later, a new version was needed to reflect the changing landscape of recess.

Dr. Jarrett said she “discovered hundreds of new articles on recess, many of them empirical studies showing the benefits of recess. Also, since 2013, more organizations have developed policies in support of recess and several states have mandated recess.”

The 2019 position paper was produced by the US Play Coalition in collaboration with American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (IPA/USA) and the Alliance for Childhood.

According to Stephanie Garst, executive director of the US Play Coalition and editor of the 2019 update, “Things are changing so rapidly that we had to just stop looking so that this latest edition could go to print in time for the new school year! It is as comprehensive as it can be and will surely be a great resource for educators, school administrators, childcare providers, parents and many others in our play community!

Collateral resources are coming soon. Until then, check out the full paper for FREE online at http://bit.ly/recess-paper


Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education

Imagine a country where people walk and bike habitually, laughter fills rooms, physical activity and play are viewed as a way of life, children are less stressed and more responsible, and educators are highly respected. Furthermore, it is a country that is an educational superpower, graduating an impressive 92% of students from the upper secondary school yearly.  Imagine a whole country having a great respect for the value of play and the need to implement multiple breaks daily in order to raise healthy, successful, and resilient citizens. Elementary aged students and their teachers go outside every hour of the school day for 15 minutes of unstructured play. This country is REAL!  This country is Finland!

In her new book  Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, Deborah Rhea, Ed.D., takes the reader along on her journey of a 6-week sabbatical to Finland to learn how Finnish people live, how the Finnish education system differs from the U.S., and what the U.S. can learn from Finland to better the lives of children and adults through unstructured play, character building, and quality time.

Rhea’s book compares the Finnish and American school systems, juxtaposing how the American education system has almost eliminated play from school schedules while play is a foundational element in Finnish schools. As a result, Finnish children are thriving while American children are suffocating. While not discounting the successes of the American school system, Rhea describes the current state of American schools as being too focused on quantity over quality, too test-oriented with too much sit-time in classrooms, and losing sight of the development of the whole child, which has led to “some of the most unhealthy and stressed-out children we have ever seen.”

The book opens with six life lessons from the Dr. Rhea’s many years of teaching, followed by 26 reflections, each offering a different learning topic.  The reader is shown how Finland operates and how adoptions of some of their practices could lead to a healthier and more playful America. Rhea’s background, coupled with her strong desire to improve the health of our nation, leads her to address the issues that are facing the American school system today.

Debbie Rhea thoughtfully details her schedule, which was designed to allow engagement with students and teachers from primary school through university, to gain a full understanding of the Finnish school day. She also consulted with top educational leaders, including the secretary of education and the former CIMO at Finland’s Ministry of Education.

Rhea outlines Finnish teacher preparation practices, with an emphasis on Physical Education teacher preparation, and highlights how respected the Finnish teachers are. She details how the Finns get outside to play, even in very cold weather conditions, and believe that two hours of active time each day, separate from exercise, is vital to overall health. She covers America’s obsession with competition and standardized testing vs. Finland’s focus on equality over excellence among younger children.

The book is sprinkled with personal touches, such as a breakdown of games like Nordic baseball and the difficulties surrounding being around a different language and culture. These personal touches create a relatable book and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the Finnish culture without overwhelming the reader.

Rhea challenges the reader to see the necessity for a mindset shift in the United States to value more than just a test score: to focus on children’s strengths instead of failures; to value being outdoors, playing and moving as keys to learning, especially during the long school day; and to consider character development as integral to children’s learning.

Debbie Rhea is trailblazing the educational world to create a healthier, more productive environment for children, teachers, and parents.  Her new book Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education is a valuable resource for schools, educators, parents, and anyone wanting to be a change agent in a school community.  If you want a book that captures the start of this educational movement and shows you how to get involved, this one’s for you!


Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Joan Almon’s Playing it Up

In August 2017, we published this book review below of Joan Almon’s then-new publication by Debora B. Wisneski, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska- Omaha) with Melany Spiehs and Carol Burk (Omaha Public Schools).  As news of Joan’s passing continues to be on our heart, we wanted to include this as a special part of our Summer PLAY Reading Review series.  

Upon learning of Joan’s death, Melany Spiehs, one of the co-authors of the review, shared this sentiment: “Joan was such an inspiration and her spirit must live on through us!”

 

Almon, J. (Ed.)(2017). Playing it up — With loose parts, playpods, and adventure playgrounds. Annapolis, MD: Alliance for Childhood.

Debora: In 2014 in Vancouver Canada, I was able to listen to the Canadian environmental activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki give an impassioned speech on the future. She was speaking of building a better world for our children’s future. Part of her presentation included her reminiscing of her involvement in the environmental movement. She recalled in her younger years feeling the need to fight- against policies harmful to the earth and against corporations who polluted. However, she had made a transition in her career from fighting to one of building. She came to the realization that when the powers- that-be would one day come to the realization that harming the earth is unsustainable, they would need to turn to those who know how to live in earth-friendly and sustainable ways. Thus, Cullis-Suzuki began to focus her efforts on creating a sustainable community where she lives and raises her family. In the process, she also came to the realization that the Utopia she dreamed of currently would not exist at a national or global level, but she discovered that there was a network of such communities that already existed around the world. These communities created a sort of web that spread across the globe that could stay connected though so far apart.

Cullis-Suzuki’s description of the state of her cause, reminded me of the plight of play in American schools and lives. It is easy to get discouraged when fighting against school policies and practices that hinder children’s play in education; however, I have become more hopeful when I have turned my attention to collaborating with others to build play spaces in schools and communities. While every city or school does not support play, there are many places and people around the world that are building play spaces. Joan Almon’s new book “Playing It Up- With Loose Parts, Play Pods, and Adventure Playgrounds” is a wonderful documentation of the work of play advocates and playworkers around the U.S. who are building play spaces and expanding our network of play communities. In Almon’s edited book each chapter is written by a play leader who describes in detail innovative ways play spaces are being designed and what materials are being organized and used in these spaces. The book opens with a ringing endorsement by Dr. Stuart Brown.

Melany: The first chapter begins with Almon describing the state of play in the U.S. and her concerns for children. She displays a deep respect for young children and her message is one of urgency but not hopelessness. Due to our current society filled with lawsuits, safety is a major concern in schools. She states, “Society’s fear of play, with its various physical and psychological risks, remains a major obstacle that needs to be overcome, or at least minimized, if children are to play freely again” (p. 3). Children use play to deal with stress and anxiety and with the decrease in play children are displaying an increase in obesity, depression, hyperactive disorders and autism. Yet, Almon trusts that children are naturally risk aware and a good at assessing risk and thus, advocates for loose parts, playpods and adventure playgrounds to support their play.

Debora: The second chapter, written by Rusty Keeler, offers a reflection of the state of free and risky play in the U.S. and his recognition that play is returning to the world of children. As he states, “The world is changing because we are consciously evolving it. We are consciously choosing to say “yes” to the play opportunities we believe children need” (p. 15) The following chapters are written by the play leaders from around the U.S. describing the unique aspects of their play spaces and providing evidence of this play evolution. Along with the stories, there are beautiful high quality photographs that make you want to be in these spaces and extensive biographies and websites of the contributors which is extremely important when we are striving to make connections within this movement. The first section of stories focuses on the process of starting up play projects and the practical details necessary for success. The second section highlights various examples of adventure playgrounds- the risky child-initiated wild spaces with loose parts and minimal adult intervention that were considered taboo in American culture. On these pages, these fantastic spaces come to life. The third section describes play pods in parks and schools- smaller outdoor spaces but with a multitude of recyclable and reused materials for building and pretend- changing how children play during traditional recesses. The fourth section illustrates the movement of bringing play back to nature. The book concludes with calls to advocate for play and essential lists of resources, play advocacy groups, and the principles of playwork- all the tools one could use to begin his or her own play project. And this is the real power of the book- it inspires one to action. It is contagious as two of our reviewers who are preschool teachers discovered. Here, they describe how Almon and her co-authors inspired action at their preschool and elementary school:

Melany: At Spring Lake (Elementary), we have an abandoned outdoor classroom on site. It is a large area blocked off by a chain link fence. Inside there are trees, small sheds and overgrown raised beds. The weeds have taken over and there has been no one to take care of the area since it closed down many years ago. I have had my eye on this space since I started at Spring Lake back in August. After talking to my team and my administrators I have been given permission to lead a resurrection of this outdoor classroom. Seeing Joan Almon’s photos of children playing in nature and reading the play stories encouraged me to take this leap of faith. She was that gentle nudge that I needed to be an advocate for outdoor play at my school.

Carol:
We read Joan’s book before we opened up our outdoor classroom. Her words about risk assessment helped us to remember that children are capable and can do their own assessment. It made for a more authentic experience for everyone. We noticed there was minimal re-directing from adults, almost no conflicts between children, and children resolving, negotiating, and compromising with each other.

Reviewers Carol Burk, Debora Wisneski, and Melany Spiehs

“Playing It Up” is available as a free download from Alliance for Childhood. We recommend this book as essential for the play movement today.