Reclaim Reality: Building Community and Sense of Self Through Play

A powerful hero lives among us that society often takes for granted. Play. 

Play is an experience that goes beyond a book or a device. Play takes many forms, and holds endless possibilities and latent power. 

However, the almighty and powerful digital media, where you can be transported anywhere in the world while hiding underneath your bed sheets, consumes our minds. Given the rise and societal dependence on the digital world, play has become increasingly essential. And for some reason we deny it—deny it in schools, deny it in work, deny it from day to day, because it is viewed as frivolous. Play is silenced before we can even understand its significance.

Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp devoted time to studying the value of play and the brain determining, “the function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”

Digital media implicates play as a threat. Why? The virtual world gives us permission to ret

reat, while providing the illusion of community. When that becomes the norm, play becomes counter intuitive.  The question is how to we reconcile the relationship of play with the virtual world? More importantly, 

how can children develop a sense of self when they are unable to challenge themselves to experience childhood through a less filtered lens. 

Play allows for discovery. Social interaction. And accountability. Anonymity defeats accountability in the virtual arena. Logic would suggest we must encourage play in all facets of development given the extensive research to support that. A beautiful thought. Let the fanfare begin. Alas, we retreat from schools yards and parks, narrowing the definition of play, framing moments rather than discovering them.  Moments of carefree laughter sprinkled throughout the day—a curious rather than an expected sight. 

What is the culprit? 

It is not entirely the fault of the evolving virtual world. 

Play is vulnerable. 

It removes barriers because it requires us to be present. Vulnerability can be scary. Our ideas, thoughts, humor, our pain, our insecurities are exposed face to face. Play encourages children to interact. Human interaction though is becoming less relevant with social media. It makes sense that children would shy away from play, when they have an alternative escape. It is suppressing our natural instinct to play. It may be easier, but not necessarily healthier or productive—more the reason for schools to promote the play, beyond the technological shackles.  Let’s compliment this virtual arena with the freedom of play.

Allowing children to be in playground, in a park, on a field, surrounded by boxes, creating art, building a fort, outdoors, indoors, exploring, wherever it may be, influences their intelligence. Collaboration and negotiating occur in times of play when children share ideas face to face. These skills naturally evolve when in an environment that promotes play. 

The question then becomes, do we want to live in a society where we eliminate social interaction? That goes against human nature. Who does the education system benefit when we deny our human need for social engagement? It may be easier to avoid people nowadays, but we cannot escape them. 

Play is at the core of development. It is pointless to build a home on foundation on quicksand. Let’s not allow the maturing brain to become the quicksand under what we expect to carry adulthood. Allow play to flourish. Allow play to provide balance. Let’s treat play with the respect it deserves and no longer take it for granted.

 

About The Author

​Greg is the Founder/Executive Director of Artcentricity Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit project based Arts Organization, geared towards child development. He is also an Author and US Play Ambassador. He currently resides in New York and has a strong passion for Visual and Performance Arts. Connect with Greg here.


July 24 #WePlayChat: “The Social and Emotional Benefits of Play”

Join us on Tuesday, July 24th at 7:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Tracy Lockwood, Owner of PLAY Education, to our #WePlayChat to discuss the topic, “The Social and Emotional Benefits of Play”.

Tracy Lockwood is a certified K-12 PE Teacher and has over 25 years of experience as an educator. Her teaching experience includes working with K-12 students in Alberta & Abu Dhabi. Tracy was employed as an Education Consultant for nearly 10 years where she facilitated hundreds of workshops for thousands of professionals at the local, provincial, national and international level. Her consulting role brought many opportunities to write, edit and review resources and curriculum for numerous organizations and government ministries. Tracy is a Master Trainer for the National Coaching Certification Program & DANCEPL3Y (dance-play). She has her Masters in Educational Leadership and has a passion for all things physical education, physical literacy and physical activity. Through her many years of teaching, coaching, and facilitating, she has discovered her greatest passion!  Today, Tracy runs a successful business, PLAY Education, and works with thousands of children, youth and adults every year around the world to empower and inspire them to move, laugh, connect, and smile, while learning new ways to be physically active and develop physical literacy.  Visit her website – www.playeducation.ca  Check out her new adventures on Twitter this Fall in Asia, where she and her husband will be living and working. Please join us in welcoming Tracy to our monthly #WePlayChat on Twitter. You can connect with her prior to the chat @PLAY_Educator.

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

1. What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and why is it important to be more intentional about teaching SEL skills?

2. When should we teach SEL skills? 

3. How can we teach SEL skills across multiple settings? 

4. What resources are available to support SEL through Play?


#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 8 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.  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.


#PlayTakeOver By Brian VanDongen: Summer Camp Gives Kids The Time They Need To Play

Play is crucial in a child’s physical, social, and emotional development.  But most of the year, kids don’t get enough time to play. Summer camp needs to be a time where children can play.

Threats to Play

There are two major threats to play. The first threat is the amount of time children spend being physically active is decreasing. Compared to previous generations, children now spend more time sitting than moving. Schools are adding classroom time at the expense of recess and physical education. There also have been large increases in screen time use in children. A National Institute of Health study 2016 reported that the average child spends approximately five to seven hours per day using a screen. This is nearly – or more than – double the amount of time children used screens according to a 2007 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study. An increase in sedentary time is a threat to play because most play requires movement and action.

A second threat to play is the lack opportunities for children to improvise or use their own resources for play. Parental concern for safety has led to an increase in the use of toys and games that have a directive nature because of the parental fear of letting children playing unsupervised. Many toys and games now come with a set of instructions or rules. This hinders creativity and the opportunity for free play. For example, if a child has a doll or action figure from a TV show, that toy has a pre-defined personality, story, and character. However, a generic doll or action figure has none, so the child is able to create his or her own story and character for the doll or action figure.

The Role of Play At Summer Camp

Because of the threats to play in a child’s life, play takes on a role of increased importance at summer camp. Camp allows children the time to play: while many activities at camp are organized and directed by the counselors, ample time for free play should be included in a daily summer camp schedule. Campers can create imaginative scenarios and explore together while the counselors either watch over them or actively engage in the child-driven play. Campers may ask their counselors to play a role in their scenario. Good camp counselors will take on that role and be fun!

Many parents are concerned – and rightfully so – about their child’s education and the lack of formal schooling during the summer months. However, free play is crucial to a child’s development. Higher levels of school adjustment, increased social development, and increased literacy skills are all benefits of free play. If children aren’t getting the amount of play they need during the school year,

While children’s opportunities for play and physical activity being reduced in their “normal” world, there needs to be ample time for play at summer camp so children can experience the benefits of free play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “it is a happy talent to know how to play.” This talent is crucial for child development, and every child should have the opportunity to acquire the talent to play. There are countless benefits of play; however, many can fall into four main categories: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive.

In today’s increasingly sedentary world, play and physical activity help children become physically fit. Children learn movement control, acquire body-spatial awareness, develop fine and gross motor skills and increase flexibility and balancing skills when they play. In addition, when children are involved in physical activity, they build stronger muscles and improve bone density, improve heart and lung function and prevent obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. Children who are physically active at a young age and enjoy that physical activity are more likely to become physically active adults.

The physical benefits of play are easily noticeable. However, there are internal benefits of play that are not so easily identified but that are crucial to a child’s development, such as emotional development. Play often times allows children to experiment with physical challenges – such as climbing and hanging; these opportunities encourages them to evaluate and take risks. By taking that risk and overcoming that challenge, children develop a sense of accomplishment, leading to higher self-confidence and self-esteem levels.

A key reason children look forward to play is the opportunity to spend time with their friends and the change to make new friends. These social interactions are important. In group play, children learn social roles and cultural rules and develop appropriate cooperation skills. Group play teaches children about real-life relationships; when children develop and test relationships, they learn self-control and negotiation skills. These skills help children prepare for a lifetime of interacting with others.

Experts agree that play is critical for a child’s brain development. In play, children develop language and reasoning skills. Play encourages independent thinking and problem solving abilities and often can improve a child’s focus. Children develop verbal skills, judgment and reasoning and creativity.

We are the adults we become because of our play experiences as children and the skills we learn when we play.

Good summer camps offer children to opportunity to play. Because at camp, and with play, children grow, explore, learn, and have fun – all without even realizing it.

 

About the Author

Brian VanDongen is a parks and recreation professional in Hillsborough Township (N.J.).  He has extensive experience working in parks and recreation and an educational background in Excercise Science and Physical Education as well as in Sport and Exercise Psychology.  Brian is a play ambassador for the US Play Coalition.  Check out his blog “The First Quarter.”

 

*Photo of children playing on bars courtesy of Brian VanDongen


Benefits of Roughhousing
(Rough and Tumble) Play

“Play is so integral to childhood that a child who does not have the opportunities to play is cut off from a major portion of childhood.” — Musselwhite

In recent years, roughhousing, or rough-and-tumble play has fallen out of favour. Rough-and-tumble play is when children climb over each other, wrestle, roll around and even pretend to fight. Often termed play-fighting it differentiates itself from real fighting, even if it looks aggressive, as there are visible displays of fun, smiling and laughing. I used to play wrestle with my brother all the time in my youth, it was so much fun!

Its reduction over time as a kid’s pastime has been blamed for everything from increasing levels of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) [2] to higher incidents of accidents during school playtime (recess).

This is a trend that by attempting to reduce risk in daily activities outlaws many types of adventurous play; for example, according to Dame Fiona Reynolds, master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, children are three times more likely to end up in the hospital now because they have fallen out of bed rather than out of a tree. 

THE RESEARCH
A wave of books and medical research papers are helping to publicize the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of roughhousing.

One book on this subject is The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence Cohen PhD. In it, the authors describe at least six different benefits of rough-and-tumble play for kids. First and most obviously, there is the physical aspect of roughhousing. These days, just about everyone knows that kids should be getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, although government recommendations tell us it should be far more activity for kids. A little rough-and-tumble play is one easy way to accomplish more movement minutes in our day. What better way to blow off a little extra energy than by chasing someone around the house or having a fake wrestling match in the middle of the living room. Even better, of course, why not take it outdoors?

Try some rough and tumble play…

 

NOT JUST PHYSICAL
The benefits of roughhousing extend well beyond just the physical. It can also lead to heightened social and emotional intelligence too. For one, kids can learn to differentiate between different facial expressions and body language. However, they also learn about taking turns and cooperation. Often, small groups of kids roughhousing together on the playground will divide themselves into teams to accomplish a particular goal, and that’s all about teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. It has also been suggested that play opens emotional pathways for the epigenetic construction of the social brain, [1] indeed a third of 1,200 brain genes evaluated by Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics at Northwestern University are shown to be significantly modified within an hour of a 30-min play session. [5]

Some researchers have also indicated that rough and tumble play builds moral and ethical character. Work by Stuart Brown demonstrates that kids with few opportunity for play are more likely to become anti-social and exhibit criminal behaviour when older. [4] This is where adults can play a huge role, since they can teach kids about safety, about looking after those who are weaker, and about using one’s strength in ethical ways. From an evolutionary perspective, it appears that roughhousing might have been an early way for members of a particular tribe to build bonds with each other and establish their overall likeability.

Perhaps the real overlooked benefit of rough-and-tumble play, though, concerns the mental and cognitive benefits. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, the authors of “Wild Justice”, have suggested that the unpredictable nature of roughhousing increases the number of connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex. This leads to improved cognitive performance, similar to the effects of dancing. Moreover, some neuroscientists have suggested that rough-and-tumble play increases the brain’s level of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This mysterious-sounding chemical is responsible for memory, logic and advanced cognitive skills, so the more, the better.

NOT JUST FOR THE KIDS
Of course, there are obvious benefits for adults who engage in roughhousing with their kids. Primal Play also encourages this in adult-to-adult games of movement too, why should kids have all the fun? Many adults lead mostly sedentary lives (i.e. sitting all day at the office and then all evening on the couch), so roughhousing encourages them to increase their activity level in a way that lets off some steam. Also, all of that physical activity can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. There’s nothing quite like shrieks of laughter from your kids to make other financial or social difficulties melt into the background. Try playing the Primal Play game Shoulder Barge with a friend and have some fun!

“When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.”
— DeBenedet and Cohen

As long as roughhousing follows basic safety rules and doesn’t take place too close to bedtime (when the body should be winding down), it can have significant benefits for both kids and adults. The good news is that the pendulum might finally be shifting back in favor of roughhousing and rough-and-tumble behavior.

 

About the Author

Darryl Edwards, is a Movement Coach, Natural Lifestyle Educator, nutritionist and creator of the Primal Play Method™. Darryl developed the Primal Play methodology to inspire others to make activity fun while getting healthier, fitter and stronger in the process.

Darryl is the owner of Fitness Explorer Training and author of several books including Paleo Fitness and Paleo from A to Z.  His work has been published in titles such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Elle Magazine, Men’s Fitness and featured on the BBC documentaries Eat to Live Forever and Doctor In The House.  His latest book, Animal Moves, is available now!

 

REFERENCES

[1] Panksepp J., “Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions.” New York: Oxford University Press; 1998a.
[2] Panksepp J., “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, psychostimulants and intolerance of childhood playfulness: A tragedy in the making?” Current Directions in Psychological Science. 1998b;7:91–98.
[3] Panksepp J., “The long-term psychobiological consequences of infant emotions: Prescriptions for the twenty-first century.”, Infant Mental Health Journal. 2001;22:132–173.
[4] Brown, S., “Play as an organizing principle: clinical evidence and personal observations. Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives.”, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge: 1998. pp. 242–251
[5] Jaak Panksepp et al., “A novel NMDA receptor glycine-site partial agonist, GLYX-13, has therapeutic potential for the treatment of autism,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.06.006.


June 27 #WePlayChat:
“Playful and Paleo”

Join us Wednesday, June 27 at 12:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Ashleigh VanHouten from Paleo Magazine to our #WePlayChat to discuss the topic, “Playful and Paleo.”

Ashleigh VanHouten is a writer, editor, Primal Health Coach, and host of Paleo Magazine Radio. She divides her time between Ottawa, Canada and New York City, and when she’s not reading about or interviewing authorities on health, fitness, and wellness, she’s working on personal goals like jujitsu and convincing her friends to eat organic meat. Learn more about Paleo Magazine and her podcast at paleomagonline.com; or, connect with Ashleigh on Instagram @themusclemaven or at ashleighvanhouten.com. Please join us in welcoming Ashleigh to our monthly #WePlayChat on Twitter.

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

1. What do the words, “Primal” and “Paleo” mean and how do they relate to play?

2. Why should play be considered as “paleo” or “primal”?
 
3. What are some great paleo/primal/playful activities anyone can try to positively effect your health?
 
4. What other ways can Paleo relate to Play?
5. Where can our followers go to learn more about paleo lifestyle, primal movement and play?

#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 8 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.  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.


Paleo Promotes Play – “Don’t Ever Stop Playing”

Paleo Magazine, one of our 2018 Conference on the Value of Play sponsors, wants our readers to know that Paleo is more than just a diet!  In fact, they believe there are three equally important components that make up the Paleo lifestyle as shown in this graphic.  Do you see what is on the exercise list?!  PLAY!

Read on to learn what Paleo Magazine says about PLAY!

“When it comes to maintaining health, exercise is optional, but movement is essential.”— Frank Forencich, The Art Is Long

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”— George Bernard Shaw

Many of today’s health problems exist because our daily physical-activity patterns are completely different from those we were designed to perform. Americans spend over 90 percent of their time indoors (this includes enclosed buildings and vehicles). As a result, we are exposed to more pollutants than ever before, and many of us are lacking much-needed vitamin D.

We know it’s vital for our health to spend time outside, but once outdoors it is even more beneficial for us to play—to move. Playing outside and embracing our inner child has been shown to do wonders for our mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Think of playing outside as movement paired with fun. Play is different from exercising or working out, activities where the goal is to achieve specific fitness benchmarks. You can enjoy outdoor play with friends and family, adults and children, and of course pets. Playing includes activities like hide-and-seek, tag, Frisbee, catch, racing, tag, dancing, bicycling, and any type of movement that makes you laugh and feel like a kid again.

The natural environments of our ancestors enabled a variety of outdoor physical activities—our ancestors led a very active lifestyle without the constraints we face today. Thankfully, we can optimize gene expression and establish the health that was enjoyed by hunter-gathers by engaging in daily physical activity.

Physical activity can help you sleep better, feel happier, and reduce stress, among many other benefits. So don’t be ashamed of heading outside to engage in activities you loved as a child with family and friends—the research has your back!

Healing Power

Playing outdoors makes healing even more enjoyable. According to Harvard Health Publications and several studies, being immersed in Mother Nature helps us heal—both physically and emotionally. Research shows that people recovering from spinal surgery experience less pain and stress, and take fewer pain medications, when they spend time outdoors. Play can also:

  • Help clear up acne, psoriasis, eczema, and jaundice.
  • Reduce the need for pain medication in patients who have undergone surgery.
  • Help older adults sleep better and experience less pain and less functional decline with respect to daily activities.
  • Improve mental well-being.

Benefits for Sleep

Research shows that physical activity improves our sleep:

  • 150 minutes of playtime per week (about 20 minutes a day) can improve adults’ sleep performance by 65 percent.
  • Playing outside can help improve the quality of our sleep.
  • Spending time outdoors in natural light shifts the cycle of our sleep hormones, which helps us to go to sleep and wake up earlier, and feel less groggy upon waking up.

Effects on Mood and Self-Esteem

Having had once been children, we know that playing outside is fun. And the evidence has taught us that the combination of social and physical activity can bolster our mental health and sense of self. Spontaneous play, which encourages much-needed face-to-face socialization, provides us with happy moments and wonderful memories.

The positive effects of playing outdoors on mood include:

  • Reduced aggression and violence—physical activity is useful for redirecting and dissipating stress-fueled aggressive energy
  • Playing outdoors allows us to engage in social activities that have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Play leads to laughter, which offers its own health benefits—laughter relaxes your muscles, reduces pain and stress, improves circulation, and enhances your immune system.

Effects on Focus and Creativity

  • Walking outside is linked to improved focus and creativity.
  • Playtime allows children and adults to explore new ideas and express their imaginations.
  • ADHD has been referred to by experts as a “nature-deficit disorder,” whose onset might be linked to us spending less time outdoors.
  • Research has shown that children are more focused on their schoolwork after recess.

How to Play

It seems like a simple question: How do we play? But many of us have lost our natural instinct for unstructured outdoor physical activity. Here are some tips and ideas for rekindling your ability to play:

  • Think like a kid. Let your inner child be your guide.
  • Take your children outside and follow them around. Do what they do. Let them inspire you.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Go for a hike, and feel free to venture from the beaten path from time to time.
  • Organize a group sport, like soccer, frisbee golf, or touch football.
  • Play tag.
  • Race, but don’t concern yourself so much with winning.
  • In the winter, go sledding, and when you get to the bottom, walk back up the hill.
  • Play fetch with your pets.
  • Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do.

Grounding

When was the last time you spent a day barefoot at the beach and felt bad about it? Never? There’s a reason: When we walk (and play) outdoors barefoot, walking across grass, mud, or sand, we are taking part in an activity that is referred to as “grounding” or “earthing.”

Earth carries a huge negative charge, which can provide us with an excellent supply of electrons that are antioxidant-rich and have the ability to destroy free radicals (too many free radicals causes oxidative stress in our body and leads to disease). You actually absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet when your bare feet are on the ground—that is, dirt or grass, not concrete or asphalt.

The benefits of grounding include:

  • Rich source of antioxidants
  • Pain relief
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress on your body
  • Helps repair effects of radiation from cell phones, computers, etc.
  • Calms your sympathetic nervous system—supporting heart-rate variability
  • Supporting heart-rate variability in turn supports homeostasis (balance) in your autonomic nervous system

Moving Beyond Play

At some point in your fitness journey you may decide you want to add more complex movements to your daily routine. Play—with its hormonal benefits and emphasis on connecting with nature and other people—will of course continue being an important component for achieving physical and mental well-being. Play after all is the most basic, and only truly, necessary form of regular physical activity for overall wellness.

Lifting weights, sprinting, engaging in high-intensity interval workouts—these are all effective ways to take your physical fitness to the next level. Though for some the jump can seem intimidating. So start slowly. And no matter what other physical exercise you decide to incorporate into your Paleo lifestyle, DON’T EVER STOP PLAYING.

 

Excerpted from Go Paleo by Paleo Magazine


May 29 #WePlayChat on Twitter:
“The Play Effect in Education”

Join us Tuesday, May 29 at 8:00pm EST as we welcome Jed Dearybury to our #WePlayChat to discuss, “The Play Effect in Education.

Jed Dearybury is 16 year veteran of education in the early childhood classroom in South Carolina, and currently Director of Professional Development & Communications for the Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA). During his classroom tenure, Jed received numerous awards. He was featured in GQ Magazine as Male Leader of the Year, met President Obama as the SC winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and was named as a top 5 finalist for South Carolina Teacher of the Year because of his passion, love, and success in education. He eagerly seeks to promote public education in South Carolina and beyond. His goal: Equip, Encourage, Empower the teaching profession using creativity, laughter, and sparkle.

Here are the chat questions that will guide our conversation:

1. What are the most common myths you have learned about play in education? 
2. Can you share specific examples of  how you use play in your classroom and its effect on learning?
3. How can you learn about what types of play your students and children are interested in?
4. What is “your face of play” and how does it affect your daily life and your area of work?

 

#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 8 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.  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 monthly #WePlayChat.  We have our chats at different times on different days each month to get the most involvement across our membership.  You will not want to miss them! Tune in and to join in to contribute to the conversation around the value of play.

Reflections on the 2018 Keynote Panel, “The Implications of Race on Play for Youth of Color”

A year ago, I shared an e-mail to a professional listserv with the subject heading, “The State of Play for Black Youth”. This message was a direct response to a Grand Rapids, Michigan police officer’s body camera footage. As a quick recap, five black boys (ages 12-14) were forced to lie on the ground a gunpoint while returning home from playing basketball at the local Kroc Center. These boys fearful for their lives were loudly sobbing in the video and repeating “I don’t want to die, bro”. These youth had not committed any crimes and when parents arrived the officer stated their sons were “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

One result of the e-mail was an invitation to provide a keynote presentation at the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play. On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, I along with three colleagues discussed the impact of Race on the play of black youth. To set the stage, the discussion began by exploring some of the benefits of play such as opportunities to learn about roles, boundaries, and expectations. Contemporary examples were provided including the portrayal of “black”-voiced characters Skids and Mudflap in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the original lyrics to the popular nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,
Catch a n***r by his toe,
If he won’t work then let him go;
Skidum, skidee, skidoo.

Altogether these examples, raised the question what lessons do black youth learn through play? Equally important is, how did we get here? The panel methodically addressed these two questions.

Dr. Rasul Mowatt (Indiana University) began by providing a historical perspective of what play has meant for youth of color in the United States. Among the multiple examples presented was “The Kissing Case” which took place in Monroe, NC in 1958. While playing at the local playground, Sissy Marcus (a white girl) kissed 9-year-old James Thompson and 7-year old David Simpson on their cheeks. Both boys were African American. Sissy’s mom became upset when she heard about the “game” the kids had played. As a result, the two boys were arrested, held for six days without seeing their parents, beaten during the while in police custody, charged with molestation, and sentenced to reform school until they were 21. The governor of North Carolina pardoned the boys after they spent three months in detention. Reflecting on this incident, James’ sister, Brenda Lee Graham said…

“it was like seeing somebody different, that you didn’t even know. He never talked about what he went through there. But ever since then, his mind just hadn’t been the same.”

James also reflecting on the impact this incident had on his childhood said…

“I always sit around and I wonder, if this hadn’t happened to me, you know, what could I have turned out to be? Could I have been a doctor? Could I have went off to some college, or some great school? It just destroyed our life.”

Dr. Myron Floyd (North Carolina State University) shifted the attention towards the racialization of landscapes and outdoor play. Referring to a paper by Inwood & Yarbrough (2010), he began by arguing that racialized landscapes:

  • Define and reinforce racial hierarchies
  • Facilitate domination and exploitation

Examples were presented to show that public spaces such as state and federal parks, transportation, and housing were legally segregated in both the North and South. The segregation of private and commercial spaces such as movie theaters and resorts were also highlighted. A key statistic presented is that in 1921 only 13% of playgrounds in the US were open to Black children (Murphy, 1974). After providing a pre-Civil Rights overview, Dr. Floyd offered the question, “How much progress have we made?” Relying on data from the 2010 US Census and other national surveys, he presented evidence that communities across the US continue to lack racial and ethnic diversity. He also pointed out that black and Latinx families are significantly more likely to have no access to recreation facilities or open space as a result of these segregated communities. Of equal importance is that these families are also less likely to view their neighborhoods as safe. Limited recreation space coupled with perceptions of safety, restricts the play opportunities of black and Latinx youth. In short, little progress has been made.

Dr. Corliss Outley (Texas A&M University) closed the discussion by pointing our attention to the loss of childhood that black youth, in particular, experience as a result of their racial status. After sharing the video of aforementioned Grand Rapids, Michigan incident, Dr. Outley emphasized the importance and benefits of play in childhood including…

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

Attention was then turned to understanding how these and other opportunities are curbed for black youth. The differences in play opportunities was attributed to black youth being stereotyped as more violent, sexually aware, and guilty than white youth. Dr. Outley showed that these perceptions, directly led to negative consequences for black youth in the education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. In each of these institutions, black youth are more likely to receive the harshest consequences for negative behaviors (education and juvenile justice) and less likely to be adopted by families (foster care). While the initial claim was that there’s a loss of innocence for black youth, examples such as the story of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis were provided to show that for being black could lead to loss of life for some youth.

For the members of the panel, this was a special time of sharing. First, we appreciated Stephanie Garst and the US Play Coalition providing a space and audience for such an important discussion. The state of play for black youth is often discussed in local community meetings, school board hearings, and church gatherings; but rarely is an opportunity afforded to carry this conversation to individuals and groups outside of the community. Secondly, this panel is the only time that any of the panel members can recall witnessing or serving on a panel of all black faculty in the parks, recreation and tourism discipline. That in itself holds a level of significance for each of us.

This panel never intended to provide solutions about how to address the needs of black youth. Instead it was designed to begin the conversation. Based on the Q&A period that followed along with inquiries and comments received after the session, we believe we were successful in our aims.


Outstanding Play Researcher and Practitioner Awards Announced at 2018 Play Conference

The U.S. Play Coalition is proud to introduce its 2018 PLAY award recipients, announced at the Celebration Gala of the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play.  Established in 2017, the awards program recognizes outstanding play researchers and youth practitioners.  The winners not only receive a physical award, but also have conference fees paid, hotel accommodations and up to $500 in travel to attend the Play Conference.

Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research

The 2018 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research was presented to Dr. Olga Jarrett is Professor Emerita of early childhood/science education at Georgia State University, evaluator of an NSF project in Belize, and a past president of The Association for the Study of Play and the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.

The award, named for Joe L. Frost, the contemporary father of play advocacy, recognizes a body of exceptional research that has enhanced and expanded the study of play. Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the coalition’s beginning in 2009.

When Joe Frost himself learned of the selection committee’s choice, he wrote, “The committee has made a GREAT CHOICE. Olga is a great teacher, researcher and friend.”

Dr. Jarrett’s nominator said this in his nomination:

Dr. Jarrett has a 25-year career devoted to play advocacy and play research.  Much of her research has focused on play deprivation and its effect on economically deprived and minority children.  Using her research as support, she initiated and helped to draft legislation in Georgia that would make playtime and recess mandatory for all school children.  Her research has shown that poor and minority children are more likely to be play deprived than more advantaged children.  Dr. Jarrett has supervised many doctoral students who have conducted play research and who also have been involved in play advocacy.  Dr. Jarrett has also extended her advocacy internationally.

YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award

The U.S. Play Coalition also teamed with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute to present the Youth Development Practitioner Award. The award recognizes outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

“There are many deserving practitioners across the nation, and our goal is to bring recognition to this field of service,” said Stephen Lance, executive director of the Youth Learning Institute.

The 2018 YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award recipient is Pat Rumbaugh, a play advocate and co-founder of Let’s Play America. She is known as “The Play Lady”, has for more than 10 years, been an advocate, author, and participant in play activities for youth and the young at heart. Pat has made youth development and play her life’s work, from the time she began her career as a physical education teacher to now as she provides multiple avenues for youth to grow in their play lives, but also, hone valuable business skills, learning advocacy and community involvement from one of the best.  She also wrote a children’s book called, “Let’s Play at the Playground,” which encourages children to choose outdoor play and sparks their imagination while looking at the full page photographs.


April 26 #WePlayChat: “Reflecting On The Many Faces of Play”

Join us Thursday, April 26 at 12:00pm EST for our post-conference #WePlayChat, “Reflecting on The Many Faces of Play.”  Learn about some of the big ideas, the big learning, the big fun…and give input on our plans for the 10th anniversary conference in 2019!

Here are the chat questions that will guide our conversation:

1. What resonated with you the most from #PlayConf18? Can you provide specific examples?
2. What have you changed in your practice of supporting play as a result of #PlayConf18?
3. What was one unique story you want to share from #PlayConf18?
4. How can #PlayConf19 be even better as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary? 

 

#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 8 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.  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 monthly #WePlayChat.  We have our chats at different times on different days each month to get the most involvement across our membership.  You will not want to miss them! Tune in and to join in to contribute to the conversation around the value of play.