by Greg Harrison, CMO, Playworld

Children of all ages benefit from play, especially those five years of age and under. Yet societal pressures driven toward academic achievement have stripped away many of the meaningful play experiences for preschoolers. And we aren’t the only ones taking notice. In recent months, early childhood education has been making headlines around the country. From New York City’s move to universal pre-k to parents protesting the removal of recess, what is and isn’t happening during the school day is a major concern among parents and educators.
In 2015, much of the curriculum driving early childhood programs is intentional in nature and directed by adults, marginalizing play as a nice to have luxury. However, play offers an educational way of exploring the world and preschoolers benefit. Research proves this time and time again. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play has a crucial role in the optimal growth, learning, and development of children from infancy through adolescence.

While the number of studies validating play as an essential part of early childhood development is up, the average amount of time actually spent playing outside is dramatically down. Just 30 years ago, 40 percent of a typical day in preschool was devoted to child-initiated play, compared with 25 percent today. Another study by the Seattle Children’s Research found that nearly half of preschoolers in a sample representing four million U.S. children did not have even one adult-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day. The depletion of play in young children has reached epidemic proportions.

It’s worth stating again that play is not a luxury, it’s a necessity for preschoolers. Research proves it. Many leading educators support it. We need to stand up for play for those just learning to stand on their own. Through play, physical, social and sensory skills are fostered. It’s how preschoolers experience the world.

It’s time to make play a fundamental building block to early childhood education. How are you working to save play for young children?

The 2015 Conference on the Value of Play: Advancing Play was one for the record books!

Record registration, record snow, record memories!

Click on the Tiger for photo highlights from the Play Conference

Neither an ice storm nor a lack of power kept the 2015 Conference on the Value of Play from its laser-focus on promoting the importance of play in everyday life! The Feb. 15-18 conference, which drew play researchers and advocates from across the world, featured the unveiling of research touting recess as an essential activity that enhances children’s health, development and capacity to learn, as well as the debut of Play Pulse, a quarterly publication on play research, information and advocacy. ADD/HD expert Kevin Ross Emery and renowned psychology author Peter Gray served as keynote speakers, and the conference also included a variety of lectures, sessions and panel discussions as well as a luncheon address by Clemson First Lady Beth Clements.

Two New Publications Launched at 2015 Play Conference

We launched two amazing new pubs from the US Play Coalition – a new white paper “The Critical Place of Play in Education” and the first ever “Play Pulse.”

The white paper is a research collaboration between the US Play Coalition and the Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI) written by Dolores A. Stegelin (Clemson University), Kathleen Fite (Texas State University) and Debora Wisneski (University of Nebraska-Omaha).

The Play Pulse, an initiative headed by Ellen O’Sullivan, will be a regular publication providing the latest research, information and action steps regarding the incorporation of play into everyday life.  The publication names above are linked to the full documents online.  They are also on our webpage under resources (and currently linked on the homepage!).  Please spread these good works to your colleagues around the globe!


Grant funding is a distinctive feature of our annual Conference on the Value of Play, and we are proud to have awarded $35,000 in funding to date.   At the 2015 Conference on the Value of Play: Advancing Play, the new grant winners were announced.  A $3,000 research seed grant is awarded to researchers who present empirical research at the Conference on the Value of Play to support new, innovative and thoughtful work on the value of play.  This is seed funding in support of longitudinal or future research in diverse topics related to play, and grant recipients’ work reflects great potential for expanding knowledge in the field.

The 2015 Research Seed Grant was awarded to Richard Christiana, Joy James and Rebecca Battista for their project, “Creating Community Awareness through Prescribing Outdoor Play for Children.”

Research Seed Grant Winners Richard Christiana and Joy James with US Play Coalition Co-Chair Brett Wright

In addition to the research grant, $1000 action grants are awarded to support creative and innovative proposals to engage groups in play or to educate about the value of play. Ideas include hosting a play day, engaging more people in preexisting programs, or a whole new idea.

There were two projects that each received a 2015 Action Grant:

  • Play at the Core: the Importance of Play-Based Practices in Early Education, a Mixed-Methods Approach — Emily Rea, Jared Carroll, Jacob Gomez, and Sanam Jain
  • Providing Appropriate Play Experiences for Children with Autism — Rebecca Woodard and Zach Burt
Seniz Yargici Lennes, 2015 Action Grant Winner Sanam Jain, Fran Mainella, 2015 Action Grant Winner Emily Rea, and Doug Youngblood
Seniz Yargici Lennes, Fran Mainella, 2015 Action Grant Winners Rebecca Woodard and Zach Burt, and Doug Youngblood

Fetch It

Once again this year, Sundance, my Labrador, offered to do the “Playing from Scratch” activity for the upcoming month while I was at the Value of Play Conference.  Being the retriever that he is, this activity is one of his favorites and thus he had to share.  Thank you Sundance for your assistance with this month’s activity.

Supplies: duct tape, two cardboard tubes from trouser hangers

To make: put the cardboard tubes side by side. Wrap tightly with duct tape.

To Play: Tell the human you need to go outside. On the way outside, pick up the fetch toy.  When outside, drop the toy by the human’s feet, run a few yards, turn to look at the human, and smile.  Hopefully the human will understand, pick up the fetch toy, and throw it.  From here you know what to do.


pics for guest blog

Elements of PLAY in American History: Did you know? The average American was introduced to the concept of kindergarten at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition and World’s Fair in Philadelphia?

By Guest Blogger Stacey Swigart, Curator, Please Touch Museum

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”  -Friedrich Froebel

The Women’s Committee of the Centennial sponsored the kindergarten and wanted to introduce people to the concepts that had been developed by Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel (1782-1852) in Germany. Froebel’s ideas centered around three forms of learning including knowledge of forms of life (gardening, caring for animals, domestic tasks); knowledge of forms of beauty (design, color, movement, shape, harmonies); and knowledge of forms of mathematics (geometric forms/relationships). A trained teacher provided the guidance for children’s play through special materials, called ‘gifts.’ The gifts were wooden blocks, geometric shapes, balls of yarn and other to facilitate play and learning. Additionally, there were ‘occupations’ –handwork that was part of the kindergarten curriculum including beading, threading, folding, molding and embroidery.

In 1876 in Philadelphia, a small cottage was constructed dedicated to the Froebel system of education. The Kindergarten building was situated a few yards northeast of the Women’s Pavilion.  It was a one-story Gothic style cottage that was thirty-five feet high by eighteen feet wide, built of pine and polished and varnished to a “fine hue”. Inside, the building consisted of a main hall, with an alcove for spectators.

Sixteen (some sources say eighteen) children from the Northern Home for Friendless Children in Philadelphia were brought every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM to demonstrate the operations of a Froebel Classroom.

James D. McCabe wrote in The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition, “The teacher was a lady from Boston, and the class composed of sixteen bright little ones…A more delightful sight than these happy children at their studious play can scarcely be imagined. The advantages of the Kindergarten are so well known that it would be useless to dwell upon them here.”

The central idea of the kindergarten (‘children’s garden”) was to provide a large, well-ventilated, well-lighted and pleasant space for learning that would open to a garden and play area. The garden would incorporate small garden plots that the children could cultivate on their own—flowers, useful vegetables, and even trees. Froebel did not use corporal punishment, but rather exclusion from play or gardening.

In 1876, there were a few Froebel classrooms to be found in major cities. The numbers increased post-1876. There are a number of educational institutions and programs focusing on the theories and ideas of Friedrich Froebel around the globe today.


Fun Facts:

  • Friedrich Froebel introduced his method of teaching to young children (primarily ages 3-6) in Germany in 1837.
  • The Northern Home for Friendless Children was founded in 1853 and still exists today as Northern Children’s Services. Learn more at:
  • Miss Ruth R. Burritt of Boston was the teacher.
  • Furniture and material for the school were contributed by a Mr. Steiger of New York.
  • $1,500 was raised for the construction of the cottage by the Rhode Island committee of the Women’s Centennial group.
  • A woman by the name of Anna Lloyd Wright visited the Fair, saw the Kindergarten and bought some ‘gifts’ for her son. That son was future architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  The son of Frank Lloyd Wright would go on to be the inventor of Lincoln Logs!
  • Milton Bradley (of toy fame) began producing “gifts” for resale in the 19th century.

Frosty’s Freeze Throw

by Grace Litteral (age 9) & Joyce Hemphill
Toss ‘snowballs’ and ‘ice balls’ through a snowman shaped target.


  • Aluminum foil, wadded into balls
  • Cardboard
  • Hole punch
  • Pencil
  • Pipe cleaners (optional)
  • Scissors
  • String
  • Tape
  • White pom poms (large)

To Make:

Make three rings out of cardboard.


  • On a large piece of cardboard (e.g., 15”x15”) make a big circle. Cut out the circle. Make another circle 1-inch inside the big circle creating a one-inch ring. Cut out the little circle inside that big circle. Now you have a large ring. Using a hole punch, make one hole in the cardboard ring. Next to the hole write: “10 points”. Set aside the large ring (Ring #1).

RING #2:

  • On a medium size piece of cardboard (e.g., 12”x12”) make a circle. Cut out the circle. Make another circle inside this circle creating a one-inch ring. Cut out the little circle inside that circle. Now you have a medium ring. Using a hole punch make a hole in the cardboard ring; directly across the diameter make another hole. Next to one of the holes write: “50 points”. Set aside the medium ring (Ring #2).

RING #3:

  • On a smaller piece of cardboard (9”x9”) make a circle. Cut out the circle. Make another circle inside this circle creating a one-inch ring. Cut out the little circle inside that circle. Now you have a small ring. Using a hole punch, make one hole in the cardboard ring. Next to the hole write: “100 points”.

Assembling Frosty:

  • Using a piece of string connect the small ring to the medium one. To do this put the string through the hole in the small ring and one of the holes in the medium ring. Tie a double knot; cut excess string. Then connect the medium ring to the large ring using the same technique.
  • If you would like, add arms by wrapping a pipe cleaner on each side of the middle ring and then letting it stick out to the side. Bend each pipe cleaner to resemble a tree branch.

How to Play:

  • Tape Frosty in an open doorway
  • Stand back 5 feet
  • Throw ‘ice ball’ (wad of aluminum foil) and ‘snow ball’ (pom pom) through the hoops.
  • Challenge your family and friends to see who can score the most points.

Homemade Play Dough

There are MANY recipes for play dough. Personally, I prefer dough that does not smell like something I want to eat (e.g., chocolate pudding, orange sherbet, peanut butter). I also prefer the texture of a cooked or heat processed dough.

Below are two recipes: one that uses wheat flour (gluten) and the other rice flour (gluten free).

Play Dough (Gluten)

1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 T cream of tartar
1 T vegetable oil
½ cup salt
Food coloring
In a pot combine all the dried ingredients, oil, and water. Cook over medium heat while constantly stirring. After 3-4 minutes the dough will begin to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. When dough is cool enough to handle turn out onto a flat surface and knead. If you want colored dough, knead in food coloring. If dough is sticky, knead in a little flour or cornstarch. Store in airtight container.
Source: I don’t have a reference for this recipe. It was handwritten on a piece of paper and given to me 25 years ago by a preschool teacher.

Play Dough (Gluten free)

¾ cup white rice flour
¾ cup cornstarch or arrowroot
¾ cup iodized salt
1 T cream of tartar
2 tsp grape seed oil or olive oil
1 ½ cup hot water
Food coloring
In a pot combine all the dried ingredients, oil, and hot water. Cook over medium heat while constantly stirring. After 3-4 minutes the dough will begin to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. When the dough is cool enough to handle turn out onto a flat surface and knead. If you want colored dough, knead in food coloring. If the dough is sticky knead in cornstarch or arrowroot until you reach the desired consistency. Note: Dough will be less sticky when cool. Store in airtight container.

Source: Preschool and Gluten Free Play Dough (September 4, 2012). Retrieved from


By Greg Harrison, creative director, Playworld Systems, Inc.
Bronze Sponsor of the 2015 Conference on the Value of Play

Today’s kids get 50% less unstructured outdoor playtime than those in the 1970s. Trends driving this shift include the over-scheduling of kids’ lives, security concerns and screen time. Without play, children’s cognitive development and socialization suffer.

At Playworld Systems, it’s our goal to save unstructured outdoor play. Kids have limited time for free play so we must value and make the most of it. Play promotes spiritual development and reduces stress, and obesity. It also unites and strengthens our sense of community.

As a leading manufacturer of playground equipment, our vision is to reinvent unstructured outdoor play. We hope you’ll join our mission to #SavePlay.  Check out our Save Play video.


The front covers of used greeting cards are perfect for games and activities.


Place a stack of card fronts face down on the table. Each player selects three cards and creates a short story that incorporates elements from his/her cards.  Players go around the table sharing their story.  Or play cooperatively whereby the first player turns over a card and starts a story based on the images from that card. The second player then flips over the next card and must continue the same story, but now incorporating elements from the new card. Play continues until cards run out or the story reaches a natural end.

Place a stack of card fronts face down on the table.  Each player selects three cards, carefully studies the designs, and identifies the ways in which his/her cards are alike. Once everyone has taken a turn, collect all the cards, shuffle, and begin again.  Or start by selecting two cards and placing them face up on the table.  Go around the circle and each person identifies how the two cards are similar.  If a person cannot point out a similarity s/he is out.  Once everyone has spoken, select another card and place it face up next to the first two.  Again, go around the circle and have each person identify how the cards are alike.  Keep adding cards and finding similarities among all the face up cards until there is only one person remaining.