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

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.

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.

Summer PLAY Reading Review – Balanced and Barefoot

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

One of my all-time favorite TV shows as a child was Reading Rainbow.  The show, hosted by LeVar Burton on PBS, promoted the importance of reading and featured children reviewing their favorite books. As a kiddo, I dreamed about being on Reading Rainbow and telling everyone about MY favorite book. Thanks to the US Play Coalition, and their commitment to advance and promote play for people of all ages, I get the chance as a playful adult to provide a review of my favorite playful books! Angela Hanscom wrote the first book that I’ll review – Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children (New Harbinger Publications 2016).

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Timbernook, a nature-based developmental program for children, was inspired to write her book because of the interactions she had with the children and families in her practice. She noticed that kiddos were having problems with balance and coordination that were not typical for children their age. Due to her training and observations, she discovered that children’s opportunities for free play has been removed from children’s everyday lives.

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. 

In each chapter, Hanscom describes the benefits of play by addressing questions that many parents have about their children’s development such as “Why can’t my child sit still?”, “When is my baby ready to play outside?” and “Why is my child so emotional?” Hanscom wrote this book primarily for parents.  As a parent myself, I fully appreciated the reasons she provided for the crucial role that play has for children’s development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. However, this book is also important for individuals who do not have children or, more likely, have many children, such as educators, principals, superintendents, leaders at childcare centers, and child advocacy groups. Hanscom provides insight, examples and additional resources to show that playing outdoors can address and minimize behaviors like inattentiveness, lack of creativity, fidgeting, and aggression.

The book also outlines in detail the ways that children benefit from outdoor play particularly to support and build upper body strength, endurance, core strength, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, proprioceptive skills (i.e. awareness of the position and movement of the body), auditory senses, and sensory integration skills (i.e. allows us to make sense of stimuli). Hanscom is particularly interested in understanding sensory processing disorders; this occurs when children have difficulty making sense of external stimuli and using it to create a larger understanding of their world. Children’s senses are most aware when they are outdoors in nature, crunching leaves, feeling mud, dirt, or sand and smelling fragrant breezes. Hanscom fully makes the case that anything that can be done indoors can be moved outdoors.

Caregivers and educators may identify with information from the chapters depending on the age of the children in their lives. Personally, the sections devoted to school-age kiddos and the risk for their overuse of technology, limited opportunities for free play due to increased structured organizations, and many schools’ dwindling time devoted for recess stand out as significant. In Chapter 3, Hanscom makes suggestions about ways to allow children to be active outdoors without a lot of adult interference.  Adults, as we know, can suck the fun out of play! Hanscom spends considerable time addressing how decreased recess, in favor of increased classroom seat time, has negatively affected children’s cognitive development. The resources she provides in the book provides a guide for key points that any recess advocate would bring to a school board meeting and discuss why recess is essential to support children’s cognitive and academic development.

Hanscom is at her best when she helps parents address their fears about outdoor play. She takes a no-nonsense approach, addressing the ways in which parents create too many rules and overschedule their children’s lives to the point that kiddos do not experience the wonder of boredom and have few opportunities to daydream. She makes suggestions about ways to get outside as a family and get “back to the basics and focus on simplicity for the sake of creativity.”

Hanscom’s book should be on the bookshelf of every parent, grandparent, caregiver, educator, or administrator who values children’s time outdoors and wish to promote all the ways that play can affect children’s growth and development.

Heather Von Bank, PhD, is Chair and Associate Professor of Family Consumer Science at Minnesota State University-Mankato.  She teaches and advises in the Child Development and Family Studies area. Her specialty areas include research on parent–child relations during the stage of adolescence and family life issues. Dr. Von Bank is co-author of the book “The Power of Playful Learning” and a member of the US Play Coalition’s Steering Committee.

July #WePlayChat On The Value of Recess

Join us on Tuesday, July 30 at 1:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Lynn Campanella, CEO of Playocracy to discuss the topic, “The Value of Recess.” 

For over a decade Lynn has led workshops on Play, Recess and Physical Literacy. As an advocate for child development and creativity, she has mapped out an educational platform that utilizes play as the conduit to help increase the physical, mental and social well-being of children. Lynn has developed a comprehensive recess leadership program called L.E.A.D. Recess and has lead a school board in Canada be the first to create a board-wide recess policy and supporting action plan to assist schools in establishing a quality recess experience for all. Playocracy Inc. is a Canadian social innovation company.

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

Q1. What are some strategies we can use to create a positive recess experience for school administrators & teachers?
Q2. What are some of the tools you could use to teach good social skills at recess?
Q3. How do you maximize the benefits of recess to help children come back into class ready to focus and learn?
Q4. What are some best practices for sharing information about recess with parents and getting them engaged in creating a quality recess?

#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.  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.

Heather Von Bank Joins the
US Play Coalition Steering Committee

We are pleased to announce that Heather Von Bank, Ph.D., 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.

Heather is Chair of the Department of Family Consumer Science at Minnesota State University-Mankato, a longtime educational partner of the US Play Coalition.  Her specialty areas include research on parent–child relations during the stage of adolescence and family life issues. She is also co-author of the book The Power of Playful Learning.

US Play Coalition Executive Director Stephanie Garst said she is proud to welcome Von Bank to the committee.

“Heather is already a very active member and ambassador for the Play Coalition,” Garst said, adding that her “greatest contribution to the Play Coalition to date is having created the Midwest Play Conference, our first regional play conference.”


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.

June #WePlayChat with AARP: “The Value of Play at All Ages”

Join us on Tuesday, June 25th at 11:00am EST as we welcome co-moderator Erwin Tan, Director Thought Leadership—Health from AARP to discuss the topic, “The Value of Play at All Ages.

Erwin J. Tan, MD, is a internist and geriatrician and the AARP Director of Thought Leadership—Health. While at AARP Erwin has developed the research that supports the health impact of perceptions of aging and age stereotype threat.

Erwin is currently working on healthy longevity and how play is important to health throughout a multi-stage life. Erwin previously served as the Director of Senior Corps at CNCS and as faculty a the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where he was a co-investigator in the Baltimore Experience Corps Study. From 2003–2004, Erwin was a White House Fellow serving as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Erwin was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserves and was born in Indonesia and is a naturalized citizen of the United States.

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

Q1. We know play is valuable for children. How is it valuable for adults?
Q2. How is play related to health at all ages?
Q3. What healthy behaviors does play encourage at all ages?
Q4. How can we get more adults to 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 9 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.

Sponsor Thank You Week Kickoff – Thankful for Our Longtime Top Supporters

As we kickoff our Sponsor Thank You Week, we want to give a special shout out to four longtime, top supporters.  Since our founding TEN YEARS AGO (in 2009!), these four sponsors have been at our side, giving top level financial support to insure that the US Play Coalition could not only grow, but also evolve and expand its reach to spread the importance of the VALUE of PLAY .  They are truly are leaders in advancing the play movement. Their support comes from their deep belief in our work, our message, and our network.

Please click on their logos to learn more about each.

US Play Coalition Awards and Grants Help Expand the Play Movement

The US Play Coalition recognized exceptional researchers, practitioners and play projects at its 10th Anniversary Conference on the Value of Play, held at Clemson University between March 31 and April 3, 2019.

Every year the US Play Coalition, a national organization headquartered at Clemson University, recognizes play researchers and practitioners who have made significant contributions to the knowledge of play, and practitioners and projects that help further play in their communities and beyond.

Play is important for people of all ages to be physically active, mentally alert, creative, and socially connected. Over the past decade, the US Play Coalition has been proud to have given almost $60,000 in action and research grants to a variety of projects. These investments have helped foster the continued growth of both a body of knowledge and community-focused play experiences that benefit thousands of people of all ages and abilities.

2019 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research Winner – Lynn A. Barnett, Ph.D.
The US Play Coalition recognizes a play researcher each year for exceptional research in the field of play.  The award honors its namesake, Joe L. Frost, the contemporary father of play advocacy. Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the organization’s beginning in 2009.

Lynn A. Barnett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Recreation, Sport & Tourism at the University of Illinois is the 2019 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research recipient. Dr Barnett is also a Fellow in the Academy of Leisure Sciences.

Dr. Barnett has had a long and sustained record of contributions to the study of play throughout her career, which started in the 1970s. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including books, scholarly journals, technical reports, and papers at professional meetings. In addition to her own scholarship, she has contributed to the study of play through activities such as serving on the editorial board of several journals, including Play Theory and Research, Play and Culture, and Play Research International. She has also taught multiple courses (at both the graduate and undergraduate level) related to play, including Play Across the Lifespan, Play Theories and Their Implications, Play and Leisure, and Humor as Play.

2019 Youth Learning Institute’s Youth Development Practitioner Award Winner – Flo Brett
Flo Brett was recognized by the U.S. Play Coalition and Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute for outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

Brett founded the Effective Leadership Academy (in Warrensville Heights, OH) in 2008, after emigrating to the United States. The Academy and its 135 partners (and counting) has helped more than 20,000 students learn “real world” skills they need to be successful after they graduate. The program works directly with young people and their teachers to help them learn the skills they need to face adult life responsibly, ethically, and competently. Brett has also designed and facilitated professional development opportunities for teachers and youth workers, helping them to support their students’ holistic development in and out of the classroom. She shares best practices with other youth practitioners and community leaders to create a collaborative information and knowledge sharing network.

2019 Action Grant Winners

Three $1,000 action grants are providing needed funding for projects that are facilitating play in specific communities and across the country.

Courtney Gardner and Ben Dalbey with Free for All Baltimore received an Action Grant to help organize a Free for All Community Day. The event will make families aware of the opportunities for play, demonstrate the value of play activities to community leaders, and help engage the community in creating places for children and youth to play in Baltimore.

Ahren Hoffman, Jean Bailey and Kimberly Mosely with the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association are creating a Spanish version of the Brilliant Benefits of Toys Guide, which explores how toys are perhaps the fastest and most fun way for a child to reach important milestones through physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional and sensory play experiences. The guide, which is already available in English, will be shared both digitally and in print.


Shannon Keleher, Ph.D., Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Frisco, for the PlayFrisco! project, which will provide training for area teachers and parks and recreation employees, so they are better equipped to spread the message of the importance of play.

2019 Research Seed Grant Award Winner
Janet Loebach, Ph.D., received this year’s $3,000 Research Seed Grant Award for her project, “Development of a research-based audit tool for assessing the quality and efficacy of outdoor play environments.”

Loebach is developing a research-informed outdoor playspace audit tool to assess several different outdoor and natural play spaces, including in public parks and recreation facilities, schools or childcare facilities, and educational facilities such as museums or nature learning centers.

The assessment tool and a user guide could be used by designers, facility managers and administrators, school and child care facility staff, parks planners and managers, and even community groups, to assess or guide the development of natural, outdoor playspaces. It could also be used by researchers to evaluate play opportunities, or complement other tools, such as behavior mapping or staff walkalong interviews.

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.

April 24th #WePlayChat: 10th Anniversary Conference “Lessons Learned”

Join us on Wednesday, April 24th at 7:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Ryan Fahey from Ottawa, Canada to discuss the topic, 10th Anniversary Conference: “Lessons Learned”.

Ryan is passionate about all things wellness, play and Physical Education focused. Ryan has worked provincially, nationally and internationally in various non-profit education delivery based roles. Ryan has also taught Physical Education in the Middle East where he also authored his first of three books on leadership development and wellness. He has also worked with the US Play Coalition for the past three years as their Play Ambassador Coordinator. When time allows, you can find Ryan running, working out, reading or visiting local coffee shops and parks with his wife.

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

Q1. What were your biggest ‘takeaways’ from the 10th Anniversary Play Conference?
Q2. What were the main highlights of your Play Conference experience?
Q3. If you could sum up your experience and learnings from the Conference in 30seconds, what would you say?
Q4. What would you like to see at future USPC Conferences?

#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 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.