VIDEO: “Expanding the Conversation on Race and Play”

In 2018, Harrison Pinckney, PhD, moderated a groundbreaking keynote panel of experts in a discussion on what play looks like for Black youth.  This year, Dr. Pinckney returns with new colleagues to broaden the discussion as we continue to work towards a better understanding of the racial implications of race on play.

“Expanding the Conversation on Race and Play”

Black people have long been depicted as less than human. Studies have shown that this perception has led to Black people being mistreated by police officers, teachers and even doctors. Unfortunately, Black children and youth are not exempt from this mistreatment. There are a number of historic and contemporary examples of play being interrupted for Black youth for this very reason.

This is an engaging discussion on how the portrayal of Black youth contributes to the way they are engaged in play spaces. Video games, free play, and movies are among some of the contexts explored.

This session was recorded live on May 24, 2021.  The recording is included below!  This is one of the 80+ headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations from the 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL .


Meet our Experts:

Harrison Pinckney, IV, PhD
Assistant Professor of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management, Clemson University
Dr. Pinckney’s research focuses on the systems, institutions, and programs that influence the racial socialization of African American youth. Similarly, he examines the ways in which racial identity manifests itself in the lives of African American youth. Recognizing the role of faith-based organizations in the African American community, I also explore the ways in which this institution serves youth and the outcomes associated with participation in/with these organizations.

TreaAndrea Russworm, PhD
Associate Professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
TreaAndrea M. Russworm is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Series Editor of Power Play: Games, Politics, Culture (Duke University Press). She is also currently an Associate Editor for Outreach and Equity for the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. With research expertise in digital media, popular culture, and African American studies, Professor Russworm is also the founder of Radical Play, a public humanities initiative and afterschool program in Springfield, MA, and she is the author or editor of three books: Blackness is Burning: Civil Rights, Popular Culture, and the Problem of Recognition; Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games; and From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry. She is currently writing a fourth book on race, video games, and the politics of play.

Nathaniel Bryan, EdD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education, Miami University
Nathaniel Bryan, Ed.D., Ph.D. is an assistant professor of early childhood education at the Miami University. His teaching and scholarship explores issues of equity and diversity, critical race theory, culturally relevant teaching, urban education, and Black education. Though he studies broadly these frameworks, he is particularly interested in the constructed identities and pedagogical styles of Black male teachers and the schooling and childhood play experiences of Black boys in early childhood classrooms through a critical lens. In his spare time, Dr. Bryan enjoys reading novels, traveling abroad, and spending time with family.


Below is the full recording of the featured session
“Expanding the Conversation on Race and Play”


This is one of the 80+ headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations from the 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL – all recorded live earlier this year.


The Conference on the VALUE of Play
The Play Conference, as it is commonly known, is an annual professional development conference presented by the US Play Coalition. The latest research and practices in the field of play are presented at the conference, which brings together play researchers, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, park and recreation professionals, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL explores play across the lifespan, play in the workplace, play in the classroom and address universal issues of access, equity, inclusion and more.  The conference features 80+ headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations, networking and much more – all online from April 1 through December 31, 2021.  We hope you will engage with us virtually in the interest of public health, wellness, safety and education!!!


Nature and Health –
Activism through Literacy and Play: Tips from a Publisher

Summer Blog Series
PLAY for Healthier Communities #3

“Nature and Health – Activism through Literacy and Play: Tips from a Publisher”

Pause for a moment and consider your favorite book as a child. What exciting adventures did you go on as you read? What were you inspired to do, think about, and create? As I wrap this 3-part blog series on play and healthy communities, I’m excited to share a conversation with Philip Lee, co-founder and publisher of the award-winning Lee & Low Books and READERS to EATERS. Philip has an incredible career, including a portfolio of working with publications like Conde Nast, Glamour and GQ.

In this article, we discuss how literacy and play can inspire action.

Daniel: Tell me a little about yourself, Readers to Eaters and what play means to you and why you think it’s important for our health.

Philip: I’m the co-founder, along with my wife, June Jo Lee, of READERS to EATERS, a children’s book publishing company. Our mission is to promote food literacy through stories about our diverse food cultures. I’m the “reader” as I’ve been a children’s book publisher for many years—I previously co-founded one of the first publishing companies that focused on diversity—while my wife is the “eater” as she is a food ethnographer, studying American food culture for corporations and non-profits organizations. I was born in Hong Kong and she was born in Seoul, South Korea, so we’re always mindful of how culture shapes our lives, including the food we eat, and our sense of wellness, health and play.

At READERS to EATERS, our goal is to tell stories about food, so we have an appreciation and connection to the people who grow it, cook it, and provide it to us every day. Through these stories, we hope young readers not only gain a better understanding of what good food means to our body, but also to our family, our community, and the global world. Food is fundamental to all our experiences, so in addition to good health and nutrition, it’s also a tangible way to introduce readers to subjects such as science, climate change, history, immigration, and social justice.

Play, like food, is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing, for adults and children. It allows us to be creative and use our imagination, it breaks routine and encourages us to be spontaneous. Play is often unpredictable, so we must be flexible and adapt to new situations. The key to remember is that play doesn’t have to be regimented and can take on many forms. It can be in the playground running free, in the garden tending vegetables, in the kitchen trying a new recipe, or a quiet moment looking out the window—and away from the computer screen!

Growing up in Hong Kong, my choice of play was limited. The urban city had little space for outside play and limited time for activities after homework, so my playtime was helping in the kitchen to prepare dinner. At times it could be physical work, but it was the time when I got to hear family stories, and there was always the reward of a delicious meal in the end.

Daniel: This blog series is focused on how play can foster healthier communities. In your experience, how is play, literacy and health interconnected?

Philip: Play, health, and literacy are connected in so many ways. First, leisure reading is a type of play! Play doesn’t have to always be a physical activity. It can be quiet reading time that sparks imagination. Education professor Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, in her 1990 article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” points out that books reflect who we are and reaffirms us, introduce us to new worlds that are real or imagined, and allow us to submerge ourselves into new experiences. I think it captures beautifully the essence of play too.

Books connect readers to food in new ways beyond nutrition. For example, our “Food Heroes” series profiles food pioneers who often see what others can’t see and work to build better communities through food. In Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, the urban farmer saw children as young farmers and parking lots and rooftops as farmland. He wanted young people not only to grow food but to be young activists by making changes in their neighborhoods. Similarly in Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, the street cook who started the food truck movement found new ways to bring good food and good jobs to hungry communities. In Zora’s Zucchini, a fictional story, a young girl started a neighborhood good share program to avoid food waste from her garden.

Reading can also add appreciation to children’s active play. In The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter, a day in the park led to a new appreciation for bees and pollination, as well as for fatherly love and our natural world. In Feeding The Young Athlete, active families, and children get an introduction to how nutrients support mental focus in competition at the playground and learning in the classroom.

When reading books about cooking and gardening, readers learn that play can also be nourishing to their own bodies and to their communities. More importantly, they are empowered to make changes and be activists in big and small ways.

Daniel: What advice would you give adults who want to use play to inspire a love of reading and activism in children?

Philip: Modeling is the best way to inspire children to read, eat or grow to be activists in our community. Children will understand these activities are important if they see their family taking part in them too. Start with playful reading together. Everyone loves a story! But there are also other ways to share stories other than a book, such as reading a family recipe or a food label. Read this great discussion with the Family Dinner Project on “How to Raise a Voracious Reader: Promoting literacy with dinnertime storytelling family conversation and books about food.”

I would also encourage families and children to be active members in their communities, such as volunteering at the community garden, sharing books at the Little Free Library, or shopping from local farmers at the farmers’ market. These are all ways children can see how they can make an impact in their communities – plus, they are fun, playful experiences! READERS TO EATERS is a Too Small to Fail partner, so we encourage folks to explore their ideas to talk, read, sing and play together as a family too.

By taking part in activities together as a family, children understand the joy they bring and the connection they make. These are memories that will stay with them and empower them to make changes in their lives.

Thank you to Philip for sharing your inspiring insight about the intersection of play, literacy, and activism – perfect timing as we head into Food Literacy Month (September) and Farm to School Month (October).

If you want even more opportunities to connect with whole family health experts like Philip, sign up for the Healthier Generation e-news for exclusive invites to cooking demonstrations, celebrity events, and impactful trainings.


About the Author: Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, where he manages technical assistance services and resources for out-of-school time sites as they work to achieve national standards for healthy eating and physical activity. Daniel oversees community-based and out-of-school partnerships at the Alliance.

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


Nature and Health –
Integrating PLAY into Wellness

Summer Blog Series
PLAY for Healthier Communities #2

“Nature and Health – Integrating PLAY into Wellness: Tips from a Registered Dietician and PE Teacher”

Who better to share tips on how play can promote student achievement and well-being than a former physical education (PE) teacher and a Registered Dietician (RD). Today, I’m excited to share ideas from two of my teammates, Courtney Hensch and Seth Shelby leading Healthier Generation’s school health work in South Carolina.

Daniel: My first question is for both of you, tell me a little about yourself and how play relates to your work in South Carolina.

Courtney: I live in Charleston and am an RD and a Clemson alum (go Tigers!). I have been working with schools and districts throughout South Carolina for about three and a half years to establish and sustain wellness policies and practices for their students, staff, and families.

Our work at Healthier Generation is all about helping schools create more opportunities for students to be exposed to nutrition and physical activity, so play naturally fits into our work! Comprehensive school wellness can be challenging, so adding play into wellness initiatives makes it more fun and keeps folks engaged. Because play strengthens cognitive function, helps with social and emotional development, and builds confidence, it’s an essential ingredient for developing strong educators.

Seth: Before working for Healthier Generation, I was a PE teacher in South Carolina public schools. Most of my teaching incorporated active play so students could strengthen their movement skills naturally through a designed activity. As a teacher, I loved participating in the games and demonstrating my love for activity with my students. I felt so fortunate to be in a profession that actively promoted me to play and encourage others to play. I would come home every day with nearly 20,000 steps and a big smile on my face. As I moved into my current position with Healthier Generation, I have had to reorganize how I approach the workday to include times for active play. I set aside time every hour to get some type of activity in, which might include walking the dogs, having a dance party, shooting some hoops, doing some disc golf putts, or playing with my son. These activity breaks are important for my brain to stay focused on what I am trying to accomplish for the day.

Seth playing disc golf as a family

Daniel: My second question is for Seth. As a father of a young child, why is play important to you and your family?

Seth: Playing is so incredibly important for my family. Since my son could walk, we have been on the go as a family. We live within a 1-mile radius of two city parks, and we take advantage of those resources every single day if the weather is nice. We play on the playgrounds, walk the trails looking for bugs and birds, play disc golf (he has quite the forehand), and go swimming and fishing in the river. My son doesn’t know another way of living other than being active. It is that exposure that will hopefully translate into a lifelong love of being active. As a dad, it is a great way for him to get energy out, but more importantly, it is a great way of bonding with him through play. I often find it is during our playtime we often have the most honest conversations; especially when he is learning something new and becomes frustrated. Allowing him space to fail at something while also being supportive and helping him work through those emotions positively is transformative for me as a dad.

Daniel: Courtney, the next question is for you. When we think of play, we typically think of physical activity. As an RD, how can play encourage healthy eating at home?

Courtney: There are so many ways to encourage playful learning in the kitchen. Here’s a quick checklist of ideas that families can try together.

  • Gardening: research shows that when kids help grow fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to eat more produce. Play in the garden teaches new skills, builds responsibility, independence, and self-esteem.
  • Cooking: if young children are involved in cooking, they are more likely to try new foods. I always have so much fun playing in the kitchen with my two-and-a-half-year-old niece. She loves making salad or mixing up eggs for breakfast. While she is playing it the kitchen, she develops curiosity, fine motor skills, and even math literacy while counting.
  • Games: make a game out of trying something new by closing your eyes and guessing the fruit or vegetable you’re tasting! My family likes to play “The High-Low Game” where we go around the table, and everyone shares their “high” (the best part of the day) and their “low” (the worst part of the day) – it always results in meaningful conversation.
Courtney playing with her niece

Daniel: Last question for both of you. As part of your work with Blue Cross Blue Shield Diabetes Free South Carolina, you provide training to educators. How do you bring play into these adult learning experiences?

Courtney: Often when we think of play our mind automatically goes to a child, but it is important to realize that play is for all ages! I always try to incorporate play into my workshops to show how simple it is to incorporate play into a classroom setting. It is rewarding to get educators moving and having fun while they are learning. I recently led a training for principals and had them play “Simon Says” during a break; by the end, we were all laughing, our moods were boosted, and everyone was engaged.

Seth: Some of the cornerstones of the framework we use to guide our work revolves around physical activity and physical education – a field of work that I have specialized in for almost 6 years. I couldn’t imagine guiding adults through our framework of best practices without incorporating play and activity. Just as it was in my physical education days, learning through play is such a powerful way to deliver content. As I move into developing workshops and events for the districts involved with Diabetes Free SC, I am exploring more dynamic ways to communicate and deliver information and opportunities. For example, I plan to work with PE professionals within the districts to record fitness challenges that can be done at home or after school for students, staff, and families.

Thank you to Courtney and Seth for sharing their experience and tips on how to integrate play into wellness initiatives. To learn more about Healthier Generation’s work in South Carolina, sign up for the Healthier Generation e-news or reach out to Courtney and Seth via LinkedIn.


About the Author: Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, where he manages technical assistance services and resources for out-of-school time sites as they work to achieve national standards for healthy eating and physical activity. Daniel oversees community-based and out-of-school partnerships at the Alliance.

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


Nature Play and Health: Tips for Parents from a Science Educator

Summer Blog Series
PLAY for Healthier Communities #1

“Nature Play and Health: Tips for Parents from a Science Educator”

Last month in celebration of Park and Recreation Month, I had the honor of playing a virtual game of Kohl’s Healthy at Home Nature BINGO with my friend Pascale at GreatSchools.org and her 5-year-old daughter, Kamila. We discussed how healthy habits, like playing more outside, are also a great way to feel connected to each other and our amazing planet. In this article, I am excited to dive deeper into these linkages through a conversation I recently had with Samantha Wynns, a Science Educator at Cabrillo National Monument and If/Then Ambassador.

Daniel: Why is being a good steward of the environment important for our physical and mental health?

Sam: A healthy environment also supports our mental health. There is an abundance of scientific research demonstrating that getting outside lowers stress hormones, increases healthy hormones (like oxytocin), and decreases anxiety and depression. If we are to reap the mental health benefits of playful learning in nature, we need natural spaces to immerse ourselves in. This means we must first preserve and protect the environment around us.

What happens to one species happens to all and this includes humans! Here’s an example; honeybees have been experiencing something called Colony Collapse Disorder, which means their colonies have been failing and the bees have been dying off at a massive rate. Why does this matter? Because pollinators give us much of our food! At least 35% (a conservative estimate) of our crops require pollinators to produce nutritious foods like almonds, apples, berries, and tomatoes. Protecting pollinators by preserving native habitat and being mindful of pesticide use enhances food security for humans.

Daniel: As an educator at Cabrillo, how have you seen playful experiences in nature encourage children to care about themselves, each other, and the planet?

Sam: When we provide playful experiences in nature, we invite children to connect with the world around them. Without these opportunities, we see disconnections that result in bullying – a serious challenge faced by many youth, especially those in the LGBTQ community. It’s easy to bully an image on a screen or a social media handle that doesn’t seem connected to a real human on the other end. When you get children out into the beauty of nature and give them room to be curious and explore linkages on their own, it fosters a sense of connection on all levels.

I like to utilize a simple activity called, I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of… Ask your child to pause and make an observation, then notice, wonder and draw connections. For example, they might notice a plant’s strong scent, wonder why it has that scent and make linkages. Perhaps it reminds them of something in their own community garden or a flower at their grandparents’ house.

Building those connections helps children see how everything (and everyone) has a place and how everything is interrelated. These mindful experiences spark the thought that actions matter and that children themselves are an important part of caring for the cool place they’re exploring.

Daniel: What tips do you have for parents to help children feel connected to nature?

Sam: Oftentimes, all you must do is provide an opportunity for kids, and they will do the rest. Take them to outdoor spaces, when possible, and give them the freedom to notice, wonder and explore. Point out interesting things that you’re observing and ask them to expand on that. Outdoor spaces do not have to be distant mountain peaks, they can be your yard, neighborhood park, community garden, or local waterway.

There are many ways to feel connected to nature even when you don’t have access to it, like looking out the window and observing birds in a tree, finding a trail of ants or spiders indoors, or even growing your own windowsill plants. A couple of tools to help you slow down, be mindful and draw connections include nature journaling and apps like iNaturalist to identify plants and insects.

Daniel: Who can help families connect with nature?

Sam: Look for city, county, state, and national parks in your area; those parks will have websites that have information about special events or programs like hikes, outdoor field trips, bioblitzes (community science projects that are all about nature exploration), summer camps (some of them are free), and even volunteer opportunities! There are also many non-profits that can help you get connected. For example, we have one here in San Diego called Outdoor Outreach which connects underrepresented youth to nature through hikes and community events. I recommend Googling “youth nature non-profits + the name of your city” to find resources. Many cities also have a local foundation with a newsletter that you can join that will provide this information. I always recommend signing up for your local school district’s newsletter too!

Another method for finding folks to help facilitate nature connections is by finding a champion in your community. Maybe you know someone who volunteers in your community garden or a friend who hikes. Ask them where to start. People love to share their passion and would be more than happy to help.

And don’t forget! If you’re in the San Diego area, please get involved with me and my nature-loving team at Cabrillo National Monument! You can find information about our various projects on our website.

Daniel: Last question, is there anything else you would like to share with folks who read this article?

Sam: I just want to encourage folks with the statement: There is a place for you in nature. Depending on your lived experience, nature can often be interpreted as distant and, therefore, unattainable. But as I like to say, nature is really all around you – you just have to pause and observe. So even if you’ve never really thought of yourself as a “nature-person” before, I hope you give it a try. Just take the leap and get outside with your community, your family, or your friends – your body and mind will thank you for it!

Thank you to Sam for sharing your experience and tips! Ready for even more simple ideas to encourage playful fun in nature? Sign up for the Healthier Generation e-news.


About the Author: Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, where he manages technical assistance services and resources for out-of-school time sites as they work to achieve national standards for healthy eating and physical activity. Daniel oversees community-based and out-of-school partnerships at the Alliance.

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


VIDEO: Power PLAYer Panel Discusses “PLAY IS SURVIVAL” through lens of
Diversity, Access, Equity and Inclusion

For our 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL keynote kickoff on April 2, we brought together three incredible thought leaders for our annual “Power PLAYer Panel.” Our three panelists tackle the 2021 theme, particularly as it relates to issues of diversity, access, equity and inclusion. The dialogue is rich and honest and thoughtful.  THIS IS A MUST SEE!

Power PLAYer Panel:
PLAY IS SURVIVAL

Meet the Panelists:

  • Laura Huerta Migus (moderator) is the now-former Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums in Arlington, Virginia, the world’s largest professional society promoting and advocating on behalf of children’s museums and children’s museum professionals. Throughout her career, Laura has been devoted to the growth and education of children, particularly those from underserved and under-resourced communities. Under her leadership, ACM pursues innovative and effective partnerships to leverage the power of children’s museums worldwide.  As of July 19, Laura is the new Deputy Director of the Office of Museum Services for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
  • Lysa Ratliff, CEO of KABOOM!  In early 2021, Lysa M. Ratliff became the newest CEO of KABOOM!, the national non-profit that works to end playspace inequity. For good. Throughout her career, Ratliff has served as a champion for kids and their resilience, leading efforts to connect partners and make change for communities and kids across the country, and around the world. She was the Vice President of Partnership Development at KABOOM!, has held senior leadership roles at Habitat for Humanity International, Save the Children, and spent more than a decade in international marketing communications at several large corporations. Lysa has led both public and private fundraising teams, cause marketing and communications campaigns with large global corporations.
  • Dr. Christine Sims, Associate Professor of Educational Linguistics/ American Indian Education at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  Dr. Sims specializes in indigenous language revitalization and maintenance issues, provides technical assistance to indigenous nations in language program planning, and trains American Indian language teachers. She established the American Indian Language Policy Research and Teacher Training Center at UNM in 2008. The Center engages in public advocacy and training support to Indigenous language maintenance and revitalization initiatives in New Mexico and has sponsored several international language symposia with funding support from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Sims is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Acoma and resides with her family on the Acoma Pueblo reservation in northwest New Mexico.

Below is the full recording of the keynote session
Power PLAYer Panel: PLAY IS SURVIVAL

 

This is one of the 80+ headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations from the 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL – all recorded live earlier this year. Want to see more great online professional development content like this?!

Register for the REBOOT of the 2021 VIRTUAL Play Conference by August 31 — this will give you ON DEMAND access through December 31, 2021.

 

 


The Conference on the VALUE of Play
The Play Conference, as it is commonly known, is an annual professional development conference presented by the US Play Coalition. The latest research and practices in the field of play are presented at the conference, which brings together play researchers, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, park and recreation professionals, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL explores play across the lifespan, play in the workplace, play in the classroom and address universal issues of access, equity, inclusion and more.  The conference features 80+ headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations, networking and much more – all online from April 1 through December 31, 2021.  We hope you will engage with us virtually in the interest of public health, wellness, safety and education!!!


You’re Never Too Old
to Play at the Library

Summer Blog Series – Libraries & PLAY #3

“You’re Never Too Old to Play at the Library”

Since 2008, Lifetime Arts, a nonprofit focused on creative aging, has worked with dozens of public libraries across the country to bring playful arts to older adults.

The Public Libraries Initiative works as follows:

“Led by professional teaching artists, libraries implement skill-building workshop series which foster mastery and promote meaningful social engagement through free programs in all arts disciplines. At each library, culminating events celebrate the achievements of every [older adult] participant.”

The reason Lifetime Arts gravitated to public libraries is because of libraries’ incredible reach. On May 5, 2021, the Wyoming State Library announced that it would be working with Lifetime Arts and the Wyoming Arts Council to develop “participatory, sequential, socially-engaging and professionally run arts programs” in 15 libraries across the state.

You can see more examples of creative aging in America’s public libraries in the reporting of PBS, which covers “How Library Classes in the Arts Are Changing Aging.

Libraries are Social Infrastructure

In small towns and urban neighborhoods, the public library is uniquely placed to support playful aging.

Some small-town public librarians call themselves “de facto senior centers” given the absence of any comparable infrastructure in these places.

Even in urban communities, public libraries are uniquely placed to support play among older adults. Brooklyn, New York’s Alice Baker, 74 years old,  told NPR’s All Things Considered that what appeals to her about public libraries is that she can attend activities for people her own age in a place that welcomes people of every age:

“They have exercise, they have classes for kids. It brings everybody in,” says Baker. “You can bring your family with you.”

Dancing the tango at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Sunset Park Branch as part of a Lifetime Arts’ Creative Aging Program ca. 2015. Image courtesy Brooklyn Public Library.

 

Baker was being interviewed as part of an NPR story entitled “Xbox Bowling For Seniors? Visit Your Local Library.

The idea of bowling at the library also captivated the attention of Columbia University Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who in Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life focuses on the critical importance of older adults playing together at the library.

On June 7, 2019, he tweeted a video showing the members of Brooklyn Public Library’s Library Lanes in action. Check it out to see the power of public libraries as a playful social infrastructure for older adults!

In his review of Palaces for the People, former presidential candidate and current secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg focuses on the importance of playful aging in public libraries:

“The new book’s exploration of this reality begins in the basement of a library in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood, where an Xbox-based bowling competition pits local seniors against rival teams from a dozen library branches across the borough. The example of a virtual bowling league has particular poetic resonance two decades after Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist, raised fears of societal collapse in his study “Bowling Alone.” Where Putnam charted the decline of American communal participation through shrinking bowling league membership, Klinenberg’s basement of virtual bowlers illustrates how technology might actually enhance our social fabric — provided there are supportive spaces. Given what we have learned about the health impacts of social isolation among the elderly, lives may depend on creating more such opportunities.”

This vision of the technology-rich public library supporting place-based play among America’s aging population is remarkably optimistic.

Library Lanes Xbox Bowling at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library in 2014. Image courtesy Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library.

 

How can you get involved?

Not every community has a Library Lanes program, but almost every community has a public library. If you want to bring playful aging to your public library, start with a conversation. I’ve written five steps anyone can take to do more by “Partnering with public libraries.” Use that to get started.

You may also want to check out the American Library Association’s compilation of best practices for public librarians serving older adults. You’ll see Lifetime Art’s Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries prominently featured, which suggests how widespread the ideas in this blog post have become.

Nevertheless, public librarians need your help. Librarians need people in arts councils, parks & recreation, and elsewhere, to work with them to complement what they may be able to offer by themselves. So reach out, start a conversation, and form a partnership, because you’re never too old to play at the library, and you’re never too old to start a conversation with your local librarians.


About the Author: Noah Lenstra, PhD, is Director of Let’s Move in Libraries and assistant professor of Library & Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Learn more about Noah at noahlenstra.com and follow him on Twitter at @NoahLenstra

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out at the Library: Play for Teens and Emerging Adults

Summer Blog Series – Libraries & PLAY #2

“Play for Teens and Emerging Adults”

In 2016, the American Library Association published the book Adults Just Wanna Have Fun: Programs for Emerging Adults, which “shows how to draw emerging adults to the library using a mixture of play and engagement and then keep them coming back for more.”

Public libraries exist to serve all ages, and yet there is a stereotype that people “age out” of libraries before returning later in life when they have young children.

Given this reality, public librarians increasingly embrace play as a cornerstone of services for tweens, teens, and young, childless adults.

This trend is a bit more wooly and disorganized than the trend covered last week on Learning and Playing at the Library during Early Childhood. When it comes to supporting play among teens and emerging adults, public librarians do not have formal curricula like Every Child Ready To Read and Stories, Songs & Stretches. Instead, the landscape is populated by myriad local experiments.

In Dubuque, Iowa, on April 7, 2018, the public library celebrated “Five years of Nerf capture the flag,” a monthly after-hours program in which adults literally play capture the flag in the stacks of the public library.

Caption: A participant in the monthly Nerf Capture the Flag for adults program offered at the Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque, Iowa. Image courtesy The Telegraph Herald.

 

As public libraries re-open in Summer 2021, this program has started to return. In nearby Indianola, Iowa, the local radio station reports that “The Indianola Public Library Nerf Attack events are returning to the library on July 16, 2021. Nerf Attack is one of the most popular events, with kids in grades 6-12 having the run of the library.”

Three important facts help us make sense of something as seemingly bizarre as Nerf wars in the library:

1) These programs fit within the increasing identity of the public library as a community hub, offering, as a recent American Library Association reports puts it, offering free “activities and

entertainment you can’t find anywhere else in the community,” while also functioning as “a place for people in the community to gather and socialize.”

2) Public libraries are fundamentally local institutions, with nearly 90% of their funding coming from local sources. I sometimes tell my students, “If you know one public library, you know one public library.” One of the least appreciated facts about public librarianship is, as Eric Klinenberg recently pointed out in his book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life “library staff ha[ve] more autonomy to develop new programming than I’d expected from an established public institution. Managers, it seems, assume the best of their librarians” (p. 52).

3) Given the long-standing idea that public libraries are not cool spaces for teens and emerging adults, radical thinking is needed to over-turn that stereotype. Milwaukee Public Library launched Library Loud Days focused on “changing the public libraries into lively, vibrant gathering places …. So come see what the new definition of a library is all about. And leave your inside voice at home.”

Caption: Adult Recess at the Public Library in Arlington, Virginia. Image courtesy Arlington VA Public Library.

 

As I present these facts, I often hear complaints from people who worry that the beloved libraries of their childhoods are going to be swept away by Nerf wars, rap battles, karaoke singers, and games of Twister and Quidditch.

That concern is misplaced. In all the libraries I have looked at, these types of loud play programs are typically offered sporadically, not continuously. They represent the type of playfulness that is quickly becoming the norm in public librarianship: Public librarians play with the identity of the public library, pushing on its boundaries and encouraging community members to join them in that experiment.

How can you get involved?

Want to increase access to play for tweens, teens, and emerging adults in your community? Start with the library! The best starting point is to look for individuals with titles like Teen Librarian. The national association representing Teen Librarians is the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) whose “mission is to support library staff in alleviating the challenges teens face, and in putting all teens ‒ especially those with the greatest needs ‒ on the path to successful and fulfilling lives.

Teen librarians have also pioneered library services for emerging adults. Typically, library services for adults in their 20s and 30s represents an extension of library services for tweens and teens.

YALSA’s website features a cornucopia of innovative resources around play and public libraries. For instance, check out this presentation on LARP at Your Library: Teaching Life Skills Through Play, presented by Shelbie Marks of Oklahoma’s Metropolitan Library System at a recent YALSA Symposium.

Spending some time perusing the YALSA website is a great way to inform yourself about how public librarians frame play as intrinsic to library services for this demographic.

You can then use that knowledge to reach out to your Teen Librarian, set up a time to talk, and see where the conversation takes you. Check out my guide on “Rules of the road: Partnering with public libraries for collective impact” to get started.

 


About the Author: Noah Lenstra, PhD, is Director of Let’s Move in Libraries and assistant professor of Library & Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Learn more about Noah at noahlenstra.com and follow him on Twitter at @NoahLenstra.

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


Learning and Playing at the Library during Early Childhood

Summer Blog Series – Libraries & PLAY #1

“Learning and Playing at the Library during Early Childhood”

Since 2000, public librarians across the United States have dramatically increased the number of programs they offer in support of early childhood. The Public Library Association states this new focus on Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) transforms a pre-conception people may have about library programming: This new approach started not with reading, but with play: “We start with singing, talking, reading, writing and playing and then help [parents] see the connection to later reading.”

A team of researchers led by Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood and Literacy Education at New York University, determined that public librarians trained in this ECRR curriculum “are much more likely [than those not trained] to include music and large- and small-motor movement [in their programs]—all contributing to a fun atmosphere that encourages parents and children to play together.”

As ECRR and related training programs, such as Stories, Songs, and Stretches and Mother Goose on the Loose, sweep the country, play has become central to how public librarians support early childhood.

Play spaces at libraries: Indoors and outside

This transformation effects not only public library programs, but also public library spaces. In Nashville, Tennessee, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, public libraries now have kid-sized climbing walls, with Studio Ludo working with the Free Library of Philadelphia to create what they call a “Playbrary: A new vision of the neighborhood library.

Nashville Public Library’s Crawl Wall in the context of its interactive children’s play area.
Image courtesy Nashville Public Library.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public library spaces closed to the public, but public library support for play as a core component of early childhood did not end. In my research, I found public librarians increasingly utilizing outdoor spaces during Summer 2020 to continue supporting play. In “Reimagining public library programming during a pandemic” my colleague Christine D’Arpa and I found that about one quarter of U.S. small and rural public libraries created temporary outdoor play spaces and programs that could be experienced in a socially distant during the pandemic, including things like sidewalk obstacle courses and life-sized Candy Land games.

Based on this research, with public health colleagues from Baylor University and Johns Hopkins University, we presented at the 2020 virtual meeting of the Association for Rural & Small Libraries on how public librarians can and do support Play Streets initiatives, place-based interventions that involve temporarily closing streets to create safe places and free opportunities for physical activity.

The focus of public librarians on fostering outdoor play during the COVID-19 pandemic builds on a long tradition of public librarians as placemaking gurus, as documented and supported since 2000 by the Project for Public Spaces.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2015 Jenn Beideman of Healthi Kids teamed up with Patty Uttaro, the director of the Rochester [NY] Public Library, and the Strong National Museum of Play for a series of projects focused on infusing play into the built environment of this city. These efforts culminated in a Play Walk that connects the library and the museum. The soaring success of this and other library collaborations led Beideman to write for the Brookings Institution on June 10, 2021 that “resident-led advocacy in Rochester, N.Y. is creating a more playful city … [by] partnering with the Rochester Public Library system to pilot playful infrastructure and other play initiatives.”

How can you get involved?

As the above example suggests, public librarians do not do this work by themselves. Instead they are looking for help wherever they can find it! A study in Ontario led by a team of kinesiologists found that public librarians can be successfully trained to lead a Move 2 Learn program focused on play-based physical literacy skills among young children: “The results of this study demonstrated the feasibility of teaching staff without specialized training in physical education to implement Move 2 Learn.

More and more researchers, advocates, and policy makers are coming to the same conclusion: Namely that public librarians are the perfect partners in efforts to increase playful learning during early childhood.

What stands in the way of these partnerships? One factor is the rapid nature of this transformation. Although public librarians have supported playful learning for decades – think of the idea of getting out your wiggles after a storytime program — what is new is that now play is increasingly the central focus of library programs and spaces.

Many in the Play Community who have not been paying attention to this shift may need to start their involvement by educating themselves about the work public librarians now do to support early childhood. The easiest way to get started is to simply go to the website or social media of your local public library.

In preparing this blog post, out of curiosity I went to my local library’s website and clicked on the link for services for Children & Parents. This image was what I found:

Children’s librarian Pete Turner leads a play-based storytime at Greensboro Public Library.
Image courtesy: Greensboro Public Library.

 

Get started by simply seeing how your library describes its services in support of early childhood. You may find play allies you had never considered.

If you’re looking for collaborators look for librarians with titles like children’s librarian, early literacy librarian, or youth services librarian. I went to the About Us page for the Greensboro Public Library and easily found the contact information for Tanika Martin, the library’s Youth Services Coordinator. Find your community’s Tanika, set up a time to chat, and structure the conversation around the following: “Here’s what we’re trying to do. Does that sound similar to your goals? Where can we work together?”

If you’d like to learn more, check out my article on Rules of the road: Partnering with public libraries for collective impact.

In future blog posts, we’ll look at how similar transformations are taking place in public librarianship around library services for teenagers/emerging adults and for older adults. Stay tuned to learn more and to find ways to get involved!


About the Author: Noah Lenstra, PhD, is Director of Let’s Move in Libraries and assistant professor of Library & Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Learn more about Noah at noahlenstra.com and follow him on Twitter at @NoahLenstra

 

This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2021 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts.  PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!  In July, Noah Lenstra, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries, will highlight public library play initiatives for several key demographics.  In August, Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will blog on “PLAY for Healthier Communities.”


#BlackGirlMagic Monday Series Available ON DEMAND through Dec 31

Exploring the shared living experiences of Black girls and women through play is vital.  The hashtag #BlackGirlMagic is used to express not only excellence and brilliance of black women but has led young girls and women to inspire one another, activate contextual awareness and grow in power together.

#BlackGirlMagic Mondays

Join host Corliss Outley, PhD, for a series of presentations and conversations that explore the magic of Black Girls play, highlighting spaces where Black girls can experience freedom, autonomy, and joy and validate their experiences in today’s society.

Each presentation was recorded live and is available ON DEMAND through December 31.  Registration is required (details below).

Monday May 3 at 12:00 noon (ET)/9:00 am (PT)
“Empowerment, Play & Black Girlhood through History”
Corliss Outley, PhD, Professor, Parks, Recreation & Tourism Mgmt
with Anitra Alexander, MS, Clemson University
From backyards to schoolyards to community parks, play has been intertwined with racial and sexual violence against Black girl’s bodies throughout American history. This discussion will provide a glimpse into the lived experiences of Black girls and the significance of play as sources of hope, healing, agency, and justice across US history. This introduction discussion serves as the jump off point for a deeper understanding of the series.

Monday, May 10 at 12:00 noon (ET)/9:00 am (PT)
“Black Girlhood, Agency & Play in the Outdoors”
Aby Sene-Harper, PhD, Assistant Professor, Parks, Recreation & Tourism Mgmt, Clemson University
The outdoors has historically been viewed as beneficial to both our mental, physical, and spiritual development. At the same time, for many Black girls and women, the outdoors have also been spaces where sexualized and racialized violence was heaped upon their womanhood to enact and enforce a white supremacist social order. Yet, through it all Black girls and women have also reclaimed outdoor spaces to conjure up innovative Black diasporic cultural practices of resistance, survival and self-determination. This presentation will discuss how PLAY in the outdoors for Black girls can be rooted in this long legacy of cultural of resistance and self-determination.

Monday, May 17 at 12:00 noon (ET)/9:00 am (PT)
“Raising Strong Daughters: The Impact of Daughter-Father Relationships in Play”
Daphne Harris, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Educational Psychology, University of North Texas
Given the vital role of Black fathers in the lives of Black girls, this talk will interrogate the daughter-father relationship in play and how it is used as a mechanism for bonding, socialization, and empowerment. Special attention will be given to Black fathers’ conceptualization of play and shared activities and how they use this time to create space for Black girls to freely explore and make sense of the world around them.

Monday, June 7 at 12:00 noon (ET)/9:00 am (PT)
“Afro-centric Dance & Intergenerational Play”
Sharon McKenzie, PhD, Asst. Professor, Recreation Therapy & Gerontology, Kean University
Historically in the African Diaspora, dance has played an intricate role in the cultural nuances and expressions of its people. From a cultural lens, general movements, ritualistic movements, and dance performances have been a catalyst for intergenerational exchange particularly between young girls and mature women. We will facilitate a discourse of the multiple realms and vital roles of dance in the lives of young girls and women.

Monday, June 14 at 12:00 noon (ET)/9:00 am (PT)
“Black Girlhood and Play: Where do we go from here?”
Aishia Brown, PhD, Asst Professor, School of Public Health & Information Sciences, University of Louisville
Play spaces and activities have been recognized for their significance in combating oppression by serving as spaces for resistance as well as healing for Black girls and women. These issues are not just historical but contemporary and relevant as illustrated in the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic. Representing the last discussion in the series, this workshop concludes with an overview of the role race, gender, and age play in the lived experiences of Black girls within play spaces. It will finalize by presenting strategies in order to better serve this population through the development of new policies and practices that are viewed as vital to the future of the field of play.


#BlackGirlMagic Mondays is part of the 2021 VIRTUAL Conference on the Value of Play, featuring dozens of recorded headliners, workshops, educational and research presentations – available ON DEMAND through December 31, 2021.

Register for the full Virtual Play Conference or choose the #BlackGirlMagic Mondays ONLY option.

 

The Conference on the VALUE of Play
The Play Conference, as it is commonly known, is an annual educational conference presented by the US Play Coalition. The latest research and practices in the field of play are presented at the conference, which brings together play researchers, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, park and recreation professionals, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The 2021 Virtual Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY IS SURVIVAL explores play across the lifespan, play in the workplace, play in the classroom and address universal issues of access, equity, inclusion and more.  We hope you will engage with us virtually in the interest of public health, wellness, safety and education!!!


Harrison Pinckney Joins the
US Play Coalition Steering Committee

We are pleased to announce that Harrison P Pinckney, IV, PhD, recently joined the US Play Coalition Steering Committee.  Our steering committee consists of 21 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.

Harrison Pinckney loves play. Play consumes much of his time as he is always engaged in fun activities with his three sons and wife. Whether it is hikes on a sunny day, building a cardboard city on a rainy day, or making up pretend words before bedtime, play defines much of his life.

When he’s away from his family, Dr. Pinckney devotes his professional time to examining how to create opportunities for Black youth to experience the freedom and wonderment that defines play. He accomplishes this through his role as an Assistant Professor at Clemson University in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management department.

Dr. Pinckney is already a very active contributor to the Play Coalition, serving on our Play Research Team to provide expertise as needed and headlining our Play Conference and other partner events, most notably the groundbreaking 2018 keynote on the implications of race on play for youth of color.

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

“I credit Harrison for inspiring us to use our educational platform to begin having the very real and difficult conversations about the implications of race on play for youth of color.  His scholarship and publications provide powerful context of the realities facing youth of color with practical frameworks to help advance the discussion on race, recreation, and youth development.  He is truly part of the new generation of play advocates.  I know that we benefit greatly from his voice and his expertise on our steering committee.”

According to Dr. Pinckney, “Play is essential to learning about the world around us and exploring new possibilities. Being a part of a team that makes play a priority in the lives of others is a rare treat, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help in that endeavor.”


The U.S. Play Coalition
Founded in 2009, the U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promote the value of play throughout life. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.  Our membership comes from a cross-section of industries and professions – play researchers, educators, park and recreation professionals, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians, parents and more.  Learn more at usplaycoalition.org