IS IT POSSIBLE TO JUST “PLAY”?

This summer we are launching a blog series by our new Play Ambassadors.  Enjoy the first installment by Brian VanDongen

July is National Parks and Recreation Month, and this year’s theme is “Get Your Play On.”  I think this is a perfect theme.  Parks provide a great place to play, and recreation departments should embrace that and market their parks to their residents and to the public at large.  As a parks and recreation professional, I want people to use our parks.  They are a place to relax, a place to get exercise, a place to explore, a place to enjoy the fresh air, and, most importantly, a place to play.  But is it possible to just “play?”

 

The word is getting out about play and its benefits.

1. Play provides much needed physical activity and helps children build healthy bodies.  By participating in physical activity and play, children can get valuable time improving their cardiorespiratory system, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and bone strength.  Active play can help children reach the CDC-recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity and help them become physically literate and healthy.

2. Play helps build creativity and imagination.  When children play, objects take on new forms.  A frisbee may become a UFO, pots and pans become a drum set, a log becomes a boat.  These “loose parts” are what makes play great and help children build creativity and imagination.  Children also take on various roles, from firefighter to superhero to baseball player when they play, sometimes all within the same play time!

3. Play advances social skills.  Children playing with building blocks together learn teamwork.  When kids disagree about who will use the green soccer ball or who will be the goalie, they are learning how to settle disagreements and compromise.

The benefits I mentioned about play are generally well-accepted as the cornerstone benefits.  Of course, there are many more — countless more — benefits that I could discuss.  When we talk about the benefits of play, however, most of them are focused on free play.  In my opinion, this type of play gets phased out as we age.  Free play turns into competitive play.

Play turns into having rules, formalized goals, and a point system.  Teams (or individuals) compete against one another to win.   Free play is reduced or eliminated and turns completely into a sport.  Now I’m not saying that sports are bad or that as children get older that they and adults should not participate in sports.  There are a great number of benefits — physically and socially — that children and adults derive from sports participation.

But this competitive way of thinking eliminates “free play.”  It limits the imagination.  It limits creativity.

It is a happy talent to know how to play.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes older children need to slide down a slide, toss a football around, or hop on rocks across a river without an end goal.  Just to do it.  Just to play.  I know it can be hard.  As a golfer, I want to keep score every round; I want to know how well (or poorly) I played.  I crave that number at the end.  But sometimes you get so caught in trying to win, that you forget why you started in the first place.  You forget how to let loose and just play.  There are benefits of play for adults too.  Some mirroring the benefits for children: social interaction, creativity building, and physical activity.  However, some benefits pertain just to adults and older children including stress reduction and improved cognitive function (especially imporant in older adults).

Societal conventions and stereotypes need to be proven false.  Adults and older kids can swing on a swing set, climb across the monkey bars, or build a sandcastle.  It is possible to just play.  We all can “Get Our Play On” this Parks & Recreation Month — and every month.  But in an almost counterintutitive way, as we get older we have to try harder to not try and to just play.

Featured Image: Happy Max by makelessnoise   CC BY 2.0

Meet Play Ambassador/Guest Blogger Brian VanDongen

Brian is a parks and recreation professional in Hillsborough Township (N.J.). Through his experiences working in parks and recreation and studies in Exercise Science and Physical Education as well as Sport and Exercise Psychology, Brian has observed and learned many things in community recreation and youth sports. Brian believes that all children deserve to have a positive and fun youth sport experience regardless of ability. Also, all children and adults should have access to high quality recreation programming and parks providing passive and active recreational opportunities to lead a happy, healthy, and active lifestyle. He has a regular blog called The First Quarter. Brian joined the Play Ambassador team in 2016.


2017 Grant Winners Announced

Grant funding is a distinctive feature of our annual Play Conference, and we are proud to have awarded $47,000 in funding to date.   At the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play the new grant winners were announced.  The review process was challenging as we had a record number of outstanding submissions this year.

Each year a $3,000 research seed grant is awarded to a researcher or group of researchers who present empirical research at the play conference to support new, innovative and thoughtful work on the value of play.  This is seed funding in support of longitudinal or future research in diverse topics related to play, and grant recipients’ work reflects great potential for expanding knowledge in the field.

The 2017 Research Seed Grant was awarded to Shan Jiang, PhD, from West Virginia University for her project, “Healing through Play: Play Opportunities as Positive Distractions at Pediatric Healthcare Environment.”

In addition to the research grant, $1000 action grants are awarded to support creative and innovative proposals to engage groups in play or to educate about the value of play. This year we had two partners supporting our action grants, IPA-USA and Partners for Parks.  We also had funding from our Giving TuesPLAY initiative.

There were three projects that each received a 2017 Action Grant:
– Britt Stetson for Harper’s Playground at Arbor Lodge Park, a playground for children of all abilities in in Portland, Ore.

– Debora Wisneski and Miriam Kuhn for “Building a Community of PLAY Through an Interdisciplinary University Collaborative” at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

– Gregory Manley from City of Play in Pittsburgh, Penn., for Ludovia, a weekly class for young professionals and working-class minorities to foster play through physical, emotional and social communication. 


PlayCore and GameTime Take Research to a New Level with Recognition Program for Communities

PlayCore’s Center for Professional Development is uniquely committed to sound research and best practices to advance play and recreation through programs, publications, continuing education, and advocacy. Their unparalleled network of esteemed scholars provides them with the validated research to compose best practice resources and help inform the design of products created by their brands, like GameTime. With their National Demonstration Site program, PlayCore recognizes communities for designing spaces using best practices outlined in the research.

The National Demonstration Site program was created to recognize thoughtfully planned outdoor environments that ensure people can be physically and socially active through play and recreation. Communities are recognized in a number of ways, including an online map,  and the positive attention gained can attract additional partners, funding, and serve as a model environment for others to replicate and share.   With a total of five National Demonstration Site programs for inclusive play, nature play, playful pathways, youth fitness, and adult fitness, PlayCore and GameTime are helping communities get the recognition and exposure they so richly deserve.

GameTime’s inclusive parks at Hugh Mac Rae Park in Wilmington, NC and Havens Gardens Park in Washington, NC are two of many parks being recognized as a National Demonstration Sites for following research-based best practice principles in inclusive design.


Research also informs many product designs, like the Expression Swing, the only swing where parent and child can swing together in complete attunement.


March 22nd #WePlayChat: Play to Support Growth and Well-Being

Join us Wednesday, March 22nd at 1:00pm EST as we welcome Kimberly Hart to our #WePlayChat on “Play to Support Growth & Well Being.” Kimberly (@KimberlyEHart) is a mother who is passionate about being active and healthy. She is a content developer at AAAStateofPlay.com. Growing up in Indianapolis, Kim has always been dedicated to staying healthy and being active especially after having two children. With the obesity epidemic on the rise, Kim makes a conscious effort to involve her children in playful activities like baseball, hiking, and enrolling them in camp during the summer. At times Kim volunteers at the camp, helping out with the daily activities for all the kids. In her spare time she offers personal trainingKimberly Hart for those looking to help improve their health goals.

Here are the chat questions that will guide our dialogue:

Q1: Do you believe that play is an integral part of a child’s growth and well being? Why?

Q2: In what ways does play support the emotional health of children? Are there kinds of play that nurture mental well-being?

 Q3: How does free play support physical growth and well-being? In what ways does this differ than the benefits of organized sports?
Q4: What role does recess play in a child’s growth and well-being? 
#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 7 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY. 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 the conversation around the value of play. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from the across the globe.

FREE CEUs, AIA Learning Units, and LA CES credits Available to Registered Attendees at The Play Conference

US-PLay-Round-TablesWant a PLAYful way to earn CEUs?!  Come to the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play, April 2-5 at Clemson University.

Clemson University awards CEUs for your participation in sessions at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play. All keynotes, featured and educational sessions are 45 minutes in length.  Participants can be awarded .05 CEUs for each of these sessions attended. There is no additional fee for CEUs at this conference.

NEW THIS YEAR!  Several of our sessions qualify for AIA and LA CES credits.  There are 4 hours eligible for AIA learning units and 16 sessions pending LA CES approval (though we have been assured it is just a matter of time).  These credits will also be available at no additional charge to our participants.
Special registration options are available for schools, non-profits, and government agencies looking to send 4 or more delegates.  Contact Stephanie Garst for more information.

Register today for The Play Conference!


Inaugural Lineup of Pre-Conference Play Institutes Announced

The moment you have waited for has arrived!  Check out our inaugural lineup of Pre-Conference Play Institutes for the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play.

These Play Institutes are 3-hour topic-specific trainings that take place on Sunday, April 2 from 11:00am-2:30pm (includes a 30 minutes break).  Registration is required.  Cost is just $25 for the institute of your choice.  Click on each of the titles below to learn more.

Play Facilitator Certificate of Completion
Ellen O’Sullivan, PhD., CPRP
President, Leisure Lifestyle Consulting

Change Agents for Play: Program Design Starts with Understanding Your Audience
Deborah Rhea, Ed.D. – Professor, Texas Christian University and Director, LiiNK™ Project
Alex Rivchun – Project/Budget Manager, LiiNK™ Project
Laura Clark – Research Associate, LiiNK™ Project

Effective Playground Protective Surfacing – The Elusive Goal
Rolf Huber, Canadian Playground Advisory Inc.
Ken Kutska, International Playground Safety Institute, Inc.

These Pre-conference Play Institutes are available ONLY to conference attendees as an add-on option. Cost to attend an institute is $25. Pre-registration is required.
 

#WePlayChat with Rae Pica: The Joys of Unstructured Play

Join us Monday, February 27 at 12:00pm EST as we welcome Rae Pica to our #WePlayChat on “The Joys Of Unstructured Play.” Rae has been an Education Consultant, specializing in the development and education of the whole child and children’s physical activity, since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the founder and director of Moving & Learning (now Rae Pica Keynotes & Consulting) and the author of 19 books. Among many other roles,  Rae served on the task force of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (now SHAPE America) that created national guidelines for early childhood physical activity, is a member of several advisory boards, and serves on the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International. In addition, Rae is co-founder of the BAM Radio Network, the world’s largest online education radio network, where she currently hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences and more.

Here are the chat questions that will guide our dialogue:

Q1. What are elements of unstructured play? How do these elements differ from structured play?

Q2. What are the benefits associated with unstructured play?

Q3. What are the unstructured play recommendations around the world? Should these change?

Q4. What messaging should we use with parents & schools around unstructured 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 7 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.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 the conversation around the value of play. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from the across the globe.


The ABCs of the 2017 Play Conference Research Symposium and Educational Sessions

The full detailed schedule is coming soon with dozens more session titles…but until then, below is an alphabetical list of the Research Symposium and Educational Sessions that have been confirmed for the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play.  Check back often because we will update the list as our presenters continue to confirm their sessions.

 playing with boxes from Pat Rumbaugh   DSCF1349   IMG_2667

Be sure to REGISTER TODAY because the early bird deadline for this PLAYful conference is February 24.

  • 7 Elements of PLAY & the Impact on Learning in the Classroom
  • A Call for Trauma Informed Play
  • All Grown Up! Emerging Trends with Play Past Childhood: Parkour, Parks, and Programming
  • Ambassadors for Play – Next Generation Play Workers
  • An Invitation to the Playground: Obesity and the Power of Play and Recreation
  • Bringing play into the architecture curriculum
  • Brown Bag STEM Challenge: Experiencing STEM through Play
  • Building a Community of PLAY Through an Interdisciplinary University Collaborative
  • CAN SCREEN TIME BE QUALITY TIME?
  • Caretakers of Wonder: Promoting Science Concepts with Playful Activities
  • Creating Family Friendly Cities
  • Designing Effective Playground Environments to Stimulate Play
  • Designing for a Playful Park: Creating a Play program for Boston’s Greenway
  • Designing Play and Recreation Environments that Turn Research into Practice
  • Documenting Play With Video – A Curricular Lens
  • Equitable Play Opportunities: A Social Justice Issue
  • Generation Migration:  An Intergenerational Adult Day Camp Experience
  • Get PLAYFUL with DANCE
  • Getting Out of the Way: Designing for Playwork
  • Healing through Play: Play Opportunities as Positive Distractions at Pediatric Healthcare Environment
  • Imagination Playground, Tinker Toys, and Play
  • Impact of Adlerian Play Therapy on Externalizing Behaviors of At-Risk Preschoolers
  • Integrating STEAM and 21st Century Learning Skills into Summer Camp
  • It All Starts on the Playground: Magical Bridge Playground and Beyond
  • Kidmania: Designing for Playing, Learning, and Growing
  • Learn Through Play : A Post-Occupancy Evaluation of the Smale River Front Park’s Adventure Playground, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • LET US Play: A New Approach to Old Games
  • Meeting Preschool Teachers Where They Are! Creating Digital Play Landscapes in Rural Communities
  • Monkey Brains and Monkey Bars
  • Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo and Aquarium: The Phoenix Zoo’s Successful Adventure in Bringing Nature Play to the Community
  • Outdoor Classroom (subject but not the correct name of presentation)
  • Parents as Potential Gatekeepers of Play:  Strategies for Managing Overparenting in Out-of-School Time
  • Parents Can Read, Rattle & Roll
  • Patterns, Place, and Play: How Design Initiatives Can Highlight What Is Right In Front of Us
  • Play Everywhere:  Creating Family-Friendly Cities
  • Play Facilitation: Choices that Count
  • Play Facilitation: Unleashing Power of Play for Children
  • Play For All: Inclusive Playscape Design
  • Play in American Life, a Tribute to Dr. Joe L. Frost:  Meet the Authors
  • Play to Innovate
  • Play Under Pressure
  • Play University: A Hands-on Approach to Guiding Children Through the Stages of Play
  • Playful Pedagogy: Playwork and Playing Out
  • Playing on Two Wheels
  • Playing to Heal: A Trauma Sensitive Sports Practice
  • Pop Up Play: Affordable, Safe, and Community Driven Solutions
  • Pretend Play and Brain Growth
  • Promoting the Power of Play Through a Regional Play Conference
  • Pure Play at the Fair: How temporary space leads to permanent play
  • Quantitative Assessment of Playground Quality and Inclusivity
  • Reclaiming Play
  • The Adult Play Cycle: Sex, Drugs, Netflix & Chill
  • The Connections Between Invention and Play
  • The LiiNK Project: The effects of play and character development on attentional fatigue in public school grades K & 1
  • The LiiNK Project: The effects of play and character development on classroom behaviors, BMI, and character scores in public school grades K & 1
  • The Magic of Children’s Gardens
  • The Power of Play: Improving School Climate Through Play
  • The Shape of the New Adventure Play Movement
  • The Transformational Power of an Inclusive Playground
  • Unleashing the Preschooler’s Potential in the Classroom and Beyond: How Movement & Play Power Learning
  • Why Play Must be Open-Ended, Mindful, and Wacky in Order to be Worthwhile!
  • You want me to do what?

Landscape Structures – For a Better Tomorrow We Play Today

We recently launched a campaign that we hope will start a new dialogue in the playground industry. It asks all of us to consider why we invest in our children, playgrounds and in play. With the greater impact of play on children and our communities in mind, we created a video that puts a spotlight on what we at Landscape Structures all instinctively know but don’t always put into words: For a better tomorrow, we play today.

Play is, of course, valuable because it encourages physical fitness and fun. However, we believe the playground instills deeper values in children like leadership, perseverance and cooperation. It’s these values that ultimately shape the adults they become and the reason why we are so dedicated to bringing play to all children. Watch our video and learn more about the campaign at shapedbyplay.com. If you feel a connection to the message, share it with your online followers and tell everyone how you’ve been #shapedbyplay.


January 2017 #WePlayChat: Play Based Experiential Learning

Join us Friday, January 27 at 1:00pm EST as we welcome Amowi Phillips to our #WePlayChat on “Play Based Experiential Learning.” Amowi  has a life-long interest in children, play, culture and design in African contexts. She is a strong advocate for securing kid-friendly public cultural spaces in urban Africa. She works as a social innovator and concept team leader through Mmofra Foundation on Playtime in Africa, a children’s park and natural learning project in Accra, Ghana which is the only one of its kind in the country.

Here are the chat questions that will guide our dialogue:

Q1. What are some global examples of play-based experiential learning (#PBXL)?
Q2. In your community, how is learning from play valued?
Q3. What environments work best for playful hands-on learning?
Q4. How can child-centered design and public spaces promote playful learning? 

#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 7 countries, spanning 4 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY.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 the conversation around the value of play. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from the across the globe.