by Greg Harrison, CMO, Playworld

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

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

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

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


pics for guest blog

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

By Guest Blogger Stacey Swigart, Curator, Please Touch Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fun Facts:

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


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

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

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

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


Bronze Sponsor of the 2015 Conference on the Value of Play

schools1 schools2 schools3 schools4

Play comes naturally to children in the primary grades, but as students mature, attitudes toward the type of play they formerly enjoyed begin to change.

Nowhere is this more evident than when comparing a middle school campus with that of an elementary school campus. Gone are the swing sets, the slides, the jungle gyms – replaced by sports fields used only by athletically-inclined students. Gone, also, is much of the spontaneous physical activity that keeps younger children so healthy. For the students who do not go out for sports, enticements to physical activity suddenly become very few.

Educators face a challenge with the middle and high school set: How to encourage the same type of playful activity in youths who have moved beyond the playground?

Schools across the country have turned to outdoor fitness equipment in recent years. The structures, in some ways reminiscent of playground equipment, encourage playful activity in older children in a social environment that makes fitness fun. Schools typically employ the exercise units during PE classes, but also make them available to the students before and after school and during breaks.

Terrace Community Middle School in Thonotosassa, Florida employs its outdoor gym for PE classes, a practice that teacher Vivian Canaday says has been a great option for the students.

“It makes it enjoyable for them. They don’t realize that they are … getting some exercise because they are actually having fun,” she says.

A high percentage of students lack the upper body strength to do exercises on static units, such as pull-up bars. Therefore, to meet students on their level, schools have found body weight leverage resistance units as an effective alternative. Canaday says this type of equipment allows every student, regardless of fitness level, the opportunity to participate successfully.

A wide variety of equipment allows for not only upper body exercises, but also includes activities to strengthen the core and lower body, increase cardiovascular health, and provide for stretching. Students participate in groups – and many exercise units allow for several students to use them at one time. In this way, the exercise incorporates more of a playful element, giving students additional motivation.

“They challenge each other to see who can go longer on some of the equipment. It gives them a whole new view of different fitness activities,” she says.

Schools incorporating outdoor fitness equipment on their campuses often choose to extend the benefits to the greater community as well by designating the zones as joint-use areas. As a result, the benefits of playful fitness are extended to not only the students, but to adults as well – who often are in just as great, if not greater, need for physical activity, and who may not be able to afford gym memberships.

Palomares Academy in Pomona, California is one such example. A joint project between the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Pomona Unified School District, the fitness zone of 16 units allows for at least 28 students to participate in fitness activities during PE classes – and it also provides a fantastic opportunity for families in the area to enjoy exercise together after school hours.

By combining play with fitness, this unique concept has been gaining popularity nationwide and proving that play is a key to fitness not just for young children, but for teens, adults and beyond.