Paleo Promotes Play – “Don’t Ever Stop Playing”

Paleo Magazine, one of our 2018 Conference on the Value of Play sponsors, wants our readers to know that Paleo is more than just a diet!  In fact, they believe there are three equally important components that make up the Paleo lifestyle as shown in this graphic.  Do you see what is on the exercise list?!  PLAY!

Read on to learn what Paleo Magazine says about PLAY!

“When it comes to maintaining health, exercise is optional, but movement is essential.”— Frank Forencich, The Art Is Long

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”— George Bernard Shaw

Many of today’s health problems exist because our daily physical-activity patterns are completely different from those we were designed to perform. Americans spend over 90 percent of their time indoors (this includes enclosed buildings and vehicles). As a result, we are exposed to more pollutants than ever before, and many of us are lacking much-needed vitamin D.

We know it’s vital for our health to spend time outside, but once outdoors it is even more beneficial for us to play—to move. Playing outside and embracing our inner child has been shown to do wonders for our mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Think of playing outside as movement paired with fun. Play is different from exercising or working out, activities where the goal is to achieve specific fitness benchmarks. You can enjoy outdoor play with friends and family, adults and children, and of course pets. Playing includes activities like hide-and-seek, tag, Frisbee, catch, racing, tag, dancing, bicycling, and any type of movement that makes you laugh and feel like a kid again.

The natural environments of our ancestors enabled a variety of outdoor physical activities—our ancestors led a very active lifestyle without the constraints we face today. Thankfully, we can optimize gene expression and establish the health that was enjoyed by hunter-gathers by engaging in daily physical activity.

Physical activity can help you sleep better, feel happier, and reduce stress, among many other benefits. So don’t be ashamed of heading outside to engage in activities you loved as a child with family and friends—the research has your back!

Healing Power

Playing outdoors makes healing even more enjoyable. According to Harvard Health Publications and several studies, being immersed in Mother Nature helps us heal—both physically and emotionally. Research shows that people recovering from spinal surgery experience less pain and stress, and take fewer pain medications, when they spend time outdoors. Play can also:

  • Help clear up acne, psoriasis, eczema, and jaundice.
  • Reduce the need for pain medication in patients who have undergone surgery.
  • Help older adults sleep better and experience less pain and less functional decline with respect to daily activities.
  • Improve mental well-being.

Benefits for Sleep

Research shows that physical activity improves our sleep:

  • 150 minutes of playtime per week (about 20 minutes a day) can improve adults’ sleep performance by 65 percent.
  • Playing outside can help improve the quality of our sleep.
  • Spending time outdoors in natural light shifts the cycle of our sleep hormones, which helps us to go to sleep and wake up earlier, and feel less groggy upon waking up.

Effects on Mood and Self-Esteem

Having had once been children, we know that playing outside is fun. And the evidence has taught us that the combination of social and physical activity can bolster our mental health and sense of self. Spontaneous play, which encourages much-needed face-to-face socialization, provides us with happy moments and wonderful memories.

The positive effects of playing outdoors on mood include:

  • Reduced aggression and violence—physical activity is useful for redirecting and dissipating stress-fueled aggressive energy
  • Playing outdoors allows us to engage in social activities that have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Play leads to laughter, which offers its own health benefits—laughter relaxes your muscles, reduces pain and stress, improves circulation, and enhances your immune system.

Effects on Focus and Creativity

  • Walking outside is linked to improved focus and creativity.
  • Playtime allows children and adults to explore new ideas and express their imaginations.
  • ADHD has been referred to by experts as a “nature-deficit disorder,” whose onset might be linked to us spending less time outdoors.
  • Research has shown that children are more focused on their schoolwork after recess.

How to Play

It seems like a simple question: How do we play? But many of us have lost our natural instinct for unstructured outdoor physical activity. Here are some tips and ideas for rekindling your ability to play:

  • Think like a kid. Let your inner child be your guide.
  • Take your children outside and follow them around. Do what they do. Let them inspire you.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Go for a hike, and feel free to venture from the beaten path from time to time.
  • Organize a group sport, like soccer, frisbee golf, or touch football.
  • Play tag.
  • Race, but don’t concern yourself so much with winning.
  • In the winter, go sledding, and when you get to the bottom, walk back up the hill.
  • Play fetch with your pets.
  • Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do.


When was the last time you spent a day barefoot at the beach and felt bad about it? Never? There’s a reason: When we walk (and play) outdoors barefoot, walking across grass, mud, or sand, we are taking part in an activity that is referred to as “grounding” or “earthing.”

Earth carries a huge negative charge, which can provide us with an excellent supply of electrons that are antioxidant-rich and have the ability to destroy free radicals (too many free radicals causes oxidative stress in our body and leads to disease). You actually absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet when your bare feet are on the ground—that is, dirt or grass, not concrete or asphalt.

The benefits of grounding include:

  • Rich source of antioxidants
  • Pain relief
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress on your body
  • Helps repair effects of radiation from cell phones, computers, etc.
  • Calms your sympathetic nervous system—supporting heart-rate variability
  • Supporting heart-rate variability in turn supports homeostasis (balance) in your autonomic nervous system

Moving Beyond Play

At some point in your fitness journey you may decide you want to add more complex movements to your daily routine. Play—with its hormonal benefits and emphasis on connecting with nature and other people—will of course continue being an important component for achieving physical and mental well-being. Play after all is the most basic, and only truly, necessary form of regular physical activity for overall wellness.

Lifting weights, sprinting, engaging in high-intensity interval workouts—these are all effective ways to take your physical fitness to the next level. Though for some the jump can seem intimidating. So start slowly. And no matter what other physical exercise you decide to incorporate into your Paleo lifestyle, DON’T EVER STOP PLAYING.


Excerpted from Go Paleo by Paleo Magazine

Reflections on the 2018 Keynote Panel, “The Implications of Race on Play for Youth of Color”

A year ago, I shared an e-mail to a professional listserv with the subject heading, “The State of Play for Black Youth”. This message was a direct response to a Grand Rapids, Michigan police officer’s body camera footage. As a quick recap, five black boys (ages 12-14) were forced to lie on the ground a gunpoint while returning home from playing basketball at the local Kroc Center. These boys fearful for their lives were loudly sobbing in the video and repeating “I don’t want to die, bro”. These youth had not committed any crimes and when parents arrived the officer stated their sons were “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

One result of the e-mail was an invitation to provide a keynote presentation at the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play. On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, I along with three colleagues discussed the impact of Race on the play of black youth. To set the stage, the discussion began by exploring some of the benefits of play such as opportunities to learn about roles, boundaries, and expectations. Contemporary examples were provided including the portrayal of “black”-voiced characters Skids and Mudflap in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the original lyrics to the popular nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,
Catch a n***r by his toe,
If he won’t work then let him go;
Skidum, skidee, skidoo.

Altogether these examples, raised the question what lessons do black youth learn through play? Equally important is, how did we get here? The panel methodically addressed these two questions.

Dr. Rasul Mowatt (Indiana University) began by providing a historical perspective of what play has meant for youth of color in the United States. Among the multiple examples presented was “The Kissing Case” which took place in Monroe, NC in 1958. While playing at the local playground, Sissy Marcus (a white girl) kissed 9-year-old James Thompson and 7-year old David Simpson on their cheeks. Both boys were African American. Sissy’s mom became upset when she heard about the “game” the kids had played. As a result, the two boys were arrested, held for six days without seeing their parents, beaten during the while in police custody, charged with molestation, and sentenced to reform school until they were 21. The governor of North Carolina pardoned the boys after they spent three months in detention. Reflecting on this incident, James’ sister, Brenda Lee Graham said…

“it was like seeing somebody different, that you didn’t even know. He never talked about what he went through there. But ever since then, his mind just hadn’t been the same.”

James also reflecting on the impact this incident had on his childhood said…

“I always sit around and I wonder, if this hadn’t happened to me, you know, what could I have turned out to be? Could I have been a doctor? Could I have went off to some college, or some great school? It just destroyed our life.”

Dr. Myron Floyd (North Carolina State University) shifted the attention towards the racialization of landscapes and outdoor play. Referring to a paper by Inwood & Yarbrough (2010), he began by arguing that racialized landscapes:

  • Define and reinforce racial hierarchies
  • Facilitate domination and exploitation

Examples were presented to show that public spaces such as state and federal parks, transportation, and housing were legally segregated in both the North and South. The segregation of private and commercial spaces such as movie theaters and resorts were also highlighted. A key statistic presented is that in 1921 only 13% of playgrounds in the US were open to Black children (Murphy, 1974). After providing a pre-Civil Rights overview, Dr. Floyd offered the question, “How much progress have we made?” Relying on data from the 2010 US Census and other national surveys, he presented evidence that communities across the US continue to lack racial and ethnic diversity. He also pointed out that black and Latinx families are significantly more likely to have no access to recreation facilities or open space as a result of these segregated communities. Of equal importance is that these families are also less likely to view their neighborhoods as safe. Limited recreation space coupled with perceptions of safety, restricts the play opportunities of black and Latinx youth. In short, little progress has been made.

Dr. Corliss Outley (Texas A&M University) closed the discussion by pointing our attention to the loss of childhood that black youth, in particular, experience as a result of their racial status. After sharing the video of aforementioned Grand Rapids, Michigan incident, Dr. Outley emphasized the importance and benefits of play in childhood including…

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

Attention was then turned to understanding how these and other opportunities are curbed for black youth. The differences in play opportunities was attributed to black youth being stereotyped as more violent, sexually aware, and guilty than white youth. Dr. Outley showed that these perceptions, directly led to negative consequences for black youth in the education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. In each of these institutions, black youth are more likely to receive the harshest consequences for negative behaviors (education and juvenile justice) and less likely to be adopted by families (foster care). While the initial claim was that there’s a loss of innocence for black youth, examples such as the story of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis were provided to show that for being black could lead to loss of life for some youth.

For the members of the panel, this was a special time of sharing. First, we appreciated Stephanie Garst and the US Play Coalition providing a space and audience for such an important discussion. The state of play for black youth is often discussed in local community meetings, school board hearings, and church gatherings; but rarely is an opportunity afforded to carry this conversation to individuals and groups outside of the community. Secondly, this panel is the only time that any of the panel members can recall witnessing or serving on a panel of all black faculty in the parks, recreation and tourism discipline. That in itself holds a level of significance for each of us.

This panel never intended to provide solutions about how to address the needs of black youth. Instead it was designed to begin the conversation. Based on the Q&A period that followed along with inquiries and comments received after the session, we believe we were successful in our aims.

2018 Grant Winners Announced

Grant funding is a distinctive feature of our annual Play Conference, and we are proud to have awarded $52,000 in funding to date.   At the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of 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 2018 Research Seed Grant was awarded to Muntazar Monsur, Ph.D., Nilda Cosco, Ph.D., and Robin Moore from NC State for their project entitled “Transitional play: Exploring the Play Value of Classroom Indoor-Outdoor Relationship of Space.”  The team plans to research transitional play and investigate the play value of transitional semi-covered space in an early childhood classroom to find out if it increases outdoor play time for children and increase children’s diversity in play.

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 action grants, supported by funding from our Giving TuesPLAY initiative as well as from action grant partner the Foundation for Sustainable Parks and Recreation.

There were two projects that each received a 2018 Action Grant:

– “Loose Parts Play Builds Tight Communities” – Patty Stine and Cheryl Simpson, Co-Founders of Pure Play Every Day, Inc.

– “Unequal Playing Field – A Panel Discussion on the Importance of Accessing Equal Play for Girls and Girls of Color” – Starr Jordan & Nichole Myles from Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

Outstanding Play Researcher and Practitioner Awards Announced at 2018 Play Conference

The U.S. Play Coalition is proud to introduce its 2018 PLAY award recipients, announced at the Celebration Gala of the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play.  Established in 2017, the awards program recognizes outstanding play researchers and youth practitioners.  The winners not only receive a physical award, but also have conference fees paid, hotel accommodations and up to $500 in travel to attend the Play Conference.

Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research

The 2018 Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research was presented to Dr. Olga Jarrett is Professor Emerita of early childhood/science education at Georgia State University, evaluator of an NSF project in Belize, and a past president of The Association for the Study of Play and the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.

The award, named for Joe L. Frost, the contemporary father of play advocacy, recognizes a body of exceptional research that has enhanced and expanded the study of play. Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the coalition’s beginning in 2009.

When Joe Frost himself learned of the selection committee’s choice, he wrote, “The committee has made a GREAT CHOICE. Olga is a great teacher, researcher and friend.”

Dr. Jarrett’s nominator said this in his nomination:

Dr. Jarrett has a 25-year career devoted to play advocacy and play research.  Much of her research has focused on play deprivation and its effect on economically deprived and minority children.  Using her research as support, she initiated and helped to draft legislation in Georgia that would make playtime and recess mandatory for all school children.  Her research has shown that poor and minority children are more likely to be play deprived than more advantaged children.  Dr. Jarrett has supervised many doctoral students who have conducted play research and who also have been involved in play advocacy.  Dr. Jarrett has also extended her advocacy internationally.

YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award

The U.S. Play Coalition also teamed with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute to present the Youth Development Practitioner Award. The award recognizes outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

“There are many deserving practitioners across the nation, and our goal is to bring recognition to this field of service,” said Stephen Lance, executive director of the Youth Learning Institute.

The 2018 YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award recipient is Pat Rumbaugh, a play advocate and co-founder of Let’s Play America. She is known as “The Play Lady”, has for more than 10 years, been an advocate, author, and participant in play activities for youth and the young at heart. Pat has made youth development and play her life’s work, from the time she began her career as a physical education teacher to now as she provides multiple avenues for youth to grow in their play lives, but also, hone valuable business skills, learning advocacy and community involvement from one of the best.  She also wrote a children’s book called, “Let’s Play at the Playground,” which encourages children to choose outdoor play and sparks their imagination while looking at the full page photographs.

Water: Discovering the Extra Dimension of Play

Did you know that by adding water, you are actually adding an extra dimension of play?

Water is timeless…it has a universal appeal…it transcends cultures and generations, transcends age groups. It brings an endless supply of sensations, thrills, and excitement. Water draws people in and brings people together. And yet when we think of the word ‘play’ even here, our minds don’t firstly associate that with water, we might think of sports or playgrounds or games we play at home or in schools. But we kind of underestimate the importance and fun and benefits of water play.

“Because unlike playing sports or with toys or in a sandbox, we don’t move water. Water literally moves us.  Physically. Emotionally. Socially. Across age gaps. Even across demographics” says Marie-Catherine Dubé, Vortex’s lead designer and play advocate.  At the 2018 Play Conference, Marie-Catherine and others shared the social and physical developmental aspects of water play and the revitalizing role that water-based playscapes are having in our communities.

With 7,000 installations in 45 countries, Vortex Aquatic Structures International is a world leader in aquatic play solutions.  Learn more about Vortex at

Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences Continues to Sponsor the Play Conference

A message from Dr. Brett Wright, Dean of Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences is proud to be a sponsor of this year’s Conference on the Value of Play hosted by the US Play Coalition, whose mission is to help strengthen communities — physically, socially, economically, and culturally.

We, as a college, are focused on building people and building communities, and focused on becoming a national and international leader in solving the problems faced by individuals, families, communities and societies. One such problem is play deprivation among children.

Through our unique combination of departments and schools, we are working to further Clemson’s land-grant mission, strategic vision, and global impact – and make a tangible difference in the lives of people every day!

As a college that strives to make a difference, we recognize the importance of play and how it makes a community stronger. We have faculty involved in research in this field, and we are happy to partner with the US Play Coalition.

Dr. Brett Wright
College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences
Clemson University

CEUs for Architects and Landscape Architects Available to Registered Attendees at The Play Conference

Want a PLAYful way to earn AIA and LA CES CEUs?!  Come to the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play, April 8-11 at Clemson University.

More than 18 hours of our sessions have been approved for LA CES credits.  Over 9 hours of our sessions have been approved for AIA learning units – two sessions also approved for HSW credits (NCBLA credits are pending too!).

Check out these LA CES approved sessions below.  AIA designation indicated where applicable.  All are one hour unless noted:

  • Effective Playground Protective Surfacing: The Key Element for Risk Assessment under the new ASTM F1487 (*3.5 hours, separate registration required – AIA HSW and LU)
  • Inclusive Design for the Aquatic Splash Pad (AIA HSW and LU)
  • Community-Based Strategies for Building and Activating Inclusive Playgrounds (AIA LU)
  • Learning to Build (AIA LU)
  • Lighting Play Environments for Today & the Future (AIA LU)
  • Shhh! There’s a Playspace coming to the Library! (AIA LU)
  • Your Senses at Play! Explore playground designs and programs that support children with Autism (AIA LU)
  • A Walk on the Wild Side: Connecting Play and Zoo Walkways
  • Availability and Quality of Urban Play Spaces in The East Africa Community: A Critical Assessment
  • Just Play Project: Ithaca: Designing the Child-Friendly City!
  • US-PLay-Round-Tables
  • Sensory Play: An Integral Component of Inclusive Recreation
  • Shaped by Play: The Formative Role of Play and Playgrounds
  • The Butterfly Effect: Building on the Big Idea
  • The Many Spaces of Play: The Many Faces of Children
  • Water Play and Children’s Complex Scientific Explorations
  • Zoos as a Nature Play Destination: Nature Playgrounds at Bronx Zoo and Houston Zoo

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.


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, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The three day event includes keynote and featured speakers, round tables on critical issues and trends, research symposium for academics, educational sessions for practitioners, action and research grant opportunities, PLAYtalks and PLAYinstitutes, networking, EPIC play breaks and more.



AIA CEUs Available to Registered Attendees at The Play Conference

Want a PLAYful way to earn AIA CEUs?!  Come to the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play, April 8-11 at Clemson University.

More than 8 hours of our sessions have been approved for AIA learning units – two sessions also approved for HSW credits (all are approved for LA CES with NCBLA  pending too!)

Check out these AIA approved sessions (all are one hour unless noted):

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.


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, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The three day event includes keynote and featured speakers, round tables on critical issues and trends, research symposium for academics, educational sessions for practitioners, action and research grant opportunities, PLAYtalks and PLAYinstitutes, networking, EPIC play breaks and more.



Children’s Early Play Experiences a “Developmental Necessity” for Successful Adults

To build better playgrounds and to encourage more of them, we wanted to understand how play leads to the development of successful adults. That’s why we commissioned a meta-study in partnership with the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development to advance the conversation.

Drawing from a wide body of social scientific analyses, we found the studies overwhelmingly reinforce the value—and seemingly, the developmental necessity—of children’s early play experiences. Most studies draw strong associations between free, unstructured play and positive outcomes. Several studies also point to restrictive work and school schedules, organized after-school activities, safety concerns and the rise of passive entertainment options for the growing infringement on children’s play opportunities.

For children around the world, playgrounds and play are an important and positive part of childhood development. Request a copy of the full research whitepaper at

“EAT, SLEEP, PLAY, REPEAT” SHIRTS now available for pre-order!

Make sure YOU are wearing the latest in PLAY gear at the 2018 Play Conference!!!

These new LIMITED EDITION play shirts were designed by Play Ambassadors Brian VanDongen and Ryan Fahey.  T-shirt orders placed here will be available for pickup at the Play Conference only. (NOTE: A separate post-conference campaign will have shipping options). If you are coming to the Play Conference, order here to SAVE on shipping!

Orders open now through March 12.

They will only print what gets ordered before the campaign closes. Those ordered get printed and will be available for pickup at the Play Conference!

Support US Play Coalition and PLAY by purchasing a PLAYful shirt! Order yours before time runs out…!!!!