Inaugural Researcher and Practitioner Awards Announced at 2017 Play Conference

The U.S. Play Coalition established an awards program recognizing outstanding play research and youth practitioners at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play.  This new awards program will honor exceptional individuals each year.  The winners will 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 inaugural Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research was presented to its namesake – Joe L. Frost, the contemporary father of play advocacy.  The award recognizes a body of exceptional research that has enhanced and expanded the study of play.

“Joe Frost has been an influencer for our organization’s work as well as for the world of play,” said Stephanie Garst, executive director of the U.S. Play Coalition. “The creation of this award is a fitting tribute.”

Frost is the Parker Centennial Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. He is known across the world for his more than 30 years of work on early childhood and children’s play environments. Past president of both the Association for Childhood Education International and International Play Association/USA, he is the author or co-author of 18 books and numerous publications and has also served as a consultant for playgrounds worldwide.

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. He served as a keynote speaker that year at the coalition’s first conference – then called the Summit on the Value of Play –and has been an honorary chair for each successive conference.

YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award

The U.S. Play Coalition also teamed with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute to present the first-ever 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 inaugural award went to Dan Mathews, chief operating officer at Camp Twin Lakes, a Georgia-based organization that provides camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges.  According to his nomination, Dan is “a champion for all youth using play as the center of his outstanding leadership and tireless efforts in furthering development, access, and professionalism of the field of youth-development…He is an excellent standard bearer for the inaugural Youth Development Practitioner Award.”

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. 

Industry Leaders Announced for Keynote “Power PLAYer Panel”

The US Play Coalition is proud to announce the latest addition to the keynote lineup for the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play, April 2-5 at Clemson University.

Some of the biggest names in the industry will come together for our second keynote session – the “Power PLAYer Panel.”  Tackling the landscape of play from research, health, youth, parks and governmental perspectives, this is a discussion NOT to be missed!

Fran Mainella – Founder/Co-Chair of the US Play Coalition & Former Director of the National Park Service
Fran Mainella served as the 16th Director of the National Park Service from 2001 – 2006. She was the first woman to hold this key position. Prior to heading the National Park Service, Mainella served for twelve years as Director of Florida State Parks. She has also served as executive director of the Florida Recreation and Park Association and as president of both the National Recreation and Park Association and the National Association of State Park Directors. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at Clemson University Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management and the founder and co-chair of the US Play Coalition.

Stuart Brown, MD – Founder and President of National Institute for Play
Trained in general and internal medicine, psychiatry and clinical research, Dr. Stuart Brown has spent his career studying animal behavior and conducting more than six thousand “play histories” of humans from all walks of life—from serial murderers to Nobel Prize winners.  Brown’s research asserts that play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve, and more. Play is hardwired into our brains—it is the mechanism by which we become resilient, smart, and adaptable people.

Michael Suk, MD – Chief Physician Officer, Geisinger System Services
An orthopaedic traumatologist by training, Dr. Michael Suk has served as a White House Fellow by President George W. Bush and served as Special Assistant to Secretary Gale A. Norton at the U.S. Department of the Interior.   During his tenure as a White House Fellow, Dr. Suk organized Get Fit with US, designed to support HealthierUS, a federal interagency program based on the premise that increasing personal fitness and becoming healthier is critical to achieving a better and longer life.  At Interior, Dr. Suk spearheaded an initiative to develop the link between public health and recreation by coordinating five Interior bureaus.  Dr. Suk believes that simple outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and camping on public lands and waters can serve as a gateway to a healthier lifestyle.

Kim Moore Bailey – Executive Director, Youth Outside

Kim Moore Bailey brings a wealth of experience to her role as Executive Director for Youth Outside. Kim provides the leadership and vision that drives its mission of connecting youth to nature by eliminating barriers, providing resources, and promoting outdoor programming. Inspired by her own passion for the outdoors and years of both professional and personal experiences, Kim focuses on Youth Outside’s strategic direction, grantmaking portfolio, and working to achieve measurable results. Kim believes that Youth Outside serves as an intermediary to develop the critical connections required to engage underrepresented youth to nature and to encourage the capacity building of the organizations supported.



2017 Pre-Conference Institute – Effective Playground Protective Surfacing: The Elusive Goal

Rolf Huber, Canadian Playground Advisory Inc.
Ken Kutska, International Playground Safety Institute, Inc.

Every type of surface has the potential to fail to perform as expected.  Manufacturers and distributors are obligated to market the advantageous aspects of their products but what questions should the owner/purchaser be asking of the supplier.  Playgrounds are a place of wonder for all to enjoy irrespective of ability or age. Without the knowledge necessary to purchase the appropriate surface system for your playground you are likely to experience problems with maintaining your playground in compliance with the current public playground standards and guidelines.

Part One

The history if impact attenuation and severity of injury.

  • Mechanism of injury prevention and severity reduction
  • What is an acceptable injury to a child?
  • How many playground injuries are there per year?  What are most frequent types of injuries? What are the main cause of these injuries? What is the cost?
  • How many traumatic brain injuries are sustained on playgrounds annually?

Review the current Standard of Care for Public Playground Impact Attenuating Surfacing

  • US CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety
  • Other ASTM Standards related to impact attenuation for surfacing.

Injury Reduction: Can playground injuries be reduced let alone prevented?

With the goal of injury reduction in mind; we will discuss the impact of the owner, designer, and/or manufacturers’ intended design use of the playground equipment versus the reality of how a child plays in unforeseeable and unintended ways.

Since the performance of surfacing greatly contributes to the potential for injury prevention and/or reduction in injury severity we will discuss what the owner/designer should consider when designing for more challenging play in the public playground.

Part Two

This section will outline the problems associated with different types of surfacing systems, their materials, installation and maintenance issues, and the problems related to cross contamination of loose-fill and unitary surface systems.

  • Review the different types playground surfaces available today.
  • Discuss the advantages, disadvantages, and performance issues of each.

What goes wrong with surfacing? We will discuss the common problems of maintaining compliant surfacing regardless of the type.  What is an accessible surface?

  • Every playground must meet the ADA as a minimum.  Current practices often do not meet the requirements for the removal of architectural barriers for all.  As play people we understand graduated challenges, with an empathy for all.  Understanding the role of surfacing in providing full challenging play to everyone is the goal of this portion of the session.
  • What is the law on accessibility?
  • How is accessibility compliance measured?

Good Product Selection and Purchasing Practices

  • There is not a perfect surface – We will have a discussion with the entire group to consider what is a good surface and how it enhances play, protects children and allows access to everyone wanting to play or participate in play.

Best Defense Against Claims of Surfacing Non-Compliance

This and two other pre-conference institutes are available ONLY to conference attendees as an add-on option.  Cost to attend an institute is $25.  Pre-registration is required.


2017 Pre-Conference Institute – 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
This workshop will focus on being change agents in our communities to design and communicate play initiatives that utilize both physical environment and social emotional learning components.

Our goals are to identify and discuss challenges facing schools and communities to integrate play into different environments; discuss what unstructured, outdoor play means and why social emotional learning (SEL) should be emphasized; finally, to identify different ways our groups can collaborate to bring change to our communities through different program designs. This workshop will also examine what local, state, and federal policies should be considered to strengthen resource availability for designing programs.”

Much has happened over the past 30 years in the U.S. to the detriment of children’s health and academic enthusiasm. Parents are in an uproar over the lack of recess in the schools. Our culture has adopted a much more aggressive stance on technology to teach and entertain children while providing very few opportunities to use natural resources through play to learn and create. In order to produce a healthier, academically grounded culture for our next generations of children, unstructured play should be a fundamental part of every school day for pre-kindergarten through adolescents. Much of the research has shown obesity trends can be reversed, health benefits can be increased more long term, and children will be more vested in learning when given time to explore and problem solve through play and physical activity. How we design play in our communities is only as effective as understanding the audience making decisions about play in that environment.

Workshop Outline/Objectives:

Hour 1: Participants will identify current play initiatives; identify strengths & barriers common to their program implementation; and identify their target audience.

Hour 2:  We will focus on the patterns identified in the first hour and develop 2-3 ways the attendees can become change agents through play design initiatives

Hour 3:  We will focus on developing ideas to effectively communicate their initiatives to identified target audiences, as well as developing 2-3 strategies that move the attendees’ initiatives forward through local, state, and federal policies.

This and two other pre-conference institutes are available ONLY to conference attendees as an add-on option.  Cost to attend an institute is $25.  Pre-registration is required.

2017 Pre-Conference Institute – Play Facilitator Certificate of Completion

Ellen O’Sullivan, PhD., CPRP
President, Leisure Lifestyle Consulting

This training gives adult facilitators the tools, beginner knowledge, and confidence to provide unstructured play experiences at their facility.  This introductory training is designed to meet the needs of seasonal, part-time, and temporary workers at camps, playgrounds, and after-school programs. The program is also beneficial as a training tool for full-time staff that work with and lead those individuals.  A certificate of completion will be given to all participants who complete the training. This training is typically priced at $59/person…but the 2017 Play Conference fee is just $25/person!

Specific topics covered during the training include:

  • About Play – The Importance of Play
    • Characteristics of Play
    • Types of Play
    • Examples of Play
  • Play and its Relationship to Stages of Child Development
    • Brief overview of child development characteristics
    • Role of play related to those characteristics
    • Examples of suitable games and activities
  • Roles of Play Facilitator
  • Setting the Stage
    • Safety and security
    • Support for play environment
  • Overseeing Play
  • Directing vs. Supporting Play
    • Balance between both
    • o   Examples of situations where appropriate
    • o   Examples of facilitator’s behavior
This and two other pre-conference institutes are available ONLY to conference attendees as an add-on option.  Cost to attend an institute is $25.  Pre-registration is required.


Ellen O’Sullivan, Ph.D., CPRP
Ellen O’ Sullivan is a long time park and recreation professional who began her life’s work as a camp counselor and community recreation director and evolved to university professor and consultant.  Ellen has long believed in the power and promise, that parks and recreation holds for individuals, communities, and society overall. Her contributions to the field include authorship of several books on marketing, major role in the benefits movement, ground-breaking applied research in health using the innovative magnet center approach as well as her role supporting and sustaining community agencies as they strategically alter course to create a viable future in the health, livability, and vitality of communities.

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 If you feel a connection to the message, share it with your online followers and tell everyone how you’ve been #shapedbyplay.

KaBoom! CEO to give PLAYtalk at 2017 Conference on the Value of Play


Our next PLAYtalk presenter is determined to bring play everywhere, especially to low-resource communities in the United States.  James Siegal is CEO of KaBOOM!, the national non-profit that seeks to give all kids the childhood they deserve, filled with play.  KaBOOM! is dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America.

James Siegal says that, in addition to building play spaces in low-income neighborhoods, KaBOOM! urges local leaders to take steps to create equitable, kid-friendly cities.  “The conversations about improving cities all too often ignore the needs of kids and families,” he says.

Most recently, KaBOOM! hosted The Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million competkaboom-logo-tagline-1200x630ition to help kids access innovative play spaces.

For his PLAYtalk, James will discuss “Transforming Every Day Spaces into PLAYces”.

PLAYtalks are our Play Conference version of TED Talks. They will be a series of 15-20 minute dynamic, entertaining, enlightening, engaging, inspiring, informative talks by thought leaders in the play world.

Learn more about the conference by clicking here.

Early bird registration is now open!

Inaugural Youth Development Practitioner Award to be Given at 2017 Conference on the Value of Play

The US Playli-large-logoy Coalition is pleased to partner with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute for their first ever Youth Development Practitioner Award.  The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services. The inaugural recipient will be named at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play in Clemson, SC.

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

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2016 Youth Development Practitioner Award.  Deadline for nominations is December 15, 2016. The winner of the 2017 Youth Development Practitioner Award will be notified in mid-January and recognized at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play at Clemson University, April 2-5, 2017.  The winner will have conference fees paid, hotel accommodations and up to $500 in travel to attend the Play Conference.

2017 Youth Development Practitioner Award Application Process

To recognize outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

Must have operated a youth development program or service within the United States for at least 10 or more years.

Evaluation Criteria:
Applicants should show evidence of as many of met criteria in their submitted statement.

  • Accomplishments serve as an example for other youth serving programs.
  • Program/service demonstrates best practices and a nurturing culture that supports inclusivity and human resilience.
  • Outreach efforts promote youth development programs and encourage support and participation from the community at-large.
  • Equips young people to lead and serve, through direct work with youth and by training other practitioners.
  • Demonstrates positive impact on lives of young people and leads by example.
  • Demonstrates high level of leadership, professionalism and integrity in the field of youth development.
  • Strengthens the field of youth work by providing quality training opportunities for youth workers to maximize their investment in young people.
  • Focuses on attempts to improve the quality of youth services by providing training standards and improving program function.
  • Shares best practices with other youth practitioners or serves as a liaison in the community to create a network of participation and sharing of ideas/knowledge.
  • Program/service demonstrates exceptional commitment to public service and/or educational leadership.

If you have any questions, please contact Melanie Bargar at 864-787-2893.

Play Like a Girl Founder to give PLAYtalk at 2017 Play Conference

drk-headshotKimberly S. Clay, PhD, MPH, MSW
Founder & Executive Director, Play Like A Girl!®

Inspiring play. Unlocking potential.
So girls can do extraordinary things.
Play Like A Girl® is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women and girls to be healthy and confident through sport, physical activity, and active play.  Founder and executive director Dr. Kimberly Clay will share her passion for helping girls reach their full potential and her latest efforts to #bringbackplay – starting in backyards, neighborhood parks and schools across the South.

Dr. Kimberly Clay began her career as a social worker and public health analyst.  In 2004, she surged onto the research scene as a National Institutes of Health Cancer Prevention and Control Fellow at the Minority Health Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. During her work, Dr. Kim visited local communities and witnessed the gender gap in physical activity and health-related outcomes firsthand, which led her to start Play Like A Girl!®.  Dr. Kim has also served as Public Health Advisor for the Centers Disease Control and Prevention and was a tenure-track professor at the University of Georgia until she took a sabbatical to lead Play Like A Girl!®plg-logo

Dr. Kim has been named one of Toyota’s Everyday Heroes, Xavier University’s 40 Under 40, and one of 50 People on the Move by the Nashville Business Journal.

Learn more about the conference by clicking here.

Early bird registration is now open!