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 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.”

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 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 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.”

2019 Summer PLAY Reading Review

This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources for your Summer Reading List!

PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!

Check out this summer’s PLAY reading recommendations that include books on outdoor play, loose parts play, education and play, the brain and play, and inclusive play:


Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, by Angela Hanscom

According to Heather Von Bank, “Hanscom’s book advocates for unstructured outdoors play and promotes it as the most optimal way for children to development healthy bodies, minds, and social skills.”  Read on…!


Playing it Up — With Loose Parts, Playpods, and Adventure Playgrounds, by Joan Almon

In August 2017, we published this book review below of Joan Almon’s then-new publication by Debora B. Wisneski, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska- Omaha) with Melany Spiehs and Carol Burk (Omaha Public Schools). As news of Joan’s passing continues to be on our heart, we wanted to include this as a special part of our Summer PLAY Reading Review series.

Upon learning of Joan’s death, Melany Spiehs, one of the co-authors of the review, shared this sentiment: “Joan was such an inspiration and her spirit must live on through us!”  Read the review…


 Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, by Deborah Rhea, Ed.D.

This is the new book by our favorite recess advocate Debbie Rhea. Debbie is famous (at least to us!) for her research findings that show that MORE RECESS leads to improved behavior and academic performance in the classroom. This book takes the reader to where it all began – a sabbatical in Finland.  Learn more…


Playful Intelligence, by Anthony DeBenedet, MD

It is a “Back to School” edition of our Summer PLAY reading reviews! Julie Padgett Jones reviews Playful Intelligence, the latest book from 2018 PLAYtalk-er Anthony DeBenedet, MD. As an educator of educators, Julie puts a teacher’s spin on the takeaways from this read! As she says it’s “Playful Intelligence… for teachers. Because playing is fun. And school should be.” Read more…


You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley

In this  book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”  Read the review…


What are some of YOUR favorite PLAY books and resources???!!
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The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is a partnership to promote the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, we are an international network of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. Our membership is diverse – including play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians, parents and more. Membership is free, and simply requires a declaration of shared commitment to the value of play. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play

Paley, Vivian Gussin.(1992) You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Every summer I teach a graduate course on “Play as a Learning Medium,” and I always recommend that the students read a book–any book– by Vivian Paley. I try to coax them into extra reading by adding that Paley’s books on play are great summer beach or back yard reads. From a graduate student’s point of view, Paley’s books of stories about children’s play in her classroom, seems simple and entertaining compared to their regular diet of scientific research articles and dense theoretical essays.  Yet, while Paley’s stories and reflections on children’s play may seem simple, once one begins reading her stories, one may find themselves reconsidering how they understand children, play, and even the world.

Of all of Paley’s books, my favorite is You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play because it challenges children and adults to rethink how we treat one another.  Paley shines a light on one of the more difficult aspects of free play in early childhood education settings—rejection of others.  Teachers can probably attest to the many times they have observed small groups of children excluding another child.  Or many adults may still feel the sting of rejection from their own memories of their childhood play when a classmate or peer said, “NO, you can’t play with us.”  As Paley acknowledges, “Too often, the same children are rejected year after year. The burden of being rejected falls on a few children. They are made to feel like strangers.” (p. 22)

Rather than accepting this behavior as “that’s just the way things are” or ‘we all must get used to rejection,” Paley calls such reasoning into question.  In the book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”


After observing the same children being excluded from play in her classroom by the same children who do the excluding, Paley recognized that if not interrupted children grow up thinking it is okay for others with more power to reject others. She asks her students,

“Is it fair for children in school to keep another child out of play?  After all, the classroom belongs to all of us. It is not a private place, like our homes.” p 16

In the book, Paley documents the children’s thoughts on this question from kindergarten to upper elementary.  Their thinking about play is quite revealing of human nature and sometimes difficult to hear coming from such young voices.  The children’s play is also documented and reveals how they learn to treat each other more kindly.  In the end, inclusion in play is not resolved by fixing the rejected individual but by a different way in which, “The group must change its attitudes and expectations toward those who, for whatever reason, are not yet part of the system.” (p 33).

Considering the current state of the world today where policies, systems, and rhetoric often dwell on labeling others and rejecting the powerless, the book You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play offers us an alternative way of being that is more inclusive and reminds us of the power of children’s play.


Vivian Gussin Paley is a former kindergarten teacher and a MacArthur Genius Award winner.  She is best known for her storytelling- story acting/play teaching technique and for her many books about the play and stories of the children. Other books she has authored over the years are Wally’s Stories, White Teacher, The Girl with the Brown Crayon, The Kindness of Children and A Child’s Work: The Importance of Play.  A great listener of children and an inspiration for many early childhood educators, Paley passed away this summer July 26, 2019.  “It shall be added to my headstone. ‘Here lies a schoolteacher in whose time ‘You can’t say you can’t play’ was put into rhyme.” (p. 73)

Debora Basler Wisneski, PhD, is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who discovered the joy of learning through play by using Paley’s storytelling/storyacting techniques. She is currently the John T. Langan Community Chair of Early Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska- Omaha and serves on the board of directors for The Association for the Study of Play.

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Playful Intelligence …for Teachers

Playful Intelligence… for teachers.
Because playing is fun.
And school should be.

I first met Anthony T. DeBenedet at the 2018 US Play Coalition Conference in Clemson, SC. He was tasked with the role of keynote- slotted to speak just after the lunch hour. With an audience whose stomachs were full of turkey sandwiches, tomato soup, and one (or in my case, three) cookies, Dr. DeBenedet’s task was to inform and entertain. A tall order for a crowd in a food coma.

There were no fireworks.
There was no fanfare.
What did transpire was 20 minutes of endearing stories- a description of Dr. DeBenedet’s path to discovering the qualities of what would come to be called Playful Intelligence.

I felt myself leaning in.
Then leaning back.
Then leaning in again. Elbow on the table- against my Southern Belle upbringing- I was really listening.

I’ve attended many keynote addresses and listened to the hype of many fads, or what critics would call pop-psychology. As a long time educator, I am highly sensitive to these types of talks.

Refreshingly, this event was not what I feared.

Rather, Dr. DeBenedet spoke to the value of relationships- how he was able to study adult playfulness through genuine conversations with his patients. In his theory, DeBenedet extends the interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences– the knowledge of how playfulness can influence both our inner and outer selves. Of the more than 40 behavioral qualities linked to adult playfulness, DeBenedet found five that may best influence our adult lives.


You might expect imagination to be associated here with artistic or musical expression. DeBenedet did too, but that’s not where he found it popping up. In his work, the quality of imagination in healthy adults manifested in the ability to psychologically reframe difficult situations. Not escaping our struggles, but rather viewing them differently- using imagination to problem-solve and cope. Imagination, when practiced through deep play and daydreaming, increases our capacity for empathy.

Imagination is also a quality that helps us move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. For example, take a moment to Google “the Einstellung Effect.” This study, which focused on identifying solution bias, showed participants solving a problem based on previous experience even when a better solution exists. Their mindsets were fixed based on the experiences they had been provided.

If we rely too much on our past experiences to solve a problem, we allow those neural connections to strengthen, thus limiting our ability to think creatively.  We use our thought-defaults and get stuck.  When we exercise our imaginations, we reframe problems, open our minds and look at the world a new way.

How many times as a teacher, do we do it the way it’s always been done because it worked one time in the past? Every class I’ve taught has been different and has required different things from us as educators. Teachers with a strong imagination are able to recognize opportunities to follow paths to new outcomes instead of relying on the same ol’ same ol’.


Playful sociability includes the ability to reject a THEM vs. US mentality. Those with the quality of playful sociability see only WE.  Those who embody this trait have a strong sense of egalitarianism, built by the approach to social situations with humility and powerlessness. These people have a way of making everyone around them feel valued. They interact with authenticity, seeing others as humans rather than labels. Teachers who personify playful sociability reject stereotypes, loving their students first and teaching them second.

To truly educate, those with the trait of playful sociability, block labels and listen to student stories.
We must hear them.
We must listen.

These nuggets of authenticity are clues to their needs.

  • Do they need remediation?
  • Do they need challenge?
  • Do they need the connection of friendship?
  • Do they crave leadership roles?

In the medical field, listening is key to diagnosis. In the field of education, listening is key to meeting the needs of our students. In the end, we are all working on the diagnosis of how to be a better human.

In our path to diagnosis, we must beware of the trap of anchoring bias. When we place too much value on initial information (think- data, test scores, grades, last year’s teacher, first impressions), our brain starts anchoring. Once this occurs, it’s hard to adjust our thinking.

Teachers, don’t try to act like y’all don’t know about this… Mrs. Smith the fourth grade teacher runs down the hall at the beginning of every year to tell all the fifth grade teachers about the new batch of “precious kiddos” coming up. Sadly, she never has precious words to say because she just wants to rant about the ones she didn’t like.

Y’all… Shut that down.  Ain’t nothing playful about a gossiping teacher.


Because we recognize humor as laughter, it is the easiest characteristic of the playful mindset to spot. Insert, neuroscience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The area of the brain that controls laughter is the sub-cortex- the same area that controls breathing and muscle reflexes. The areas of the brain that light up when we experience joy are known as the ventral tegmental area. So, basically we’re looking at the bottom and the back. When we experience joy or laughter, the “pleasure chemical” dopamine pushes from those areas toward the front of the brain (the part responsible for judgment, creativity, and problem solving). Here’s the key. Are you ready? Joy, pleasure, creativity, and critical thinking are connected.

That’s not all.

Our brain’s connective, dendrite-firing awesomeness pairs an emotion with each learning experience. Educators have a choice: we have students potentially shut down from frustration, or we build strong connections by associating learning with positive emotions.

DeBenedet calls this effect resiliency- one of the main benefits of humor.

Another benefit of humor is human connection. The right kind of humor “says to others that it’s safe to explore, play, and nurture a relationship together.” When we use affiliative humor (the kind that puts others at ease, amuses, and improves relationships), we allow ourselves to drop personal walls and engage openly in conversations.

We already know that education is first about relationships, but now you can add humor to that list of essential elements in a successful classroom community.


Spontaneity is the trait exhibited when we do unplanned things, outside of routine. The art of teaching uses spontaneity when we teach in the moment, when we use student questions to follow curiosities to their aha moments. Students trust us to let them explore, and spontaneity allows exploration to take the lead in classrooms.

There’s a science to spontaneity as well; it manifests itself in our day-to-day lives as psychological flexibility- the mental response to the unplanned and unpredictable.

You know those folks who get all bent out of sorts when they get a new student? When they are given a new paperwork task? When their carefully planned lesson goes off the rails? Those folks might need a little practice in rolling with it- in spontaneity.

I’d like to say I’m the kind of teacher who eases through disruptions, but in reality I feel a little scattered. It’s not that I don’t ease through- it’s that I can’t remember where I was before the phone rang, the visitor came, or where my dog-gone clipboard went. It’s like that old saying about lemons and lemonade, if we have the mindset of psychological flexibility- we don’t get rattled. Our students won’t worry what will set us off. We won’t take away recess because we’ve HAD IT! Or throw silent lunch around like glitter.  We breathe. We smile. We reassess, and we roll through.

How do we encourage spontaneity in our students? We can start by giving them opportunities to problem solve. Did someone in the back say PBL? (That’s project-based learning for those who might not know) Yeah, I heard you. Yes. Any kind of learning situation that’s messy and unpredictable (yes, like real life) will do it. Think about how often we ask students to imagine alternate solutions or reframe problems. In personality science, this is called “openness to experience.”

If we’re open, we’ll be spontaneous.
If we’re spontaneous, we have flexibility.
If we’re flexible, we give ourselves permission to create, have bold ideas, and craft new solutions.


You might read this section title and think wonder is the same as curiosity here. While these two can be interchangeable as synonyms, the mindset for wonder here is different.

Curiosity spurs action, but the kind of wonder Dr. DeBenedet is referring to with wonder is the kind that stops you in your tracks. It’s awe. It’s that moment when time freezes and you appreciate the raw emotion in a moment.

Kids experience wonder all the time. They’ll pause to watch a woolly worm make its way up a tree. They’ll turn their heads to the side, mouth falling open as they experience the push and pull of magnetic forces.

The wonder can be seen on their faces.
We know it because their eyes light up.
There may be a grin.
There may be scrunched up eyebrows.
But there’s always a pause.

The pause is when the emotional experience occurs- it’s our brain allowing time to regroup and reflect. Wonder, on a neuropsychological level, is an emotion. I know what you’re thinking here- “Yes! This is great. I’m going to hook all my learners though wonder-ful experiences.” And I do want you to do just that, but if you start making lists of more hooks for tomorrow’s plans, you’ll be going about this wonder bit all wrong. Wonder is not the what of the experience- it’s the how.

The playful quality of wonder is more about focusing on how we perceive our environment than in what we’re seeing. If we keep going bigger and better, allowing our students to experience wonder through the grand and majestic, we’ll cause wonder inflation. Students may begin to depend on the “extra,” and their wonder threshold gets higher and higher.

So what do we do? Easy. We model for our students how we find wonder in the small things. Each experience, each lesson has an opportunity for wonder. Find it, whisper it to them. Your eyes are wide, your voice is low. They’re leaning in… do you see it? Wonder is contagious.

My favorite part

Perhaps my favorite part of DeBenedet’s book is the final chapter. There’s a story he tells that gave me pause. It’s of his encounter and lesson learned from a home visit to Eleanor Schapffer. Seems to me that many educators would benefit from a visit with Eleanor. The lesson you ask? Well, it’s summed up in this [edited] line from DeBenedet’s mentor:

“In the course of your training, you will learn every detail of what we do for [students]. Never forget the power of just being there with them.”

Isn’t that true for us all?

Dr. Julie Jones is the Director for Student Teaching in Converse College’s School of Education and Graduate Studies. She maintains an active research agenda with interests including instructional technology and validated instructional approaches, strategies, and assessments- always with a mix of creativity and play.

Follow her on Twitter @JuliePJones, and view her full curriculum vitae at

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education

Imagine a country where people walk and bike habitually, laughter fills rooms, physical activity and play are viewed as a way of life, children are less stressed and more responsible, and educators are highly respected. Furthermore, it is a country that is an educational superpower, graduating an impressive 92% of students from the upper secondary school yearly.  Imagine a whole country having a great respect for the value of play and the need to implement multiple breaks daily in order to raise healthy, successful, and resilient citizens. Elementary aged students and their teachers go outside every hour of the school day for 15 minutes of unstructured play. This country is REAL!  This country is Finland!

In her new book  Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, Deborah Rhea, Ed.D., takes the reader along on her journey of a 6-week sabbatical to Finland to learn how Finnish people live, how the Finnish education system differs from the U.S., and what the U.S. can learn from Finland to better the lives of children and adults through unstructured play, character building, and quality time.

Rhea’s book compares the Finnish and American school systems, juxtaposing how the American education system has almost eliminated play from school schedules while play is a foundational element in Finnish schools. As a result, Finnish children are thriving while American children are suffocating. While not discounting the successes of the American school system, Rhea describes the current state of American schools as being too focused on quantity over quality, too test-oriented with too much sit-time in classrooms, and losing sight of the development of the whole child, which has led to “some of the most unhealthy and stressed-out children we have ever seen.”

The book opens with six life lessons from the Dr. Rhea’s many years of teaching, followed by 26 reflections, each offering a different learning topic.  The reader is shown how Finland operates and how adoptions of some of their practices could lead to a healthier and more playful America. Rhea’s background, coupled with her strong desire to improve the health of our nation, leads her to address the issues that are facing the American school system today.

Debbie Rhea thoughtfully details her schedule, which was designed to allow engagement with students and teachers from primary school through university, to gain a full understanding of the Finnish school day. She also consulted with top educational leaders, including the secretary of education and the former CIMO at Finland’s Ministry of Education.

Rhea outlines Finnish teacher preparation practices, with an emphasis on Physical Education teacher preparation, and highlights how respected the Finnish teachers are. She details how the Finns get outside to play, even in very cold weather conditions, and believe that two hours of active time each day, separate from exercise, is vital to overall health. She covers America’s obsession with competition and standardized testing vs. Finland’s focus on equality over excellence among younger children.

The book is sprinkled with personal touches, such as a breakdown of games like Nordic baseball and the difficulties surrounding being around a different language and culture. These personal touches create a relatable book and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the Finnish culture without overwhelming the reader.

Rhea challenges the reader to see the necessity for a mindset shift in the United States to value more than just a test score: to focus on children’s strengths instead of failures; to value being outdoors, playing and moving as keys to learning, especially during the long school day; and to consider character development as integral to children’s learning.

Debbie Rhea is trailblazing the educational world to create a healthier, more productive environment for children, teachers, and parents.  Her new book Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education is a valuable resource for schools, educators, parents, and anyone wanting to be a change agent in a school community.  If you want a book that captures the start of this educational movement and shows you how to get involved, this one’s for you!

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Joan Almon’s Playing it Up

In August 2017, we published this book review below of Joan Almon’s then-new publication by Debora B. Wisneski, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska- Omaha) with Melany Spiehs and Carol Burk (Omaha Public Schools).  As news of Joan’s passing continues to be on our heart, we wanted to include this as a special part of our Summer PLAY Reading Review series.  

Upon learning of Joan’s death, Melany Spiehs, one of the co-authors of the review, shared this sentiment: “Joan was such an inspiration and her spirit must live on through us!”


Almon, J. (Ed.)(2017). Playing it up — With loose parts, playpods, and adventure playgrounds. Annapolis, MD: Alliance for Childhood.

Debora: In 2014 in Vancouver Canada, I was able to listen to the Canadian environmental activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki give an impassioned speech on the future. She was speaking of building a better world for our children’s future. Part of her presentation included her reminiscing of her involvement in the environmental movement. She recalled in her younger years feeling the need to fight- against policies harmful to the earth and against corporations who polluted. However, she had made a transition in her career from fighting to one of building. She came to the realization that when the powers- that-be would one day come to the realization that harming the earth is unsustainable, they would need to turn to those who know how to live in earth-friendly and sustainable ways. Thus, Cullis-Suzuki began to focus her efforts on creating a sustainable community where she lives and raises her family. In the process, she also came to the realization that the Utopia she dreamed of currently would not exist at a national or global level, but she discovered that there was a network of such communities that already existed around the world. These communities created a sort of web that spread across the globe that could stay connected though so far apart.

Cullis-Suzuki’s description of the state of her cause, reminded me of the plight of play in American schools and lives. It is easy to get discouraged when fighting against school policies and practices that hinder children’s play in education; however, I have become more hopeful when I have turned my attention to collaborating with others to build play spaces in schools and communities. While every city or school does not support play, there are many places and people around the world that are building play spaces. Joan Almon’s new book “Playing It Up- With Loose Parts, Play Pods, and Adventure Playgrounds” is a wonderful documentation of the work of play advocates and playworkers around the U.S. who are building play spaces and expanding our network of play communities. In Almon’s edited book each chapter is written by a play leader who describes in detail innovative ways play spaces are being designed and what materials are being organized and used in these spaces. The book opens with a ringing endorsement by Dr. Stuart Brown.

Melany: The first chapter begins with Almon describing the state of play in the U.S. and her concerns for children. She displays a deep respect for young children and her message is one of urgency but not hopelessness. Due to our current society filled with lawsuits, safety is a major concern in schools. She states, “Society’s fear of play, with its various physical and psychological risks, remains a major obstacle that needs to be overcome, or at least minimized, if children are to play freely again” (p. 3). Children use play to deal with stress and anxiety and with the decrease in play children are displaying an increase in obesity, depression, hyperactive disorders and autism. Yet, Almon trusts that children are naturally risk aware and a good at assessing risk and thus, advocates for loose parts, playpods and adventure playgrounds to support their play.

Debora: The second chapter, written by Rusty Keeler, offers a reflection of the state of free and risky play in the U.S. and his recognition that play is returning to the world of children. As he states, “The world is changing because we are consciously evolving it. We are consciously choosing to say “yes” to the play opportunities we believe children need” (p. 15) The following chapters are written by the play leaders from around the U.S. describing the unique aspects of their play spaces and providing evidence of this play evolution. Along with the stories, there are beautiful high quality photographs that make you want to be in these spaces and extensive biographies and websites of the contributors which is extremely important when we are striving to make connections within this movement. The first section of stories focuses on the process of starting up play projects and the practical details necessary for success. The second section highlights various examples of adventure playgrounds- the risky child-initiated wild spaces with loose parts and minimal adult intervention that were considered taboo in American culture. On these pages, these fantastic spaces come to life. The third section describes play pods in parks and schools- smaller outdoor spaces but with a multitude of recyclable and reused materials for building and pretend- changing how children play during traditional recesses. The fourth section illustrates the movement of bringing play back to nature. The book concludes with calls to advocate for play and essential lists of resources, play advocacy groups, and the principles of playwork- all the tools one could use to begin his or her own play project. And this is the real power of the book- it inspires one to action. It is contagious as two of our reviewers who are preschool teachers discovered. Here, they describe how Almon and her co-authors inspired action at their preschool and elementary school:

Melany: At Spring Lake (Elementary), we have an abandoned outdoor classroom on site. It is a large area blocked off by a chain link fence. Inside there are trees, small sheds and overgrown raised beds. The weeds have taken over and there has been no one to take care of the area since it closed down many years ago. I have had my eye on this space since I started at Spring Lake back in August. After talking to my team and my administrators I have been given permission to lead a resurrection of this outdoor classroom. Seeing Joan Almon’s photos of children playing in nature and reading the play stories encouraged me to take this leap of faith. She was that gentle nudge that I needed to be an advocate for outdoor play at my school.

We read Joan’s book before we opened up our outdoor classroom. Her words about risk assessment helped us to remember that children are capable and can do their own assessment. It made for a more authentic experience for everyone. We noticed there was minimal re-directing from adults, almost no conflicts between children, and children resolving, negotiating, and compromising with each other.

Reviewers Carol Burk, Debora Wisneski, and Melany Spiehs

“Playing It Up” is available as a free download from Alliance for Childhood. We recommend this book as essential for the play movement today.