The Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook is a joint effort of the Children and Nature Network, the Meridian Institute, National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, Outdoor Alliance for Kids and North American Association of Environmental Education.
As part of the 2020 Online Conference on the Value of Play, representatives of each organization (detailed below) discussed the Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook, a tool to empower grassroots and grasstops leaders and educate state legislators on the value of outdoor engagement and play – with an aim to work together to pass legislation to give more youth and families more outdoor opportunities.
Martin LeBlanc (moderator), Principal at LBC Action
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 has been moved ONLINE for 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our first-ever online Play Conference! Learn more at usplaycoalition.org/playconference2020
A new, updated position paper “A Research-Based Case for Recess” is now available as a free download. This paper made its first appearance in 2013 as something of a review of literature by Olga Jarrett, Ph.D. Since then the paper has been used by play advocates across the country to support recess in schools and recess legislation at the state level. Six years later, a new version was needed to reflect the changing landscape of recess.
Dr. Jarrett said she “discovered hundreds of new articles on recess, many of them empirical studies showing the benefits of recess. Also, since 2013, more organizations have developed policies in support of recess and several states have mandated recess.”
According to Stephanie Garst, executive director of the US Play Coalition and editor of the 2019 update, “Things are changing so rapidly that we had to just stop looking so that this latest edition could go to print in time for the new school year! It is as comprehensive as it can be and will surely be a great resource for educators, school administrators, childcare providers, parents and many others in our play community!”
This Giving Tuesday, consider donating to Giving TuesPLAY! The support we receive on Giving TuesPLAY helps to fund our wonderful grant winners. These winning projects are trailblazers in the world of play, and we need your help to get them going!
One of our 2018 Action Grant winners is a project called “Loose Parts Play Builds Tight Communities” from Pure Play Every Day, Inc.
In 2017, in her first year as a US Play Coalition Play Ambassador, Patty Stine took advantage of an invitation to participate in the National Night Out (NNO) event at the Huntington Neighborhood Association in Waldorf, MD. She took her minivan and trailer full of play materials to the community center, set up her shade tent, then set out all the loose parts play materials. When the children arrived, they were drawn in by the unique collection of materials that allowed them to have freedom to choose where the play would go. It didn’t take long for them to dive into their evening of adventure. They dug in the sand in the sand and scooped water from the PVC sand and water table. They mixed water from the recycled laundry detergent containers with the sand. They added a bedsheet roof to the cardboard box playhouse. While the children designed, created, built and created new friendships, she snapped a few photos to share the glory of play with the world through Twitter. This experience was the inspiration for this 2018 Action Grant winning project.
“As children play, they form friendships that cross economic and cultural differences,” says Patty Stine of Pure Play Every Day, Inc.
With the 2018 action grant project, the Pure Play Every Day team recruited childcare professionals across their county to participate in a loose parts play training program. In turn, the newly trained professionals could facilitate loose parts play as an available activity for the families attending their community’s NNO event. Pure Play Every Day, Inc. provided the trainees with a loose parts play starter kit as well as a training manual for sharing the purpose and value of play and suggestions for setting-up for loose parts play.
The photos in this post are highlights from some of this year’s Loose Parts Play at the National Night Out events. Much more is coming from the Pure Play Every Day team!
GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, November 27, the US Play Coalition will be a part of #GivingTuesday, encouraging YOU to support PLAY by donating to our Action and Research Grants for playmakers and researchers whose work has the potential to improve and expand the Play Movement. We call it Giving TuesPLAY! (Get it?!)
To support PLAYful projects like this and others, be sure to donate on Giving TuesPLAY – Tuesday, November 27! YOU can help us provide action and research grants in 2019 with your Giving TuesPLAY gift!
Join the global movement and donate on Tuesday, November 27! Big or small, your gift MATTERS!! We can’t wait to share the future of play with you!
After teaching the “Benefits of Play in Child Development” course for the last 10years, I have read this opening line in students’ reflection paper many times. This year my thoughts about play have also changed. I used to think that play was something I could teach my students but now I think that play is something we need to experience to be understood. The focus of my teaching has always been to help college students understand the benefits of unstructured play by helping me organize a Play Day; a community event where families play with used and recyclable materials. The students create the games or activities for the Play Day but this summer I changed the theme to an Adventure Playground. For those of you reading this, and have just crawled out from under a pre-fab playground set, an Adventure Playground provides children with loose parts and encourages them to engage in freely-chosen, child-directed play.
But…before I could host my first Adventure Playground Play Day, I had to rethink my own thoughts about what an unstructured Play Day would look like. Then I had to convince my students that an adventure playground was the way to go, and finally I had to pull it all together, and get the community to show up. Thinking Playful Thoughts
Although it was not difficult to image what an adventure playground could look like, kids playing with ‘junk’, it took me some time to accept the idea that an unstructured Play Day could work. At the time I was reading a book about playful intelligence; in fact I had the pleasure of meeting the author at the US Play Coalition Conference in Clemson SC last April. I serendipitously pre-ordered the book by Anthony DeBenedet titled Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World, and discovered after getting home from the conference, and finding the book on my doorstep, that I had met the author at the conference. Anthony’s book helped me to look at play from a different perspective, the adult point of view. As a university professor, I teach students about children development from a play perspective. My students will one day work with children as a teacher, counselor, occupational therapist, or child life specialist. I am also the parent of two kiddos who love to pretend that they are puppies. I am so steeped in teaching and advocating for children’s play that I forgot to consider adult play! Some of the key points in Anthony’s book helped me to realize that I needed to change things with my play class. That I can use my sense of wonder to rediscover and embrace my imagination; to think about a Play Day that could be different. I knew that play is for all people; I just had to remember that I also needed play.
I think she might be crazy?!
While the students were curious to learn more about adventure playgrounds, they were not sold on the idea, yet. One student thought I was a bit crazy to bring junk to a nature center and let kids play with boxes, pallets, and tubes. After reading parts of Penny Wilson’s Playwork Primer and talking with Morgan Leichter-Saxby co-founder of Pop-up Adventure Playground, the students were beginning to think of themselves as play workers instead of event planners. The role of the play worker is to provide the loose parts and allow children opportunities for risk and child-directed. However, moving to the play worker mindset takes some practice. The students who worked at daycare centers and summer youth programs, had a “safety first” mentality. Students realized they did not have to rush to help children at the Play Day; that in fact they should think of themselves as a resource and not as a remedy. Students appreciated our conversation with Morgan, and were fascinated at the scenes from the documentary “The Land.” They were completely surprised at the level of trust the play workers had with the children as we watched the kiddos use knives, build fires, and scale trees. One student reflected, “Now I know that by telling a child to be careful in the middle of their play, it restricts their play, and I’m not going to do that.”
If you build an adventure playground, they will come?
When I first started hosting Play Days I would make a flyer, post them around town at different businesses and childcare facilities, and hope for the best. Within the last 5 years, I have noticed that the more social networking sites that I posted my event to, it has increased the attendance at the Play Day. I always contact local media outlets to promote the event, however, even after I tell my students about my efforts, and encourage them to post to their social media pages, they are still unsure if anyone would show up. However, it always works! About 60 people came to the Adventure Playground Play Day. Not only was the kiddy-pool filled with mud a favorite, the children were eager to paint their toes, legs, and faces. The parents appreciated the chance for their children to get messy without having to worry about cleaning up the space, that was our responsibility.
The students were concerned about the mess afterwards, however they noted that it was a mess worth cleaning up. They suggested that for “next time” I should warn students about the mess. Although I do plan to give the future student a heads-up, I also want them to experience the Play Day in their own way. If someone had told me, 15 years ago, after I helped my colleagues Joyce Hemphill and Laura Scheinholtz arrange a Play Day, that play would be the focus of my research, advocacy, and teaching philosophy I would never have believed it. You cannot warn people about some things in life, you just have to let them experience it for themselves.
About the Author
Heather Von Bank, PhD, is Chair and Associate Professor of Family Consumer Science at Minnesota State University-Mankato. She teaches and advises in the Child Development and Family Studies area. Her specialty areas include research on parent–child relations during the stage of adolescence and family life issues. Dr. Von Bank is co-author of the book “The Power of Playful Learning.”
A powerful hero lives among us that society often takes for granted. Play.
Play is an experience that goes beyond a book or a device. Play takes many forms, and holds endless possibilities and latent power.
However, the almighty and powerful digital media, where you can be transported anywhere in the world while hiding underneath your bed sheets, consumes our minds. Given the rise and societal dependence on the digital world, play has become increasingly essential. And for some reason we deny it—deny it in schools, deny it in work, deny it from day to day, because it is viewed as frivolous. Play is silenced before we can even understand its significance.
Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp devoted time to studying the value of play and the brain determining, “the function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”
Digital media implicates play as a threat. Why? The virtual world gives us permission to ret
reat, while providing the illusion of community. When that becomes the norm, play becomes counter intuitive. The question is how to we reconcile the relationship of play with the virtual world? More importantly,
how can children develop a sense of self when they are unable to challenge themselves to experience childhood through a less filtered lens.
Play allows for discovery. Social interaction. And accountability. Anonymity defeats accountability in the virtual arena. Logic would suggest we must encourage play in all facets of development given the extensive research to support that. A beautiful thought. Let the fanfare begin. Alas, we retreat from schools yards and parks, narrowing the definition of play, framing moments rather than discovering them. Moments of carefree laughter sprinkled throughout the day—a curious rather than an expected sight.
What is the culprit?
It is not entirely the fault of the evolving virtual world.
Play is vulnerable.
It removes barriers because it requires us to be present. Vulnerability can be scary. Our ideas, thoughts, humor, our pain, our insecurities are exposed face to face. Play encourages children to interact. Human interaction though is becoming less relevant with social media. It makes sense that children would shy away from play, when they have an alternative escape. It is suppressing our natural instinct to play. It may be easier, but not necessarily healthier or productive—more the reason for schools to promote the play, beyond the technological shackles. Let’s compliment this virtual arena with the freedom of play.
Allowing children to be in playground, in a park, on a field, surrounded by boxes, creating art, building a fort, outdoors, indoors, exploring, wherever it may be, influences their intelligence. Collaboration and negotiating occur in times of play when children share ideas face to face. These skills naturally evolve when in an environment that promotes play.
The question then becomes, do we want to live in a society where we eliminate social interaction? That goes against human nature. Who does the education system benefit when we deny our human need for social engagement? It may be easier to avoid people nowadays, but we cannot escape them.
Play is at the core of development. It is pointless to build a home on foundation on quicksand. Let’s not allow the maturing brain to become the quicksand under what we expect to carry adulthood. Allow play to flourish. Allow play to provide balance. Let’s treat play with the respect it deserves and no longer take it for granted.
About The Author
Greg is the Founder/Executive Director of Artcentricity Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit project based Arts Organization, geared towards child development. He is also an Author and US Play Ambassador. He currently resides in New York and has a strong passion for Visual and Performance Arts. Connect with Greg here.
Play is crucial in a child’s physical, social, and emotional development. But most of the year, kids don’t get enough time to play. Summer camp needs to be a time where children can play.
Threats to Play
There are two major threats to play. The first threat is the amount of time children spend being physically active is decreasing. Compared to previous generations, children now spend more time sitting than moving. Schools are adding classroom time at the expense of recess and physical education. There also have been large increases in screen time use in children. A National Institute of Health study 2016 reported that the average child spends approximately five to seven hours per day using a screen. This is nearly – or more than – double the amount of time children used screens according to a 2007 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study. An increase in sedentary time is a threat to play because most play requires movement and action.
A second threat to play is the lack opportunities for children to improvise or use their own resources for play. Parental concern for safety has led to an increase in the use of toys and games that have a directive nature because of the parental fear of letting children playing unsupervised. Many toys and games now come with a set of instructions or rules. This hinders creativity and the opportunity for free play. For example, if a child has a doll or action figure from a TV show, that toy has a pre-defined personality, story, and character. However, a generic doll or action figure has none, so the child is able to create his or her own story and character for the doll or action figure.
The Role of Play At Summer Camp
Because of the threats to play in a child’s life, play takes on a role of increased importance at summer camp. Camp allows children the time to play: while many activities at camp are organized and directed by the counselors, ample time for free play should be included in a daily summer camp schedule. Campers can create imaginative scenarios and explore together while the counselors either watch over them or actively engage in the child-driven play. Campers may ask their counselors to play a role in their scenario. Good camp counselors will take on that role and be fun!
Many parents are concerned – and rightfully so – about their child’s education and the lack of formal schooling during the summer months. However, free play is crucial to a child’s development. Higher levels of school adjustment, increased social development, and increased literacy skills are all benefits of free play. If children aren’t getting the amount of play they need during the school year,
While children’s opportunities for play and physical activity being reduced in their “normal” world, there needs to be ample time for play at summer camp so children can experience the benefits of free play.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “it is a happy talent to know how to play.” This talent is crucial for child development, and every child should have the opportunity to acquire the talent to play. There are countless benefits of play; however, many can fall into four main categories: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive.
In today’s increasingly sedentary world, play and physical activity help children become physically fit. Children learn movement control, acquire body-spatial awareness, develop fine and gross motor skills and increase flexibility and balancing skills when they play. In addition, when children are involved in physical activity, they build stronger muscles and improve bone density, improve heart and lung function and prevent obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. Children who are physically active at a young age and enjoy that physical activity are more likely to become physically active adults.
The physical benefits of play are easily noticeable. However, there are internal benefits of play that are not so easily identified but that are crucial to a child’s development, such as emotional development. Play often times allows children to experiment with physical challenges – such as climbing and hanging; these opportunities encourages them to evaluate and take risks. By taking that risk and overcoming that challenge, children develop a sense of accomplishment, leading to higher self-confidence and self-esteem levels.
A key reason children look forward to play is the opportunity to spend time with their friends and the change to make new friends. These social interactions are important. In group play, children learn social roles and cultural rules and develop appropriate cooperation skills. Group play teaches children about real-life relationships; when children develop and test relationships, they learn self-control and negotiation skills. These skills help children prepare for a lifetime of interacting with others.
Experts agree that play is critical for a child’s brain development. In play, children develop language and reasoning skills. Play encourages independent thinking and problem solving abilities and often can improve a child’s focus. Children develop verbal skills, judgment and reasoning and creativity.
We are the adults we become because of our play experiences as children and the skills we learn when we play.
Good summer camps offer children to opportunity to play. Because at camp, and with play, children grow, explore, learn, and have fun – all without even realizing it.
About the Author
Brian VanDongen is a parks and recreation professional in Hillsborough Township (N.J.). He has extensive experience working in parks and recreation and an educational background in Excercise Science and Physical Education as well as in Sport and Exercise Psychology. Brian is a play ambassador for the US Play Coalition. Check out his blog “The First Quarter.”
*Photo of children playing on bars courtesy of Brian VanDongen
“Play is so integral to childhood that a child who does not have the opportunities to play is cut off from a major portion of childhood.” — Musselwhite
In recent years, roughhousing, or rough-and-tumble play has fallen out of favour. Rough-and-tumble play is when children climb over each other, wrestle, roll around and even pretend to fight. Often termed play-fighting it differentiates itself from real fighting, even if it looks aggressive, as there are visible displays of fun, smiling and laughing. I used to play wrestle with my brother all the time in my youth, it was so much fun!
A wave of books and medical research papers are helping to publicize the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of roughhousing.
One book on this subject is The Art of Roughhousingby Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence Cohen PhD. In it, the authors describe at least six different benefits of rough-and-tumble play for kids. First and most obviously, there is the physical aspect of roughhousing. These days, just about everyone knows that kids should be getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, although government recommendations tell us it should be far more activity for kids. A little rough-and-tumble play is one easy way to accomplish more movement minutes in our day. What better way to blow off a little extra energy than by chasing someone around the house or having a fake wrestling match in the middle of the living room. Even better, of course, why not take it outdoors?
Try some rough and tumble play…
NOT JUST PHYSICAL
The benefits of roughhousing extend well beyond just the physical. It can also lead to heightened social and emotional intelligence too. For one, kids can learn to differentiate between different facial expressions and body language. However, they also learn about taking turns and cooperation. Often, small groups of kids roughhousing together on the playground will divide themselves into teams to accomplish a particular goal, and that’s all about teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. It has also been suggested that play opens emotional pathways for the epigenetic construction of the social brain,  indeed a third of 1,200 brain genes evaluated by Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics at Northwestern University are shown to be significantly modified within an hour of a 30-min play session. 
Some researchers have also indicated that rough and tumble play builds moral and ethical character. Work by Stuart Brown demonstrates that kids with few opportunity for play are more likely to become anti-social and exhibit criminal behaviour when older.  This is where adults can play a huge role, since they can teach kids about safety, about looking after those who are weaker, and about using one’s strength in ethical ways. From an evolutionary perspective, it appears that roughhousing might have been an early way for members of a particular tribe to build bonds with each other and establish their overall likeability.
Perhaps the real overlooked benefit of rough-and-tumble play, though, concerns the mental and cognitive benefits. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, the authors of “Wild Justice”, have suggested that the unpredictable nature of roughhousing increases the number of connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex. This leads to improved cognitive performance, similar to the effects of dancing. Moreover, some neuroscientists have suggested that rough-and-tumble play increases the brain’s level of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This mysterious-sounding chemical is responsible for memory, logic and advanced cognitive skills, so the more, the better.
NOT JUST FOR THE KIDS
Of course, there are obvious benefits for adults who engage in roughhousing with their kids. Primal Play also encourages this in adult-to-adult games of movement too, why should kids have all the fun? Many adults lead mostly sedentary lives (i.e. sitting all day at the office and then all evening on the couch), so roughhousing encourages them to increase their activity level in a way that lets off some steam. Also, all of that physical activity can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. There’s nothing quite like shrieks of laughter from your kids to make other financial or social difficulties melt into the background. Try playing the Primal Play game Shoulder Barge with a friend and have some fun!
“When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.” — DeBenedet and Cohen
As long as roughhousing follows basic safety rules and doesn’t take place too close to bedtime (when the body should be winding down), it can have significant benefits for both kids and adults. The good news is that the pendulum might finally be shifting back in favor of roughhousing and rough-and-tumble behavior.
About the Author
Darryl Edwards, is a Movement Coach, Natural Lifestyle Educator, nutritionist and creator of the Primal Play Method™. Darryl developed the Primal Play methodology to inspire others to make activity fun while getting healthier, fitter and stronger in the process.
Darryl is the owner of Fitness Explorer Training and author of several books including Paleo Fitness and Paleo from A to Z. His work has been published in titles such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Elle Magazine, Men’s Fitness and featured on the BBC documentaries Eat to Live Forever and Doctor In The House. His latest book, Animal Moves, is available now!
 Panksepp J., “Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions.” New York: Oxford University Press; 1998a.
 Panksepp J., “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, psychostimulants and intolerance of childhood playfulness: A tragedy in the making?” Current Directions in Psychological Science. 1998b;7:91–98.
 Panksepp J., “The long-term psychobiological consequences of infant emotions: Prescriptions for the twenty-first century.”, Infant Mental Health Journal. 2001;22:132–173.
 Brown, S., “Play as an organizing principle: clinical evidence and personal observations. Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives.”, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge: 1998. pp. 242–251
 Jaak Panksepp et al., “A novel NMDA receptor glycine-site partial agonist, GLYX-13, has therapeutic potential for the treatment of autism,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.06.006.
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!
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.
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
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.
Often times our days are filled with busy calendars. Our routines and commitments keep us so busy that we forget what is actually important. Play is often overlooked and replaced by other “productive” habits which are usually outcome driven.
However, if you are reading this you probably are already bought into the idea that play can invigorate your day, enrich your week, and if done frequently can change your life for the better. In a book I just read called The Power of Habit, the author describes this well. He claims that, “Our lives are nothing more than a series of habits”. He is right. Our lives are really just a series of habits and decisions we choose to create and sustain. When we move or change jobs we often replace old habits with new ones. If this is true, it is also true that we need to be mindful in incorporating play into our daily lives as we become adults of habits. Our habits become more engrained as we age and become harder to change. However, if you are going to increase the prevalence of play in your life you need to start slowly placing it into your life by replacing existing habits that are tightly established. This intentional change can happen to allow you to have time in your schedule dedicated to “Play.”
Whatever that form of play looks like is totally up to you! You could incorporate any form of play you want ONCE you have made a habit of allowing time for it to happen each day.
I know that in my own life I have to be very intentional about including play into my daily routine. For me, working out is a form of active play! I literally think of the gym as a giant playground. If you were to see me in a gym working out you would totally see that I am clearly playing and enjoying the process more than the outcome.
I have also made a conscious effort to set aside 15-20 min per day just for unstructured play time. That could be for walking in the park, writing poetry (creative play) or singing when I am cooking a nice meal.. Some days I find it challenging to include play into my schedule but once I know I have that 15-20 min I choose to make the most of it!
The important thing to remember from this blog is that you are totally in control of including play in your daily routines, and you are fully capable of including play in your lifelong habits. It is up to you. I choose to enjoy and enriching life filled with play each day. Will you choose playful habits?
By: Ryan Fahey, B.Ed, BKin
Ryan is a new regular blogger for the US Play Coalition. He is working to develop our Play Ambassador program and spread the word about the Value of Play.
The VERY FIRST to register for The Play Conference 2016 is Sarah Cosco from British Columbia (seen front and center in the boxes pictured right). The three time Play Conference alum says this about why she keeps coming back: “What I love most about the conferences: the people and the energy! There is so much passion about play and it comes from within people from all different backgrounds. The interdisciplinary lens captures the magnitude of play’s influence across the lifespan, and across the globe, and having the opportunity to connect with experts in play from all of these different backgrounds brings our collective learning to a whole new level. But we don’t just talk the talk at the conference, we walk it too! I have so much fun playing with so many people, and each time I go I meet new friends and get to reconnect with familiar faces. It honestly feels like coming home. I can’t wait for next year’s conference, I’m so excited to see what everyone has been up to and what playful shenanigans we can get into while we’re there!”