Bring in the New Year with a…Buzzy Harmonica

• 2 wooden craft sticks, ¾ inch wide
• 1 wide rubber band (approximately ¼ inch wide and 3 inches long (not stretched))
• 2 smaller rubber bands (approximately 1/16 inch wide)
• 2 strips of paper, ¾ inch x 4 inches
• 2 pieces tape

To make:
Put the two craft sticks together like a sandwich. Wrap the strips of paper completely around each end of the “stick sandwich.” Secure the ends of the paper with a piece of tape making sure the tape does not adhere to the sticks.
• Slide out one of the sticks, keeping the paper in place on the other one. Carefully set the stick with the paper on the table.
• On the empty stick, stretch the wide rubber band lengthwise from end to end. Carefully place the stick with the rubber band and set it on top of the stick with the paper. Do not put the rubber band stick inside the paper.
• Wrap a small rubber band around both sticks at each end.


To play:
Blow air through the small space between the sticks. Experiment with the amount of airflow to change pitches. Also try pinching the ends while blowing.


Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.


Indoor Mini Golf

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.
PFS mini  golf

Don’t let the cold and damp weather of November put a damper on your golf game. Bring the game inside using what you can find around the house.



  • Long paper tube (e.g., wrapping paper tube)
  • Sponge (Note: Use a clean sponge for this activity. When finished playing, reuse the sponge for washing dishes.)
  • Balls of various sizes OR crumpled newspaper/scrap paper

For the Course:

  • Foam egg cartons (Wash egg cartons in warm soapy water or clean with anti-bacterial wipes)
  • Plastic cups or canisters of various sizes and shapes
  • Plastic container lids
  • Paper tubes (e.g., wrapping paper tubes, paperboard tubes from trouser hangers)
  • Cardboard or paperboard boxes
  • Books

Hole Flags:

  • Individual serving-sized yogurt, fruit, or pudding cups
  • Round bamboo skewers


  • Paper
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Stapler


To make:

This activity works best in a room with lots of floor space.

  • Using duct tape, attach the sponge to the long paper tube to serve as the golf club.
  • On paper, design and plan the shape of the golf course. Think about fun challenges along the course and indicate where they will go. Examples of challenges include:
    • Putting the ball through an egg carton tunnel
    • Maneuvering the ball around obstacles, such as cups set upside down in a random pattern or groupings of paper tubes
    • Hitting the ball through a zigzag section made from paper tubes
    • Tapping the ball up and down a ramp made from pieces of cardboard and a stack of books.
  • Use the various boxes, foam egg cartons, and/or paper tubes to create a barrier or bumper for the golf course.
  • For the holes, lay the plastic containers, paper, and/or canisters on their sides.
  • Identify each hold with a flag.
    • Make a flag by taping a triangular piece of paper onto the flat/smooth end of a bamboo skewer.
    • Insert the pointed end through exterior center point of the yogurt cup’s bottom.


The Habit of Play

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?


Ryan & RioBy: 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.

#Playful Kids

monkeybars2Recently we sat down with Evie Houtz, Program Specialist for Be Active Kids in Raleigh, NC. Evie is a mother of two playful kids. She is a role model for living an active, healthy lifestyle! Here is what Evie had to say when we chatted with her about Play!

“As Play Ambassadors, it is our job teach our children how to be playful and physically active just as much as it is our job to teach them morals, values, social skills, and educational concepts.   Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure.   Physically active children will develop gross motor skills that later help them to take part in games and sports with their peers.  Physical activity helps children build strong hearts, muscles and bones, improve thinking skills, develop positive self-esteem and confidence and just have fun.

Kids of all ages need both structured and unstructured physically active play throughout the day.   Structured activities are adult led and have a specific learning objective.  This type of physical activity includes games like Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light and organized sports like t-ball or soccer.  Young children should get between 60-90 minutes of structured physical activity throughout the day.  Many of these structured activities help the child to learn a motor skill or increase competency in movement.  In addition children should take part in at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity or free play.  This type of physical activity is child centered, child led and child initiated.  Unstructured physical activity includes things like fort building, climbing trees, running around pretending to be magical beings or super heroes, or creating a city out of boxes.  Unstructured free play helps a child to be more creative, learn to experiment, to work cooperatively, and to think more critically.  Both types of physical activity should be spread throughout the day.

In helping a child to play more, know that you have many items you around you each day that can be used for active play.  We all have milk jugs that can turn in to targets or balls, sticks that can used as swords, plastic bags that turn into juggling scarves and mud that can be thrown to ward off the bad guys.  It takes some creativity, courage and a little out-of-the-box thinking, but it is so important. Getting kids active is essential to their long term health and well-being.   Studies have shown that the motivation to be active (exercise) in adulthood can be influenced by childhood experiences.”

For more ideas or how to use inexpensive items to increase physical activity, check out the Be Active Kids 8 one-pagers.


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.

Rock-n-Roll Math*

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning.

* This game was named by participants of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Kane and Kendall Counties in Illinois.
Rock-n-Roll Math


One panel of a cereal/cracker box

12 pebbles

Pair of dice



To make:

Divide and mark the plain side of the panel into 12 squares. Number the squares one through twelve.


To play:

The object of the game is to get a pebble in each of the twelve boxes.

  • Before you begin the game, think about the following situations and establish a rule.
    • Can’t place a pebble: There will be times when a pebble cannot be placed. Does that mean the game is over? Or is this similar to baseball where each player gets three strikes? If there are two or more players, should this result in that person losing the game?
    • Doubles: What happens when a double is rolled? Does that person get an extra roll? Or does it mean the player loses a turn?
  • To begin play, roll the dice. Decide where pebbles should be placed. There are three choices:
    • Combine the numbers on each die and put a pebble on the sum
    • Subtract the lower die from the higher die and put a pebble on that number
    • Cover two numbers – one for each die.


This game can be played:

  • Solo
  • Competing against another person
  • As a group where each person takes a turn rolling the dice. If a play cannot be made that person is out.



Las Chivas

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, our Playing from Scratch game this month is Las Chivas, a variation of the game matatenas or as commonly known in the United States, jacks.

las chivas


  1. 10-20 pebbles or dried beans
  2. Note: The number of pebbles is determined by the size of the player’s hand.
  3. A wide, shallow bowl or box lid
  4. If played outside a wide, shallow hole can be dug in the ground


To Play:

  • Place the bowl on the ground.
  • Designate a ‘tossing line’ about 6-to-8 feet from the bowl.
  • While holding all the pebbles in one hand, Player 1 stands at the ‘tossing line’ and gently tosses all the pebbles simultaneously toward and hopefully into the bowl.  S/he then walks up and removes ONLY the pebbles that are in the bowl. These are then placed on the back of her/his dominate hand. Once these are balanced on the back of the hand the pebbles are flipped into the air and caught in the palm of the same hand. Count the number of pebbles caught. It is now the next player’s turn.
  • The person who with the highest pebble count is the winner.


Pre-Hispanic Marbles, or Jacks? (n.d.) Retrieved August 30, 2015 from

Quezada, F.  (August 30, 2015) Email interview.

Sierra, J. & Kaminski, R. (1995) Children’s Traditional Games: Games from 137 Countries and Cultures. Oryx Press: Phoenix AZ

Renowned Psychologist Peter Gray to give first ever PLAYtalk

Peter A 2 copyOur first ever PLAYtalk presenter will be renowned psychologist Dr. Peter Gray. PLAYtalks are our Play Conference version of TED Talks.  They will be a series of 15-20 minute dynamic, entertaining, enlightening, engaging, inspiring, informative talks by thought leaders in the play world.

Dr. Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.  He is author of an internationally acclaimed introductory psychology textbook (Psychology, Worth Publishers, now in its 7thedition), which views all of psychology from an evolutionary perspective.

Gray’s recent research focuses on the roles of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his recent book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books, 2013). He also authors a popular blog called Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today magazine.

We are thrilled that Dr. Gray will be with us for The Play Conference 2016! Learn more about the conference by clicking here.

Early bird registration is now open!

Founder of Outdoor Afro to Keynote The Play Conference 2016

The U.S. Play Coalition is proud to announce that Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, will be a keynote speaker for The Play Conference 2016: Rebooting Play, April 3-6, at Clemson University.

Outdoor Afro is a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping,hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing – and PLAY!  Learn how this cutting edge concept grew from Rue’s modest blog in 2009 to a national network that has captured the attention and imagination of millions through a multi-media approach, grounded in personal connections and community organizing.  Rue will share the Outdoor Afro model for creating opportunities to build community and leadership by PLAYing together in nature.

In 2010, Rue Mapp was invited to the White House to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, and subsequently to take part in a think-tank to inform the launch of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative. She was appointed program officer for the Stewardship Council’s Foundation for Youth Investment to oversee its grant-making program from 2010-2012.

Since that time, Mapp’s work has been featured in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Backpacker Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Sunset Magazine, NPR, and many others.

Rue’s ongoing work has been recognized with numerous Awards and Distinctions: The Root 100 as one of the most influential African Americans in the country, Outdoor Industry Inspiration Award, 2014 National Wildlife Federation Communication award (received alongside President Bill Clinton) and in May 2015, Family Circle Magazine selected Rue as one of America’s 20 Most Influential Moms.

Rue is proud to serve on the Board of Rails to Trails Conservancy, American Camp Association, and the Outdoor Industry Association. Most recently, Rue was appointed to the California State Parks Commission by Governor Jerry Brown.

A graduate of UC Berkeley (with a Degree in Art History), Rue’s skills and background make her a unique voice via the programs she has instituted through OA and enlightened a diverse community to the wonders and benefits of the outdoors. Rue resides in Oakland CA, and is the proud mother of three active teenage children.

We are thrilled that Rue will be with us for The Play Conference 2016! Learn more about the conference by clicking here.

Early bird registration is now open!

Founder of Free Range Kids to Keynote The Play Conference 2016

The US Play Coalition is thrilled to announce that Lenore Skenazy will be the first keynote speaker for The Play Conference 2016: Rebooting Play, April 3-6, at Clemson University.  She is founder of the book, blog and movement, “Free-Range Kids”lenore collage, which launched the anti-helicopter parenting crusade.  Her keynote presentation, “Free Range Kids: Raising Safe, Self-Reliant, PLAYFUL Children without Going Nuts with Worry,” will examine our culture’s obsession with risk, and how to flip it to an obsession with play.

A public speaker, Lenore Skenazy has lectured everywhere from Microsoft headquarters to the Sydney Opera House. She’s also a frequent guest on talk shows and has written for everyone from The Daily News (where she was a reporter for 14 years) to Mad Magazine. Yep. THE Mad Magazine (She’s funny!).  Skenazy has been profiled in The New York Times and The New Yorker, and was recently featured on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

The goal of Free-Range Kids is “fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

A graduate of Yale and Columbia, Lenore Skenazy lives in New York City with her husband and teen sons who are half-Free-Range and half social media addicts. Then again, so is she.

Learn more about The Play Conference 2016 by clicking here.

Early bird registration is now open!

The VERY FIRST to register for The Play Conference 2016 is…!

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!”

Join Sarah and hundreds of other play advocates at The Play Conference 2016: Rebooting Play.  Early bird registration is now open!