This annual conference brings together leading 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 country.

“PLAY FOR LIFE” will explore play across the lifespan and address universal issues of health, education, access, equity, inclusion, design and more.

The three-day event includes keynote and featured speakers, PLAYtalks, PLAYinstitutes, research symposium, educational sessions, roundtables, grant opportunities, networking, and opportunities for play.  Read on to learn about conference speakers, themes, CEUs and logistical details.

SPECIAL NOTE!  Our conference programming begins on SUNDAY MORNING this year, so we hope you will plan to arrive by Saturday, March 30.  Our events go ALL the way through Tuesday evening with special activities.  To get the full Play Conference experience, plan to leave on Wednesday, April 3.

Play Pioneers

Stuart Brown & Peter Gray

Stuart Brown, MD, our very first keynote speaker (2009) and Peter Gray, PhD, our first ever PLAYtalk presenter (2016) return to the conference main stage to tackle our theme of “PLAY FOR LIFE,” reflect on the last decade of the play movement, and give insights into its next decade.  Together on stage for the first time ever!


Stuart Brown, MD

Trained in general and internal medicine, psychiatry and clinical research, Dr. Stuart Brown first recognized the importance of play by discovering its absence in the life stories of murders and felony drunken drivers. He is founder and president of the National Institute for Play. Dr. Brown’s book: Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul has been translated into twelve languages.

Peter Gray, PhD

Dr. Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College. His recent research focuses on the role 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 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). He also authors a regular blog called “Freedom to Learn,” for Psychology Today magazine.

Power PLAYer Panel

Tackling “The FUTURE of Play” with industry leaders from a variety of perspectives, this is a discussion NOT to be missed!

Panelists include:

  • Moderator: Fran Mainella – Co-Chair, US Play Coalition & Former National Park Service Director
  • Michael Suk, MD JD MPH MBA FACS –  Chief Physician Officer at Geisinger System Services and Chairman of Musculoskeletal Institute and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Geisinger Health System
  • Erwin Tan, MD – Director Thought Leadership – Health at AARP
  • Debora Wisneski, Ph.D. – John T. Langan Community Chair of Early Childhood Education at University of Nebraska-Omaha
  • Meghan Talarowski, MLA, CPSI Founder and Director, Studio Ludo


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

Lenore Skenazy is the founder of the Free-Range Kids movement and president of the non-profit Let Grow. Her work has helped restore childhood resilience by pushing back on overprotection and inspired Utah’s 2018 ‘free-range parenting’ law.

Lenore’s talk is sure to cause a buzz…!

How Free Play is Like Sex*
(*Alternative, safe-for-work title: Save The Brainforest!)

Peter Gray and Lenore Skenazy have joined forces in recent years to help found Let Grow.  These two headliners will share the stage for an honest talk about some of the organization’s efforts with Let Grow Play Clubs in schools, Free Range Kids laws and other initiatives to bring free play into communities.


PLAYinstitutes are 3-hour topic-specific trainings that take place in the morning of Sunday, March 31.

Topics include:

“Primal Play Method Playshop – How to Move and Play Like an Animal to Become More Human” – Darryl Edwards

“Play and Education from a Global Perspective” – Dolores Stegelin, Tracey Hunter-Doniger, Mary Mackenzie and Heather Von Bank

“Play Risks: Exploring Research & Interventions” – Ahren Hoffman and Jean Bailey, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA)

“Respawn: A Gaming Based Approach to Play That Optimizes Therapeutic Success Through Adaptive Engagement” – Erik Johnson, OTR/L, Chief Medical Officer for Operation Supply Drop & Warfighter Engaged, Consultant on new Xbox Adaptive Gaming Controller and Former Army Occupational Therapist

Learn  more…

Featured Speakers

  • “Giving Children the Gift of Boredom”
    Melissa Bernstein,
    Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Melissa & Doug Toy Company

  • “Get the SHIFT You Want – Play FULLY!” The Transformative Power of The Playful Mindset®
    Kirsten Anderson, Founder of Integrate Play Solutions

  • “The Just Play Project: Ithaca: Creating a Child-Friendly City”
    Rusty Keeler, Designer

  • “Inclusive Play Expert Panel”
    Kelsey LeFevour, Paralympic athlete;
    Eli Ruiz-Torres, Paralympic athlete;
    Jeff Townsend, Greenville Rolling Tigers Youth Basketball Team; Taylor Duncan, Alternative Baseball League;
    Moderator: Jill Moore, Paralympic athlete

  • “Elevating Lifelong Play To Create Healthy Communities”
    Jennifer Nitzky, Landscape Architect; Kate Tooke, Landscape Architect; Joy Kuebler; Landscape Architect

  • “Why Play Matters: The State of Recess in North America”
    Deanna Tomaselli, IPEMA; Tom Norquist, SVP of Innovation and Business Development – PlayCore/GameTime; Olga Jarrett, Professor, Georgia State University; Lynn Campanella, CEO of Playocracy Inc.

  • “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes The Exercise Medicine Go Down”
    Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, FACSM, FTOS
    President, American College of Sports Medicine,
    Professor, Public Health Science, Penn State Cancer Institute, Penn State College of Medicine


  • “Playable Infrastructure”
    Meghan Talarowski, MLA, CPSI
    Founder and Director, Studio Ludo

  • “Lighting Play Enviroments for Today & the Future”
    Joe Crookham, President, Musco Lighting Inc.

  • “Reframing the Playground: European Play Precedents at Tulsa’s Gathering Place”
    Chelsea Hoffman, APE Studios,
    Peter Heuken,
    Richter Spielgrate,
    Teri Hendy,
    Site Masters Inc.

  • “Implications of Race: Policies and Practices”
    Corliss Outley, Ph.D., Texas A&M University, and Harrison Pinckney, Ph.D.,  Clemson University


  • “The Science of Play: The Importance of Participating in Play throughout Life”
    Stuart Brown,  President of the National Institute of Play and Tom Norquist, SVP of Innovation and Business Development – PlayCore/GameTime

Research, Educational & Poster Sessions

The Play Research Symposium provides opportunities for a scholarly exchange surrounding play. Sessions will include several 15 minute presentations grouped by theme with a 15 minute Q&A to follow the series.

Educational Sessions are opportunities to share and discover innovative play strategies and play research. These 50-minute sessions are more interactive and aimed at practitioners.

PLAY Workshops are hour-long, hands-on, interactive PLAY learning sessions.  Workshop lineup TBA.

Poster Presentations will display from Sunday through the Tuesday closing banquet.  Poster presenters will accompany their posters during the pre-banquet reception on Tuesday.

For a schedule overview, click here.

Session Themes

All our sessions will be classified into the following themes to help attendees find the sessions that most interest them:

Education & Play – Play is a vital part of the learning equation, both in and out of the classroom. The faces of those learning while at play are some of the most engaging! Consider play as a vehicle for learning through both traditional and nontraditional settings including schools, camps, afterschool programs, museums, zoos, aquariums, parks & recreation departments, faith-based spaces, and more.

Health, Recreation & Play – Play is a building block for healthy living. Examine health and physical activity trends related to play, healthy benefits of play, and the intersection of health and recreation to insure a healthy face of play.

Nature Based & Outdoor Play – The faces of play are often wet, muddy, and sun-glistened from hours spent outdoors. Focus on play in nearby and far away nature–backyards, parks, creeks, lakes, trails, wetlands, and beyond.

Accessible & Inclusive Play – Play should be accessible, available, and open to all. Advance the field for play for all abilities, all shapes, all sizes, all colors.

Multi/Intergenerational & Adults at Play – Promoting play throughout life is our mission. Explore how adults (college-aged to retirees) play and how adults share and benefit from play with children.

Designing for Play – Landscape architects, architects, designers, city planners, and civic groups are invaluable experts, practitioners and resources for PLAY. These sessions will be submitted for LACES and AIA CEU approval.

Emerging Trends in Play – Play is changing! The Play movement is growing! Explore the latest in play- technology, social media, politics, policies, and more.

International/Global Play – Play looks very different around the world. Share play practices, history, and culture from countries across the globe.

Nuts & Bolts – From play basics to play essentials. Share tips, trainings, techniques and tools for PLAY.


Continuing Education Units

Clemson University awards CEUs for your participation in sessions at The Conference on the Value of Play. All keynotes, featured, research and educational sessions are 50 minutes in length.  Participants can be awarded .05 CEUs for each of these sessions attended. Institutes are another CEU opportunity.  LA CES and AIA Learning Units are pending for select sessions within the “Landscape Architecture, Architecture & Design” track.  Additional paperwork will be required.

  • Schedule at a Glance & Speaker Overview

  • FULL Conference Program