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  • 2016 US Play Coalition conference

    The annual US Play Coalition’s Play Conference 2016 took place last month at Clemson University and focused on the importance of outdoor play of all types, including manipulative and nature play. Other central themes of the 2016 conference included redefining play, culture and community.

    The highly anticipated industry event brought together play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, landscape architects, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents to discuss and promote the value of play for people of all ages and abilities. In addition to the keynote speakers, the Play Conference 2016 included networking opportunities, dozens of educational sessions and other presentations. My coworker and Playworld distributor in Singapore, Patrick Lee, spoke on how play is being managed outside of the USA.

    This year’s theme was “rebooting play” and the latest research, initiatives and practices in the field of play were presented. One hot topic at the conference was ensuring play is available everywhere for everyone – even in unexpected places like pop-up playgrounds and closed-off streets. In fact, my friend and colleague David Flanigan, director of grants management for KaBOOM!, introduced the idea and truly crystallized the play everywhere concept. If you haven’t already heard, KaBOOM! recently launched The Play Everywhere Challenge, a national competition that will award $1 million in prizes for the best replicable, scalable innovations in city redevelopment and design that help make play easy, available and fun for kids and families.

    I was honored to have the opportunity to speak about making parks relevant.

    Communities change continuously. If their parks and outdoor spaces do not change in parallel, societal needs and what is offered for outdoor recreation will be mismatched. My presentation focused on the trends that affect outdoor spaces, park and recreation funding trends and I shared examples of low cost ways to change the perceived value of outdoor recreation to the community.

    Unlike some events where there are people from the same field discussing various issues, this conference continuously brings together professionals from different disciplines to discuss the important issue of play.

    What issues related to play concern you the most?

  • The KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge is now open!

    Science and common sense agree: kids need play to grow up healthy, resilient and ready for life. But far too many children miss out on the chance to play because of where they live, where they come from or how much their families earn. To make this a thing of the past and help cities create spaces and opportunities for all kids to play as they grow, Playworld is collaborating with KaBOOM! on the organization’s Play Everywhere Challenge.

    The Play Everywhere Challenge, which opened to the public this week, is a $1 million national competition that will award innovative, replicable ideas in city redevelopment and design that make play easy, available and fun for kids and families. The Challenge seeks creative and community-driven solutions that integrate play into everyday life and unexpected places – sidewalks, vacant lots, bus stops, open streets, and beyond. At Playworld, we’re excited to see the creative and awe-inspiring ideas the Play Everywhere Challenge generates.

    Designing meaningful play experiences and believing in the transformative power of play are central to our values at Playworld. We’re thrilled to collaborate on an initiative that will rally applicants who share our goal of promoting daily play as key to ensuring the health and success of America's kids.

    Applications are being accepted through May 31, 2016. Submit your creative solution to make play a way of life in everyday and unexpected locations.

    To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge and submit your idea, visit playeverywhere.kaboom.org.

  • What kids need from adults?

    You might think kids today have it good – endless amounts of information at their fingertips, devices to occupy their time, emojis so they can talk in code to their friends and almost no one has to walk to school anymore.

    But you know what I think? Being a kid today is hard. Think about it. Most kids and teenagers have boatloads of homework, but before they can tackle that work, they have to take a music lesson and go to soccer practice. Some kids even have scheduled play dates. But what about just letting loose and having time for free play? That, my friends, is why being a kid today is hard. There is too little time to relax and be carefree – and really important aspects of development happen when adults back off and let kids explore through unstructured play.

    Honestly, every time I speak to an adult about early child development and developing all sorts of skills, I’m left thoroughly confused. Folks want their kids to be quick learners but don’t want them to spend time doing stuff (read: playing) that might actually benefit them. The general thinking is that play and learning are two separate things, which, in my mind, is nothing short of crazy. Or, as I believe the kids are saying, cray cray.

    For me, the issue of play is serious and this conversation with Erika Christakis struck a chord.

    Her new book, The Importance of Being Little, is a plea for adults - educators and parents alike -  to forgo the mind numbing flashcards, old school worksheets and teaching Mandarin to preschoolers in favor of good old-fashioned play (um, when did play become old-fashioned and can we please change this?).

    Christakis writes, "the distinction between early education and official school seems to be disappearing."

    Why can’t more people get on this page and forget the widely accepted norms? I often wonder why we’re complicating things so much when the answer’s really quite simple. Let your kids play!

    What kids really need right now is for adults to start acting. We need to stop forcing them into so called “meaningful” activities when all they really need to (and want to) do is to play in the mud or roll in the grass. Want to explain the theory of gravity? Don’t just have them read about it in a musty textbook. Go to the playground and have them drop several objects from different heights of playground structures. Above all, make sure you work towards creating relevant and rich play experiences that foster a sense of security and emotional well-being among your kids.

    Stop looking at play as an option; make play a priority!

  • Homework can wait, childhood will not

    Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Runner's World, Cosmopolitan, Parents and countless other magazines and newspapers. She is currently an editor at She Knows Media and mom to three kids, 9, 7, and 2. She and her family live outside New York City. She was inspired to write this after an elementary school in her community banned homework for younger kids.

    It’s 7 o’clock at night and my children are winding down for the evening. As we take the (long, torturous) walk toward the bedtime routine — bath, teeth brushing, kisses, reading — I hold my breath knowing that this day, like every day, I will put my kids to bed feeling incomplete. Yet again, despite my best efforts, my third and second graders will go to bed without having completed every bit of their homework. Our agreement is 45 minutes in their room with their books open. After that, they can stop. Sadly, that often leaves a lot undone. It’s a lot of misery. Every. Damn. Night. We are not alone.

    As elementary school becomes more and more academically challenging, play is becoming obsolete. In New Jersey, my home state, Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed a bill that would have made 20 minutes of recess mandatory in elementary schools. It’s insane. Anecdotally, friends report total homework meltdowns night after night. And in my house, it is no different. We have a rhythm to our evening and homework is part of it, but the feeling of never really hitting the mark, never getting it all finished, ruins what should be otherwise lovely nights.

    Last week, I’d finally had enough. It was the first week of spring weather after a cold winter and when my kids came home on Tuesday night, their backpacks laden with worksheets, books, and spelling homework, I declared a moratorium on homework. At least for a couple days.

    “Let’s go to the park,” I told them. We packed the toddler into her wagon and alternated between pulling her and letting her pull her way the five or so blocks to the park. My kids threw balls, they climbed to the top of the equipment, they went down the slides, and played tag. By the time we came home, dirty, sweaty, and tired, they were ready for a family dinner and reading before bedtime. It was the perfect night. If only every night could be like that.

    Living in the Northeast, we obviously can’t promise sunshine and 70 degrees every night of the week. But we can promise play. We can return to the days of tag after school ends and ghosts in the graveyard and tying our wagons to bikes and hoping they don’t flip. “Play is the highest form of research,” Albert Einstein once said. And I see it with my own eyes.

    It is through play that my children build their imaginations. That chair in the backyard? Cover it with a blanket and it’s a secret hideout for the kids when they go on spy missions. The swingset in the backyard has swings, a playhouse, and rings, but in kid-speak they could be rocket ships to the moon, a pirate ship, and a path to Olympic glory. They hula hoop and ride bikes, they toss balls into baskets and stomp rockets high into the trees, they turn cartwheels through the grass, and laugh as they tumble to the ground. Every single one of these activities is more important to their growth and education than a math worksheet could ever hope to be.

    So why are we insisting on loading our kids down with busy work?

    “It teaches responsibility,” one father said during a debate among some of my parent friends. But does it? As far as I can tell, the only thing homework teaches my kids is that mommy is crazy and yells a lot. And when I do yell, I am not doing it because I think they are wasting  an intellectual opportunity or not living up to their academic potential. I am doing so because I don’t want to get shamed by the teacher. I dread notes from the teacher in regards to the performance of my own children far more than I did notes about my own when I was in school. I cringe at the thought of looks from other parents whose children are on top of their homework. So I force my kids through the exercise every night even though I know logically, based on extensive research, that I am doing nothing but loading them down with facts they will forget in two years once they have also earned themselves a healthy hatred of school and the system that has made it so ridiculous.

    This is no way to live.

    My children are 9 and 7 and they spend 6.5 hours of their day in school. They get 20 minutes of outdoor time. If it’s not raining or cold. To send them home to do more indoor busy work seems criminal. They should be exploring their bodies, moving, playing, and reading. They should be eating slow family dinners and running around with friends, imagining their future.

    They have plenty of paperwork to look forward to. Taxes. Bills. Applications for mortgages. Applications for schools and camps. It’s all coming soon enough. For now, let’s let them play until they are dirty and tired. Let’s let them imagine their futures as pirates and fairies and doctors and engineers. Let’s let them build and read and have a couple hours of freedom. Childhood is brief and fleeting. It is a fraction of a total lifetime. And yet, it is the foundation on which an entire future is based.

    Adulthood comes soon enough. While they are still young, let’s let them laugh and imagine and play themselves to exhaustion.

  • Investing in early childhood play is an investment in tomorrow’s leaders

    A vast majority of young children are accustomed to their daily routine: school and homework.

    Kindergarteners, in addition to spending most of their time indoors, are spending nearly 25 minutes a day on homework. This is despite the fact that the National Education Association (NEA) and the National Parents Teachers Association (PTA) don’t endorse homework for kindergarten.

    Preschoolers are not getting enough play. 30 years ago, it was a different story – 40 percent of a typical preschool day was devoted to child-initiated play. This number has more recently fallen to a meager 25 percent (Miller & Almon, 2009).

    Play is critical for young children to develop various skills that they’ll utilize throughout their lives.  Engaging in unstructured play allows children to explore and develop numerous abilities such as problem-solving, decision making and self-expression.

    Children need interaction, imagination, and creativity. Countries such as China, Japan and Finland, often touted for exceptional international math and science assessment scores, boast preschools that are full of fun and experimental learning – via play!

    Research shows that play serves as a strong engine to power learning in the preschool years and beyond. Children under 5 enrolled in play-based preschool programs possess a strong advantage over those who are denied play, and are more likely to grow into happy, healthy and well-adjusted adults.

    In fact, a recent review of 180 research studies by Duke University psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper revealed that the benefits of homework are highly reliant on age. The review found that for elementary school-aged kids and younger, it is best to hold off on homework because it can potentially have a negative impact. When assigned too early on, homework can foster a negative attitude towards school in general. And it takes time away from them playing, and learning through play.

    It’s clear that when they play, young children develop fine and gross motor skills, balance and strength, plus cognitive and social skills. Playworld’s early childhood play equipment are specifically engineered to build these skills and help children make the most of their priceless play time.

    Learn more about our early childhood product offerings here.

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