At the end of February, the US Play Coalition hosted its annual Value of Play Conference. Unlike other conferences where you typically have people from the same field discussing various issues, the Value of Play conference brings together professionals from very divergent disciplines to discuss the important issue of play.
The conference explored the importance of play throughout a person’s lifetime. It is amazing how many different people from all walks of life are concerned and passionate about play. The types of people represented at the conference included:
• Early childhood educators
• University educators
• Sports medicine professionals
• Parents and grandparents
• Inclusion advocates
• Playground anufacturers
We talked about the many benefits of play. If people play, they will:
• Live longer and healthier lives
• Be less likely to be obese and have related health concerns
• Likely be more successful in school and in the workplace
• Be happier
Despite the large amount of research that shows how valuable play is, with benefits for health and success, we also heard how play is being threatened.
Olga Jarret of Georgia State University spoke at the conference. She has reviewed many studies to conclude that 21 percent of US schools in 2003 did not have recess at all. Of those, 39 percent were schools with mostly African American students, and 40 percent were in areas below federal poverty levels. Since then, 30 percent of schools have eliminated 50 minutes of recess each week. Trained physical educators are being replaced with classroom teachers who are not trained in physical education.
Both children and adults are spending large amounts of time interacting with electronic devices and are less active than previous generations. Even the youngest children are sitting in front of a TV or computer against the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, the ability to play is being challenged in parts of the country where children and adults can’t easily access playgrounds. As a result, very few people are spending 60 minutes a day being physically active.
However, Dr. Joe Frost, the Parker Centennial Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas and preeminent researcher and speaker on play, believes that we are at a turning point. He thinks that with the right amount of work, the issue of play will gain more prominence in the next few years. But we all must be involved in changing the discussion.
You can help by becoming a member of the US Play Coalition. Membership is free, and you will receive information about play events, research and other advocacy measures. You’ll also be invited to attend next year’s conference to learn more and add your own voice to this important dialogue.