Conference on the Value of Play

Posted By The Play and Playground Magazine
March 30, 2013

IPEMA/Voice of Play

Play Champions Join Forces at Fourth Annual Conference on the Value of Play to Share Research and Insights Promoting Free Play for All

A passionate group of just over 300 play enthusiasts convened at the US Play Coalition’s fourth Conference on the Value of Play to share findings, raise awareness and promote play throughout life. The conference, held at Clemson University from Feb. 17-20, attracted leaders in a variety of disciplines, including healthcare, academia, education, child development, kinesiology, playground equipment and surfacing manufacturers, landscape architecture, parks and recreation staff, and advocacy groups. The Conference theme, “Taking Action” helped spur attendees to focus on concrete steps to increase awareness about the many benefits of free play.  

The US Play Coalition was founded in the summer of 2009, following the inaugural Summit on the Value of Play. The coalition’s primary purpose is to link previously unconnected people and organizations that value play and promote its importance in human and societal development. 

“This year’s Conference capitalized on the enthusiasm and action of the past few years – offering more solutions to take action and increase play opportunities,” said Fran Mainella, Co-Chair, US Play Coalition and 16th Director of the National Park Service.

“IPEMA and our members appreciate the efforts of the Coalition to expand our vast industry research-based knowledge to other audiences,” said Tom Norquist, IPEMA Marketing Committee Chair. “We’re hopeful as we continue to grow the Coalition’s base – we can bring in more professionals from the medical, education and even politicians to learn about the benefits of play in all forms and work together to affect widespread positive change. 

The conference began on Sunday with many educational sessions and an option of several local “Play Tours,” hosted by the US Play Coalition. Participants chose between visiting the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, the Clemson University Outdoor Lab or the Clemson University World of Sports. 

The conference’s series of keynote speakers kicked off opening night with an address from Dr. Michael Suk, Chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery for the Geisinger Health System, who spoke on “Strategic Action for Good Health – Uniting Communities around Play.” Dr. Suk’s championed the idea of providing a “play prescription” not only for kids, but for all ages. He is actively working to bridge the gap between the larger medial community and the community of play advocates to help increase the health of the population as a whole.  

Monday morning, well-known motivational speaker and author Kevin Carroll spoke on “The Power of Sport & Play – a BALL can change the world!” Carroll told his moving personal story about his triumph over adversity through neighborhood play. That evening, Co-Chair of US Play Coalition, Brett Wright, moderated a lively keynote panel discussion on “Putting Play Into Action.” Co-Chair of the US Play Coalition and former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella joined keynote panelists Dr. Michael Suk, Deborah Wisneski, President of the Association for Childhood Education International and Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Jackie Epping, MEd and Lead Public Health Scientist and Team Leader for the Guidelines and Recommendations Team of the Physical Activity and Health Branch at the CDC, to brainstorm concrete ways to increase play opportunities for all. 

Tuesday morning, Dr. Regina Milteer offered a look at play from a pediatrician’s perspective, advocating for increased unstructured, free play for kids. Milteer recently worked with Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg to co-author an important study for the American Academy of Pediatrics called, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty.”  Milteer is currently the Chief Medical Officer of the United Healthcare CommunityPlan while also working with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In addition to the four keynote sessions, the 2013 US Conference on the Value of Play included 16 featured speaker sessions and nearly 80 educational sessions that attendees could choose from based on their personal and professional interests. The sessions covered topics ranging from play in the school library, to adaptive playgrounds, interactive play and nature, risk taking, and the connection between physical activity and academic success.

Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Michele Smith delivered a featured presentation (her third time speaking at the US Conference on the Value of Play), talking about taking action steps to promote the value of play. 

For the third consecutive year, the Conference awarded a research grant of $3,000 to support innovative research in the field of play. The 2013 grant went to Jeanette Gustat for her proposal “Developing a Community Play Index (CPI).” In addition to the research grant, three additional grants were awarded under a new category: action grants. These are $1,000 grants to support community initiatives to engage and educate more individuals about the Value of Play. The 2013 winners were: Heather Von Bank for her proposal “All My Other Classes are Boring Lectures: Play Days as Service-Learning Opportunities;” Joy Kuebler for “Buffalo’s Pop-Up Adventure Playground – Community Based Free Play;” and Naomi Roberson and Kate Zmich for “Play for All: Advocating Play to Vulnerable Populations.” In total, the US Play Coalition has awarded $24,000 in grant funding and plans to continue to support play through these initiatives.

The conference was made possible by its host, Clemson University, along with the generous support of Platinum Champion for Play Landscape Structures; Platinum Sponsors PlayCore and Vortex Aquatic Structures; Gold Sponsors Playworld Systems; Silver Sponsors Allied Tube and Conduit, BCI Burke, John and Bobbi Nau and Little Tikes Commercial; and Bronze sponsors Foundation for Sustainable Parks & Recreation and the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA). US Play Coalition partners for the event included KaBOOM!, Clemson’s Marsha Ward Play Fellowship and Department Partnerships included the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina Parks, Recreation & Tourism department and the Spartanburg County Parks Department. 

The 2014 Conference on the Value of Play will take place February 15-19, 2014 and once again will be hosted in Clemson, South Carolina. All are invited to attend, and you are encouraged to visit the US Play Coalition website to learn more and sign up for the monthly e-newsletter that will announce all upcoming conference dates and deadlines. 

For more information about the activities from the US Play Coalition, including government involvement in ongoing committees in areas of Coalition Building, Research, Communication, Advocacy and Guidelines, visit www.usplaycoalition.clemson.edu. For more information about IPEMA’s Voice of Play advocacy initiative, visit www.voiceofplay.org

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Thinking Today About Tomorrow's Play™ The only magazine that is 100% dedicated to the Playground Industry

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