I attended my second Play Conference this year, which was the 10th Anniversary of the US Play Coalition Conference on the Value of Play. I have come to thoroughly enjoy this event. It is fun and informative. It is a great "hunting ground" for this website and magazine editor looking for quality content! I have made new connections and nurtured partnerships that have previously been through phone calls and emails. I am so excited to be able to provide a platform for the play practitioners to share their work with you. Six of the authors in our Spring magazine issue were contributors at this conference.
The theme of this year's conference was "Play for Life." The speakers all shared their experiences, research, and programs focused on ensuring that children get enough of the right kind of play to build the foundation of their lives. Think about the adults that you know today. Can you imagine what sort of playful childhood they had, or didn't have, based on how they live their adult lives? This was an eye-opening thought for me. Research shows that human beings need a range of play experiences to fully develop. Free play, unburdened by adult rules, is especially critical for children to learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships.
In the 21st century, adults can be overcontrolling kids experiences. Structured sports and play-dates made to fit into adult schedules don't allow children to find their own passions. Children may be pigeon-holed into games that don't fit their individual play personalities. Children need to know that however they choose to play is the right way to play. Too much structure can turn play from stress-relief into a stressor all on its own. Too many school districts are cutting out unstructured recess. They may maintain physical education, or some other structured activity, but those don't make up for the lost recess. Even kids in middle and high school need unstructured physical activity. Staring at a phone outside doesn't cut it. These youth need to feel free to play, which is built upon the foundation of free play as a youngster.
Experts in the field of play such as Stuart Brown, Peter Gray, and Lenore Skenazy gave great talks on what they've learned. Practitioners like Lynn Campanella, Rusty Keeler, and Brandi Heather told us how they are striving to implement play as a foundation for the youngsters they encounter. I learned so much in each session I attended as well as in the informal gatherings. The sad part is that I couldn't attend every session. Everyone at the conference felt the same way, I'm sure. We want to help further the mission of the US Play Coalition by sharing their efforts with you on our website. I will be working with many of these speakers to bring you articles about their work as well as to ensure that they have listings in our Professional Spotlight Directory. To any of you who also attended this conference, please consider this an open invitation to contact me about writing some blog posts for us.