In early 2006, over ten years after its inception, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) was gaining the industry’s attention. The equipment and surfacing certification programs, which so many members worked so hard to get up and running, were a success, and membership was growing. The trade organization, through the dedication of its equipment and surfacing companies, had successfully driven forward the credibility of the industry. The communication efforts of members had undoubtedly helped bring visibility to the importance of certified equipment and surfacing, as well as proper installation and maintenance procedures to improve safety and minimize risk.
The organization to this point was operating day-to-day under the guidance of its membership and board, and through the leadership of its recently-hired not-for-profit management team, Calabrese Management. By bringing on Calabrese, IPEMA was able to professionalize the policies and procedures for the organization as a whole, as well as take the bulk of the work of managing the growing organizational duties and shift this focus towards the certification programs and the educational outreach on the value of play.
IPEMA was eager to spread the word about the good work its membership companies were doing. This task could prove challenging, however, with marketing committee members often too overwhelmed to take on the task of marketing for another organization. IPEMA decided to undertake a communication outreach effort that could further amplify the message about the importance of play, and of ways to ensure improved safety on public playgrounds, to a broader consumer audience.
Working with a global communications agency, Havas PR, IPEMA launched the Voice of Play in early 2007. As an education and advocacy initiative, it is designed to educate the public about the scientifically proven benefits of play, along with a critical understanding of practices that can help improve playground safety, such as ensuring IPEMA-certified playground equipment and surfacing materials are purchased.
Strengthening Trade Understanding, Educating Consumer Audiences
The success of the Voice of Play effort rests on a strong foundation of scientifically-based proof points about the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits of play. Known already to playground industry professionals, the Voice of Play initiative sought to educate parents, caregivers, school administrators and educators, and community groups about these benefits, and elevate the status of play in consumers’ minds from “nice to have” to “necessary.”
The Voice of Play quickly dove into active participation and leadership through industry events and activities, helping to bolster the presence of these play activities, such as National Playground Safety Week and the U.S. Conference on the Value of Play. By leveraging the playground safety and play value expertise of IPEMA members in the trade and consumer media, the Voice of Play could create consumer awareness and help build the credibility of the industry overall.
Additionally, the Voice of Play enlisted a voluntary Board of Advisors, made up of well-known playground safety and play experts, to help speak on behalf of the organization in a manufacturer-neutral way. The Voice of Play Board of Advisors has been instrumental in bringing credibility to the scientific benefits of play. Board members are:
- Dr. Stuart Brown – Founder of the National Institute for Play (NIFP), Dr. Brown has extensive medical background holding the titles of a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher. Throughout his clinical career, he specifically focused on the importance of play within the human life cycle and explored the evolution of human and animal play. Dr. Brown has produced a three-part PBS series, contributed to over 30 publications in the last 40 years, and authored PLAY, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul – A groundbreaking book on the science of play and its essential role in fueling our intelligence and happiness throughout our lives. It is translated into 12 languages.
- Dr. Joe Frost – Known as the contemporary “father of play advocacy,” Dr. Frost has dedicated 34 years to teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. He is recognized around the world for his work in children’s play and play environments, and continues to lead a 30-year-old research program addressed to the field. He is a former president of the Association for Childhood Education International and recently donated an expanding research collection to the University of the Incarnate Word on children’s play and play environments. His most recent book, A History of Children’s Play and Play Environments, Toward a Contemporary Child-Saving Movement, is a must read.
- Teresa (Teri) Hendy – President and owner of Site Masters, Inc. (SMI), Hendy has been actively involved as a design and safety consultant to the school, park, and recreation industry for nearly 30 years. Having actively worked with the ASTM subcommittees and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since 1987, she has extensive knowledge of the standards and guidelines that apply to the playground industry.
- Ken Kutska – Currently the Executive Director of the International Playground Safety Group, LLC and President of Children and Recreation Environment, Inc., Kutska has dedicated his career to parks and recreation management including serving as the Director of Parks and Planning for Wheaton Park District. He has also served on numerous playground industry boards and committees including the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IRPA), the National Park and Recreation Association (NRPA), the NRPA’s National Playground Safety Institute, and the ASTM International (ASTM) subcommittee on public playground equipment.
Bringing Key Issues to the Forefront
To better focus consumer attention on protecting and promoting free play, the Voice of Play has also invested in the creation of resources to accompany its public relations effort. Through these resources, which are flexible enough to be used directly by consumers or by industry professionals working with consumers, the initiative seeks to create informed school, parent, and community audiences to prioritize play in their own life and work. Resources include:
- The Play Pledge is a downloadable, engaging PDF that encourages parents and children to sign together and post somewhere visible to remind them to commit to play. The Pledge highlights the importance of an hour of outdoor play every day, with examples to spur creativity.
- The Encyclopedia on the Science of Play brings various thought leaders in Play Science under one roof. Play is an interdisciplinary subject with entries from fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.
- The Checklist for Access is a downloadable poster for playground owners/operators that helps increase understanding of the Department of Justice’s updated standards for Accessible Design. The checklist provides everything they need to know about access route dimensions, surfacing requirements, play equipment ramps, and transfer stations for playgrounds of all sizes.
- The Surfacing Guide is the outcome of collaboration with those on the frontlines of the playground industry. The guide is a complete source of regulations concerning proper installation and maintenance of all IPEMA-certified playground surfaces, including artificial turf, engineered wood fiber, interlocking tile, poured-in-place, and rubber mulch.
In 2014, the Voice of Play undertook a brand and website update designed to increase usability engagement. The new website, launched in October, drives visitors to engage via social media and the blog. Using these tools, and continuing to build on its strong foundation, the Voice of Play has big plans for 2015!