The Pop-Up Adventure Play Days at Maple Neighborhood Center over the summer months have been great fun. Kids of all ages have been able to engage in ‘good, old-fashioned’ play activities like digging holes, painting walls and building cardboard forts.PopUp Cardboard2

As we move toward establishing an ongoing Adventure Playground at Maple, we have been adding more challenging activities. Saws, hammers and nails are now more prominent. A ladder has been added to a tall tree to facilitate climbing. Kids have been signed in and dropped off by parents. All these activities are laying the ground work for us to open the Sacramento Adventure Playground for regular operation on Tuesday, August 23.

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RocketThe closer we get to the opening day, the more we hear the question, “What’s the difference between the Pop-Up Adventure Play Days and the on-going Adventure Playground?”

The major difference is the age of the participants. The Adventure Playground at Maple is developed to serve children and youth ages 7 to 15 rather than children of all ages and their families. This is a big shift for Fairytale Town as we have always served young children (from birth to age 10) and their families. We are excited about the opportunity to offer playful and creative experiences for youth. The types of play at the Playground will suit older children and youth as they will involve a little more risk and creativity, and a lot less adult involvement.

Another significant difference is the introduction of tools and building supplies. Saws, hammers, nails, screwdrivers, sewing machines and such will be available for participants to use. Play workers will be on hand to make sure the participants learn how to properly use and care for the tools, but the kids will be able to create and build things they can call their own.

There are other minor differences as well…

  • The Adventure Playground will be open during afterschool and weekend hours. Operating hours will be 2:30-6:30 PM Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays from 11 AM to 3 PM.
  • Once registered by a parent or guardian, children and youth can come and go from the Adventure Playground on their own. Parents and guardians may visit the Playground, but for observation only. They are encouraged to let their children pursue activities on their own.
  • Participants can create—and destroy—things over time, rather than in a one-day time-frame.

And, of course, much is the same…

  • The Adventure Playground will be free to those who register.
  • Participants will get messy and are encouraged wear clothes and shoes that can get dirty. (In fact, closed toe shoes are required.)
  • The Playground will continue to hold regular Pop-Up Days for the community—at both Maple Neighborhood Center and other locations around town!

Around the world, Adventure Playgrounds tend to become places the participants call their own; and we hope the Sacramento Adventure Playground at Maple does as well.

For more information about the Sacramento Adventure Playground, please visit the Playground’s website.

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Tree 3Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Play Coalition hosted their third Pop-Up Adventure Play Day at the Maple Neighborhood Center last weekend. The quote of the day happed when a 7-year old girl scampered up a ladder into a tree. Surprised by her quick ascent, her father said, “I didn’t know you liked to climb trees,” to which his daughter replied, “That’s because you don’t let me climb them at home.”

These kinds of ‘risky’ play experiences have been disappearing from childhood over the past few decades. It’s understandable that we as a society want to protect our children, but we do so at our own risk. Risky play challenges children. It allows them to stretch their boundaries as they explore their world. In the case of the tree climber, it even gives them a different perspective from which to view the world. Risky play also allows children to gain a sense of their own abilities,  learn to assess risk, test their skills, and experiment with more complex and difficult tasks. Or, as the girl on the ladder might say, it helped her climb higher that she ever had before.

Mud Hole 1Of course, risky play needs to be managed and have oversight, and that’s where organizations like Fairytale Town can step in. Recognizing the need for broader play activities, especially for older children, Fairytale Town is working to bring a permanent Adventure Playground to the Maple Neighborhood Center. Thanks to involvement from volunteer groups like the Sacramento Play Coalition, Men in Childhood and other nonprofit organizations, we are nearly there.

We have been hosting Pop-Up Adventure Play Days sat the site to build momentum for the permanent Adventure Playground, adding a little more risk each time. Tree climbing and hammers and nails were added to our existing activities of mud play, fort building, and wall painting. Additional Pop-Up Play Days are set for July 23 and August 20. The permanent Adventure Playground will open August 23.

Tree 1Details on the difference between the Pop Up Adventure Play days and the permanent Adventure Playground will be shared in my next post. Until then… let’s find ourselves some trees to climb, and see how different the world can look.

It was another whirlwind trip. It seemed like I just returned from the Play on the Move conference in New Jersey when I took off for the US Play Coalition’s Rebooting Play conference at Clemson University in South Carolina. It was interesting to attend two play conferences so close together. While both were outstanding and attracted academics and researchers, the US Play Coalition conference also drew health care professionals, naturalists, play workers, and parks and recreation specialists.USPlayCoaltionLogo

The conference kept us busy from 8am to 10pm. Each day I was able to meet and learn from a wide array of inspiring people and their programs: a zoo employee who developed a nature club for zoo members, a children’s museum worker who is introducing play work to her children’s theater staff members, a researcher who provided facts and figures for play advocacy efforts, a naturalist who began a new nature play initiative at his nonprofit, an architect who studied playgrounds and developed best practice standards and another who established an adventure playground, play workers who shared their insights on play forensics and play cycles, educators who developed free-play after-school programs and tinkering labs, and marketers who demonstrated the power of play in telling stories.

I also got to hear some inspiring Keynote Speakers. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College—and the Keynote Speaker at last year’s Sacramento Play Summit—spoke to us about the dramatic decrease in children’s play over the past few decades, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the increase of depression, anxiety and narcissism in children. I was thrilled to get a preview of one of the Keynote speakers for this year’s Play Summit, Lenore Skenazy. Skenazy is the author and founder of the book/blog/movement, Free Range Kids. She shared stories about the backlash she received for allowing her nine-year-old son to take a subway home alone—at his request. She shared her insights on why we’ve become so crazy about letting our children out of our sight and her Free Range Kids Bill of Rights, which simply states that children have the right for unsupervised time—and parents have the right to give it to them. Those who attend this year’s Play Summit are in for a treat—she is a very entertaining, thoughtful and dynamic speaker!

Other Keynote addresses featured Rue Mapp, the founder of Outdoor Afro, a social community that reconnects African Americans to the great outdoors, Jean Margaret Smith of Nickelodeon whose World Wide Day of Play is September 17, and Justin Bogardus, who created the YouTube hit NatureRX. (Check it out—it’s hysterical.)

There were some common themes that were explored across all disciplines. The decrease in recess time for elementary school children—particularly those in high poverty areas, the increase in adult oversight for children’s activities, decreased time in natural settings, and the need to inform and educate decision and policy makers on how important play is for all mankind—especially children. There were also expressions of hope. There are lots of Adventure Playgrounds opening in the United States. Research bears out what we think is true—that children who have ample time to play do better in school and life in general. There seemed to be a general sense that the play movement was gaining momentum, and the variety of programs and initiatives that are being explored and implemented across the country reinforced this view.

As I reflect on the conference, I come back, literally and figuratively, to Fairytale Town. While we can’t meet all of the play needs in our community, the playful opportunities we provide children, their families, and our community are essential. The fact that we provide these opportunities for children of a wide age range, multiple generations, and schools and community centers as well as family units is a key strength of ours. The fact that we are part of a growing movement that encourages play will only make us stronger.

10402625_10209537453663338_2819629980008043095_nPlay on the Move was the theme of this year’s conference for The Association for the Study of Play (TASP), held at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Not only did the conference get its attendees physically moving, it also held some very moving moments.

The three-day conference attracted about 150 playful people; mostly academics and researchers, but a few clowns as well (literally). The conference kicked off on Thursday with a keynote address by Cathy Salit, a corporate coach and author, who uses her experience as a performer to open up creative-thinking in corporate settings. She shared interesting information about play (or the lack thereof) in the corporate world and ran us through exercises in role playing and pretend. At the end she encouraged us to make funny faces at other conference goers at least once a day, and to attend workshops that were out of our comfort zone.

I did not make too many faces at people, but I did change up the workshops I was planning to attend. I participated in workshops on play and movement, playful reading, playground design, and after-school development programs for youth.

10250165_10209546896099393_7844029051088511152_nThat evening I participated in my very first board meeting for the USA chapter of the International Play Association (IPA/USA). The board identified goals for the coming year. We plan to make website improvements, increase membership, and participate in planning for the 2017 International Conference held in Alberta, Canada. At the end of the meeting the current Board President was acknowledged for her contributions during her three-year term, and she handed off her magic wand to the President-elect.

The next day offered another incredible keynote by Dr. Lenora Fulani, the co-founder and director of the All-Stars Project, a national nonprofit organization that uses play and performance to help inner city youth develop and grow. In addition to providing play and performance opportunities for youth, the organization offers play and performance opportunities for its sponsors and other adults. It was inspiring to learn what a powerful impact play can make in the lives of children—and adults. As one of the young alumni of the program stated, “Play is a tool in life… it helps you see things differently.”

Afterwards I, again, moved out of my comfort zone to do workshops on play and neurological patterns, play and politics, play and language acquisition, and a screening of ‘The Land,’ a 24-minute documentary on an Adventure Playground in Wales.

The final day of the conference was spent in a ‘Playboratory,’ a two-hour session on using play, performance and movement to explore our play muscles and tap into creativity and communication and concluded with an address on how fairytales, magic and pantomime have contributed to play throughout generations.

I got a lot of inspiration—and some practical tools to use—from the conference. I also got a big shot of confidence in the programs that we offer at Fairytale Town. The physical, artistic and literary experiences we offer children and their families are indeed important. The research these TASP-ians conduct reinforces that. Children AND adults learn much by trying on different characters, looking at things from different perspectives, and moving in different settings and directions.

In addition, I am now much more open to making playful faces at people as I go about my day. And you know what? People respond in kind!

Nearly 200 people played away the day at the first-ever Pop-Up Adventure Play Day in Sacramento. Held at the Maple Neighborhood Center in south Sacramento, the effort was a collaboration between Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Play Coalition – and was months in the planning.PopUpFT

A call for materials—cardboard, PVC pipe, paint, shovels—was issued and volunteers were on site to accept donations 12 hours per week for a three-week period.

Planning meetings were held, and materials were sorted and cleaned.

Promotional flyers, media releases, and registration forms were developed and distributed.

General activities were selected. Outside were areas for digging and mud play, painting a large storage container, building with boxes and cardboard, tying up a string den, and creating with chalk art and clay. Inside activities included painting, drawing, assemblage, make believe, and music-making.

PopUpMudWe were uncertain how the day would go. We thought it would be a good turn out if we had 20 people show up. We secretly hoped for 100.

People arrived as soon as we opened at 10 am. By the end of the day 75 children ages of 1 to 15, and at least that many adults came by. Children and adults alike got into the spirit of the event and had a great time.

The first family to arrive left about three hours later. As the diapered toddler and his 4-year-old brother approached me, I saw they were covered head to toe with paint. As they walked past me, I saw their backs were covered head to toe in mud. It summed up the day.

A boy about 9-years-old dug a hole for the entire time he was there. By the time he was done, we could barely see the top of his head. Some of the play-workers got into the act and erected a shade structure for him. I’m still not certain how he got out of the hole.PopUpCardboard

A 7-year-old boy spent his time turning cardboard boxes into a helicopter—again with the help of a play-worker.

It didn’t take long for the activity areas to spill into each other. The drums created inside soon made their way out. A group of girls dragged cardboard and tools inside to build their own living room… complete with a floor, walls, window, artwork, a couch and a flat screen TV—the only nod to technology for the whole day.

PopUpStringNearly everyone spent time painting the large storage container. Some were able to spray the sides with a paint-filled water pistol.

A few people came by just to donate more items, and loved the interaction they were seeing.

While sore and tired, all of us involved were delighted with the results and are already planning the next event. We are looking to do another on a Saturday or Sunday in May. Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Play Coalition invite involvement from community members.

Pop-Up Adventure Play days are ‘soft’ openings of a permanent Adventure Playground that Fairytale Town plans to open at Maple Neighborhood Center later this year. Geared towards children ages 7 to 15, the Adventure Playground will be open during out-of-school times and will offer supervised play activities. Children will have the opportunity to work with real tools to create their own space for play.PopUpMud2

Adventure playgrounds harken back to the end of WW2 when European landscape architects and playground designers discovered that children enjoyed playing in the war rubble more than they did in pre-fab playground structures. They observed that children were more engaged in play in spaces they created themselves and thought that these non-traditional environments inspired imaginative, collaborative and thoughtful play, and helped build competencies for adulthood.

The Adventure Playground Fairytale Town is planning at Maple will build upon this model, offering open-ended play for children ages 7 to 15 during out-of-school times. A Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 for the Playground will begin in April. The Adventure Playground will also be part of the focus of Fairytale Town’s efforts for the Big Day of Giving on May 3. We hope for a lot of community support! As all who participated told us, we want more adventure play!

The Sacramento Play Coalition is comprised of play professionals and enthusiasts who meet bimonthly to be a clearinghouse of ideas and to share best practices. If interested in being part of the coalition or the next Pop-Up Play Day, please send a request to join our Facebook group.

PopUp Cardboard2The Maple Neighborhood Center, located on the former site of Maple Elementary School, is a hub of health services, programs and opportunities for children and families presented by La Familia Family Counseling Center, 916 Ink, Fairytale Town and more nonprofit partners.

More information on Fairytale Town and its programs and services can be found at www.fairytaletown.org.

IMG_3986It was almost closing time and I was walking towards my office. I saw a family playing by King Arthur’s Castle. The adults were chatting happily, the children swirling around them. The sheep at the Mary’s Little Lamb exhibit across the walkway began to bleat. They knew they would be fed soon. As I was nearing the sheep, a little girl from the family ran up to them announcing to me, “I speak sheep!” and baah-ing to her animal friends. It was a joy to see the strength and self-confidence she displayed in this spontaneous moment of playful interaction. She transcended the language barriers and became one with the sheep, both of them baah-ing back and forth until they each rushed off – the sheep to eat their dinner, the child to rejoin her family.

These playful interactions, with family, friends… and animals, are the stuff that memories are made on. I was sad that our moment ended so suddenly. I have worked near those sheep for many years, and have always wanted to know what they were saying!

Fairytale Town is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm beginning March 1. We hope you will drop in for a visit. You can find out if you speak sheep; or cow, donkey, pig, goat, rabbit, chicken, or squirrel when you visit. Or you can just play and enjoy the approach of spring. I believe that is what the sheep was saying to that little girl.

I was excited to learn about Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life, a free online course offered by FutureLearn and the University of Sheffield. The seven-week course kicked off last week and is off to a roaring start. Learners from all over the world are participating. For the first week we learned about the many definitions of play, and were asked to share our play histories.

SacramentoPlaySummit2There were two common themes about people’s play histories. The first centered on outdoor play. I was amazed at how many people remembered playing outdoors without any supervision by adults. In reflecting on my own play history, I recalled spending a lot of time outside playing with friends and neighbors, and seldom within eyesight of any of our parents. By contrast, my children spent very little time outdoors in self-directed activities. While they spent a lot of time outside, it was usually in a supervised sporting activity. It is surprising how much things have changed in just one generation.

The other theme was that the play people gravitated toward in childhood often carried over into their adult careers. I participated in a lot of imaginative play and acted out stories as a child, and began my professional career by working in theater. Some who played with cars as children became mechanics; others who liked to play school with their stuffed animals became teachers. It was a little surprising to realize how much my play as a child links to my life as an adult.

Play can be difficult to define, but it is something that crosses cultures, contexts and lifespans. What do you remember about your play history, and how has it impacted your life as an adult?

Fairytale Town is located across the street from the Sacramento Zoo. Their Executive Director, Mary Healy, began working there about six months before I began at Fairytale Town. Over the years we got to know each other and learned we shared many things besides a similar start date and a street. We’re both baby boomers who were raised in middle class Irish Catholic families. We both recently lost parents. We both loved travel. And we both loved cheese and wine. We once even attended Cheese School.Glasses 1

You can imagine our excitement when we learned there was a Cheese Festival coming to Sacramento. Mary found out we could get in free to the cheese-tasting gala if we volunteered. (Yes, we’re both frugal and resourceful too.) We had a great time at the Festival tasting cheeses from all over the United States. I shared stories about my recent vacation to Europe. She told me about her upcoming vacation to the Galapagos Islands, a trip she was very much looking forward to. We received commemorative glasses as part of the gala. I mentioned in passing that we were running short on wine glasses and Mary gave me hers. It was a simple and generous gesture that was typical of Mary.

I was shocked and saddened to receive a phone call just a week later telling me that Mary had passed away while on vacation. As I reflected back on the time we spent together, I realized that what we shared most of all was a sense of play. As we get older it can become harder to find partners in play. I am so lucky I found one right across the street. I will forever treasure the playful times I spent with my friend and colleague Mary Healy.

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March is Read Aloud Month. To help celebrate, Fairytale Town has become a partner with the national Read Aloud 15 Minutes campaign. The 15 minute movement is bringing together a passionate group of partners united behind the idea that 15 minutes of daily reading aloud to children ages 0 to 8 can improve the education of children.

The tenets of the movement are simple and direct:

  • Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to improve a child’s readiness to read and learn.
  • By making 15 minutes of daily reading aloud the new standard for parents, we can change the face of education in the country.

The need for this initiative is great. More than one in three children enter kindergarten without the necessary skills for lifetime learning. Less than 48 percent of children are read to every day, and over 15 percent of young children are read to by family members less than three times a week.

Improving these statistics can be easy – as easy as reading aloud for 15 minutes every day. Research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing adults can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning. It improves a child’s language development, builds literacy skills, enhances brain development, and, most importantly, establishes a strong bond between the reader and child.

Reading aloud can be made playful – not a chore. Let your child pick out the books to read. Substitute wrong words to test their comprehension. Insert the occasional fart joke. Make up nonsense words. Act out the story with funny voices.

Reading aloud for 15 minutes every day can be part of a new routine to play every day as well. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time for either play or reading… but by committing to it you can have a tremendous impact to the children in your life.

I’ve been able to catch up on some reading lately, and I am happy to recommend the following books and articles to you.

Play-Cover-2Play by Stuart Brown, MD. Dr. Brown is the leading expert on play behavior in the US and the founder of the National Institute for Play. His book draws from thousands of ‘play histories’ of people from serial killers to Nobel prize winners as well as his clinical research and observations of animals and humans at play. I had the chance to hear Dr. Brown speak recently at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. His book and research drives home that play is anything but trivial, and is, in fact, hard-wired into all of us.

Adventure: The value of risk in children’s play by Joan Almon. This short publication was recently released by The Alliance for Childhood, a research and advocacy organization that promotes policies and practices that support children’s healthy development. Almon explores what children gain through risky play and provides helpful information on the differences between risks and hazards.

The Value of Play by Perry Else explores the purpose of play and demonstrates why it is important to our bodies and minds, as well as to our cultures and communities. Else gives examples of how play can be supported at home and in children’s settings.

Recent articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post were also interesting, and underscore how important play is for child development. The “Language Gap” article demonstrates how essential play is for very young children to learn language. The “Ridiculous Test” article demonstrates how a young child’s natural curiosity and playfulness can be stifled in a high-stakes testing environment.

I hope you also get some down time to enjoy some playful reading!