Playing It Safe

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools, and families to prioritize play every day.

Fresh air...freedom...time to let your mind wander...an inexplicable sense of joy...play. The definition and essence may vary from person to person, but play is an activity for both growth and recreation. Children are naturals at embracing play but with adulthood, a sharpened sense of awareness seems to complicate the matter as grown-ups may look to minimize “risky play”.

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TIMEOUT

There is growing debate over whether children should be permitted to experience potential risk in play, or if safety truly does “come first”. Outdoor and physical play encourage children to find and explore personal boundaries. As children test their limits, risk is imminent.  No parent wants to expose their child to potential danger, but it is developmentally appropriate for children to experience and explore risk while playing (with proper supervision) so they can learn to manage it.  

Managing risk during  play is crucial to the development of many social, psychological, and physical attributes including, but not limited to:  

  • Balance
  • Empathy
  • Problem-Solving
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control

Competence in these areas is universally beneficial and these skills will grow with a child throughout their lifetime.    

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ALL STAR ADVICE

What is the best way to promote play that encourages children to safely learn risk management? According to the Injury Prevention Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, adults should: encourage safety, but not to the effect of hindering learning. For instance, walking alongside children as they learn to manage risk is natural, but caregivers must decide when to observe and when to intercede.  

The Injury Prevention Department recommends watching children closely as they play, but allowing play experiences be child-led. In other words, if children are beginning to work out a problem on their own, let them see it through. When you truly feel the need to lean in, trust your instincts and work within a child’s play atmosphere to provide input. Finding a balance can be trying, but increasing self-confidence and independence in a child benefits both him or her and you as the caregiver.

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DIG IN

One instance where caregivers may want to intervene is when a play situation becomes harmful. Adults should gently explain dangers and offer less harmful alternatives. By demonstrating appropriate risk-taking and openly discussing it, caregivers can acknowledge how to respect one’s own boundaries and the boundaries of others. 

There is also a critical social aspect to helping your child learn to manage risk. As a lead agency supporting six centers in the Allegheny County Family Support Network, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC encourages families to make positive social connections to build strong communities. These positive social ties can lay the foundation for both superior parenting and better living. 

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POWER PLAY

To provide a better life for our children, we must recognize that parents and primary caregivers are a child’s first teachers, and that children learn through risky play. Thus, parents and caregivers have the necessary role of encouraging children to play and explore while carefully watching them find their way. Remember to demonstrate, rather than tell what you know and most importantly, have fun! After all, play is not just for kids.

For more information on the Injury Prevention Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, please visit www.chp.edu/injury-prevention

 

Right to Recess

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools, and families to prioritize play every day.

"At recess, I remember everything I learned."

Advancing developmentally appropriate practices for children birth through age eight is one of PAEYC’s public policy priorities. This is done, first and foremost, through providing children with opportunities to play in and out of the classroom. Recess gives children a necessary break and time for free play during the rigorous school day. Experts recommend young children receive at least one period of recess for 20 minutes a day, in addition to physical education and classroom physical activity. 

Children need play breaks

Child-centered school environments include recess in the schedule. Prioritizing time for free play during the day enables children to engage with their peers and participate in unstructured, child-led activities. Recess, along with other physical activity breaks throughout the day, increase the likelihood that children will be successful in school. 

Research on attention suggests the brain can’t maintain attention for long periods of time and requires contrast to regain focus. Children need down time to give their brains a break from concentrated classroom work and allow for information to be processed. 

Cognitive and Academic Benefits

Regular breaks from more structured classroom work allow students to mentally decompress. Several studies show that recess, whether indoors or outdoors, increases children’s attention span and productivity in the classroom. Physically active students tend to have better grades, attendance, classroom behaviors, and cognitive performance. 

Learning doesn’t stop during recess and play shouldn’t stop during class. Young children authentically learn through play. Developmentally appropriate practices allow for multiple opportunities for personal, meaningful play experiences in and out of the classroom. Recess is one component of developmentally appropriate practices in early education, providing children with the opportunity to put skills to use in a way that is meaningful to them. 

Social and Emotional Benefits

Recess promotes social and emotional skills that become fundamental lifelong tools and serve as a developmentally appropriate way to reduce stress. Through recess children learn respect for rules, self-discipline, problem solving, and planning strategies. They practice leadership, resolve conflicts, and associate with children of other ethnicities. 

Physical Benefits

Of course recess allows time for children to be active in the mode of their choosing. They have time to practice movement and motor skills. Dedicated time for recess during the school day helps children achieve some of the recommended sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.  

What’s at stake?

The pressure of accountability leads schools to drill academic skills very early. Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), 20% of school districts decreased recess time. Eliminating or reducing time for recess in order to fit in more instructional time may actually be counterproductive. 

Studies found that children who don’t participate in recess may be restless, easily distracted, and have difficulty concentrating.  Brain research shows that excessive and/or unrelieved periods of instruction can impair one’s ability to learn and retain material.

What can families and play advocates do?

Parents, families, and community members who understand the importance of play can advocate for recess policies. New Haven public school parents launched a Recess for All campaign when they realized the district’s children in Pre-K- 6th grade had inconsistent access to recess among grade levels, classes, and schools. After circulating a petition and speaking at a school board meeting, the school district committed to creating a recess policy. The district set up a task force of parents, teachers, and administrators to draft a recess policy and guidelines for implementation. 

If you are concerned about the amount of free play time your children have in school, begin by informing yourself on your school, district, and state recess policies.

  • Does your school/district have a written policy that specifies the number of recess minutes per day elementary students should receive?
  • Does your school provide all students with scheduled recess daily?
  • On average, how many total minutes per day does a student have recess?
  • Is there a plan for recess during inclement weather?

How can policy help?

Children have a high probability of receiving recess if states require or encourage recess. Only eight states have policies encouraging or requiring recess. Currently in Pennsylvania there is no general physical activity requirement, nor is there a policy requiring or recommending recess or physical activity breaks. 

School districts can choose to include recess in their district wellness plan and individual schools can plan recess into the daily schedule.

Best practices* for developing a recess policy include:

  • Develop policy requiring 20 minutes of recess per day for elementary school students.
  • Take a stand on recess as a necessary component of the school day, in addition to physical education.
  • Schedule recess before lunch.
  • Maintain and inspect all spaces and facilities used for physical activity.
  • Ensure the ratio of recess supervisors is the same as the teacher:student ratio.
  • Engage parent and community volunteers to help with recess.
  • Offer annual training for staff and volunteers who supervise recess.

How does your child’s recess policy stand? If you are interested in learning more about developmentally appropriate practices and advocating for recess, sign up for PAEYC policy updates here

*Adapted from SHAPE America Guide to Recess Policy and Strategies for Recess in Schools Strategies for Recess in Schools by the CDC and SHAPE.

Do What’s Best for Children—let them play!

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools, and families to prioritize play every day.

The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) just released our first public policy agenda. The agenda will guide our advocacy efforts and initiatives which focus on doing what’s best for children, investing adequately, and enhancing quality in early childhood education. PAEYC’s agenda advocates for the use of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) and supports a paradigm shift that acknowledges the role of play in children’s learning and development.

The problem with the play vs. learning dichotomy

The debate continues over the question-- do children need more time to learn, or do children need more time to play? This has created a distorted dichotomy of play versus learning. In the early childhood years, playing and learning should not be in opposition. Play is a key component in a child’s development and it is how children authentically learn. DAP and play are foundational to high quality early education.The following examples demonstrate how child-directed play informs early learning:

  • Creating an environment in a classroom for children to act on their curiosity such as ‘how high can the blocks be stacked until they topple over’ allows children to experiment, make mistakes, discover, and problem solve.

  • Utilizing the arts encourages children to draw, model, create, and perform as a way to learn how to express feelings and ideas.

  • Free play enables children to make up their own rules and negotiate with their peers.

  • Imaginative play provides the experience for children to explore different roles and scenarios as well as discover possibilities for understanding the world around them..

In addition to exploration and creation, play is the primary way children use language. Also, play scenarios often involve mathematical activity such as shapes, patterns, and counting.

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Superpowers of Play

Freedom to play is freedom to think. Children learn to pursue their own ideas and develop foundational cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Children are hard at work when they play, developing “superpowers” such as leadership, conflict resolution, problem-solving, creativity, agency, and voice.

Make-believe play helps children to develop executive functioning which has many functions, including the ability to self-regulate. Children with good self-regulation develop the ability to control emotions, behaviors, and impulses. During make-believe play children talk to themselves about what they are going to be doing and how they are going to do it. This type of “private speech” is a skill used by adults as a way to overcome obstacles, master cognitive and social skills, and manage emotions.

Don’t let play disappear from schools

Children have a right to learn, and thereby a right to play. Despite what we know about how children best learn, play is disappearing from early childhood classrooms. As direct instruction, standards, and testing continue to seep into our preschool and early elementary classrooms, it is imperative that we advocate for developmentally appropriate practices and play.

Play is the work of childhood. In addition to play being a healthy part of development, play equips children with the skills to be creative members of our innovative workforce and participating, thoughtful citizens in our democratic society.

Take Action

Parents, caregivers, and educators have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of what’s best for our children. Share this blog post with your legislator and tell them why opportunities for play are important to you and your children. Find your legislator here.

Follow PAEYC as we continue to advocate for developmentally appropriate practices that support play in early childhood settings. Sign up here for updates on our policy agenda and how to become involved in our advocacy work.

Creating Healthier Playful Environments with the Healthy Out-of-School Time Initiative

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

After school programs across Pittsburgh are making play a priority by joining the Healthy Out-of-School Time Initiative (HOST) from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. HOST is one tool from the Alliance to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and create healthier environments for youth across the country. In January of 2016, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC partnered with fitUnited of the United Way of Southwestern PA to launch HOST in the Greater Pittsburgh region.

HOST provides a way for after school programs to assess how well their program promotes healthy eating and physical activity. One very important best practice after school programs analyze is how often they offer quality physical activity, or in other words--quality play time! Healthy Out-of-School Time sites strive to incorporate at least 30 minutes of play time each day to get kids moving and active.

HOST also recognizes that it’s not enough for after school programs to just offer play time but also to equip after school program staff with the knowledge and skills to promote the value of play and serve as healthy role models. HOST trains participating site staff on how to effectively communicate important health messages, lead activities and understand how they can impact the health of the children they interact with.

When children are not in school or at home, they are most likely participating in an after school program. While the school day is mostly governed by sitting still in class, after school time provides an opportunity for kids to release the energy they build up during the school day. When children expect play time in their after school program, playing and being physically active becomes a more natural health habit that they will continue to incorporate into their daily life as an adult.

Growing from just 12 programs in 2016 to 70 programs in 2017, more after school programs are joining the Healthy Out-of-School Time Initiative in an effort to make the Pittsburgh after school setting a healthier environment for children to grow up in. Is your child’s after school program making healthy eating, physical activity and play a priority?


To learn more about HOST, contact Justine Fuga at justine.fuga@unitedwayswpa.org.

Join Us for Playground Clean-Up Day: Saturday May 13, 2017

The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative is honored to be awarded a Love Your [Resilient] Block Grant through the City of Pittsburgh.

We are excited to use this funding to host a Playground Clean-Up Day On Saturday, May 13, 2017 at the KaBOOM! Playground at 5113 Lytle St, Pittsburgh PA 15207.

Volunteers will be working to get the playground ready for summer play season. We will be planting shrubs, doing maintenance on the rain garden, picking up trash and other activities to make the space beautiful and welcoming.

Lunch will be provided for volunteers!

If you are interested in more information, contact Teresa Pizzella at tpizzella@paeyc.org.

Join Us!

Date: Saturday, May 13, 201
Time: 10 AM- 2 PM
Where: KaBOOM! Playground Site- 5113 Lytle St, Pittsburgh, PA 15207
What: Playground Clean-up and Beautification Day

Capturing the Sounds of Play

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

How do we capture the sounds of play? How do we share our thoughts about play? Here at SLB Radio, we use audio to encourage, amplify, share and archive the ideas, stories, and feelings of children, youth and families. Listen below to hear the voices of youth from around the city discussing their thoughts on the importance of play!

Play in Pittsburgh’s Parks: Beyond the playground

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

Did you know in the city of Pittsburgh, you’re rarely far from a park or greenspace? Probably the first images to spring to mind are of our larger regional parks, with playgrounds such as Frick Park’s blue slide park or the Schenley Oval recreation complex. Pittsburgh’s playable green spaces range from those iconic large-acreage parks to pockets of green sprinkled throughout the city. Play opportunities abound, especially when we step beyond the playgrounds and engage with urban nature.

Nature play fosters creativity

Playing outdoors is fun. But did you know that natural play areas support more dramatic and constructive play than traditional playgrounds? Multitude of studies support the benefits of outdoor play on children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Loose-parts Play in Nature

Playing outside beyond the playground often involves “loose parts” play – creative play with sticks, stones, acorns, leaves, whatever materials come to hand. Loose parts is a term used to describe any kind of play material that can be moved, carried, combined, taken apart, or put together, with no specific directions.

Loose parts can be used for construction, dramatic play, art projects, and more. Their open-endedness encourages problem-solving and creativity, and allows each child to engage with them at their own level. Just remember to leave natural materials in the area where you found them – these loose parts are important to wildlife, too!

Individual items found in nature can also provide rich fodder for playful investigation. With a few simple tools, such as a magnifying glass or “binoculars” made of toilet-paper tubes, children can become explorers in their own backyard or neighborhood park. Nature exploration engages the senses – children can touch the texture of tree bark, observe the colors of fall leaves, and listen for bird calls or the sound of a babbling brook.

Need a little more support?

Pittsburgh Parks Rx program offers seasonal activities you can do outdoors and park-specific activity sheets for several Pittsburgh parks.

Need more convincing?

The National Environmental Education Foundation has put together a graphic highlighting all the benefits of being active in nature

More Parks Rx guides are available at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's website!

More Parks Rx guides are available at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's website!

Finding your Creative Playground

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

A play space isn’t necessarily composed of slides and swings, and it does not need to just be for children. Downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District offers a creative playground for people of all ages and backgrounds. With festivals, workshops, performances, and gallery spaces that highlight world-class art and cultural activities, everyone is able to learn, connect with their community, and grow through play.

Exploring at a Gallery Crawl

Exploring at a Gallery Crawl

Let your mind wander to far off places in the past, present or future in a show-stopping Broadway musical. Challenge your beliefs and perceptions while you engage in thoughtful dialogue at an exhibit, tap your toes at a late night jam session, and sing along with your favorite characters in a Children’s Theater Series performance. Students and community members can even refine their skills and further their education by engaging with professional touring artists at an ArtsMasters Workshop. The opportunities for creative submersion are endless!

In-line with the mission of The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, which ‘is dedicated to advancing the importance of play in the lives of children, families and communities in the Pittsburgh region,’ the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust believes in the significance of play and stands as a voice for art-lovers everywhere.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has hosted a multitude of inventive playgrounds for hundreds of artists and millions of people. By cultivating Pittsburgh’s largest art neighborhood, the organization has fostered innovation, authenticity, and creativity for those who seek to explore and play in its spaces.

With dance, theater, visual arts, and more, young and old can experience the wonder and joy that our community can provide.

Take a walk through downtown Pittsburgh, and find your creative playground.

Two upcoming events that are free and open to the public include:

Benny Benack III: The Holiday Session on Tuesday, December 27, 2016 @ 5pm

Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District on Friday, January 20, 2017 starting at 5:30pm

 

 

5-2-1-0: The Formula for Healthy Families

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

Let’s Move Pittsburgh, a collaborative program of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens that aims to improve children’s health and wellness, is a proud member of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative. Play is important for the growth and development of healthy children and even plays a role in helping us make nutritious food choices and maintaining an active lifestyle. We are keeping it playful with our new movement, 5-2-1-0, which reinforces healthy lifestyle choices that benefit local kids and their families.

So, 5 + 2 + 1 + 0 = ?  If you guessed “8,” you are mathematically correct, but this equation also equals a healthy family!  5-2-1-0 is a fun way to remember four healthy habits to strive to do every day:

5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day!

Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks goes a long way in improving nutrition and making healthier kids. Have children help you in the kitchen and offer them taste tests of seasonal produce. Remember to keep the experience positive when trying new foods!

2 hours or less of recreational screen time every day!

Children who limit screen time not only sleep more soundly, but also perform better in school and are less likely to face weight issues. Unplug and turn on the fun by reading your favorite book, playing make-believe, or dancing to music.

1 hour or more of physical activity every day!

Research shows that physical activity can greatly improve kids’ attention spans and attitudes, therefore making them more successful learners. Plus, physical activity is great for overall health. Take it outside and get dirty in your garden, take a hike in your city park, or play tag with your best friends. Reward kids when they try new activities.

0 sugary drinks and more water every day!

Overloaded with sugar, commercial juices, soda and energy drinks wreak havoc on developing bodies and should be replaced in the diet by water. Practice healthy hydration and keep bottled water on hand, add flavor to water with fresh fruit, and keep a pitcher of thirst-quenching water in the fridge. Remember that you can stay hydrated by eating foods with high water content.

By emphasizing these healthy habits, we can all help forge a brighter future for Pittsburgh’s kids! For more 5-2-1-0 tips, follow our #5210Friday posts on Facebook and Twitter and our 5-2-1-0 Every Day Pinterest board.

5-2-1-0 is adapted from Let’s Go! www.letsgo.org

Welcome to Your New Playspace, Hazelwood!

Play opportunities are improving and expanding in Hazelwood.

Almost 200 volunteers showed up on Saturday, Sept. 17 to build a playground in one day. Children in this area haven't had a usable playground to play on in more than five years. 

"You didn't just get a playground. You got a unique, one-of-a-kind playground. Designed by the community," said Jacob Stachler, Project Manager at KaBOOM!.

"It's not your typical sort of playspace. It takes into consideration all ages," said Cara Ciminillo, founder of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative and Executive Director of Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC).

The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, PAEYC, Hazelwood Initiative and KaBOOM! teamed up to plan the project. The Heinz Endowments funded the playspace. Dozens of volunteers from the neighborhood got sweaty and dirty to add the play showcase to their neighborhood. From cutting weeds to providing water for the volunteers, neighbors of all ages played an important part of getting the project completed. 

"Look at what we did! It's amazing!" said Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative.

"I just want to come back here and play every day," said Lauren Schulusser, volunteer from the University of Pittsburgh.

Additional thank yous must go out to Councilman Corey O'Connor, Tiffini Gorman from the Mayor's Office and the Zone 4 Pittsburgh Police Station for their support.

The new KaBOOM! playspace is the main attraction along the Hazelwood Play Trail. Next up for construction will be the Elizabeth Street Parklet.