On April 5, 2013 the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) of San Antonio hosted the Lifelong Health, Fitness, and Learning through Play Conference. Presented by the Joe L. Frost Play Research Collection of the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library of UIW, approximately 260 people attended the conference. Teachers, child care professionals, agency personnel, museum and zoological executives, professors, sports management and kinesiology educators, child-life specialists from local and statewide hospitals, as well as undergraduate and graduate students comprised the audience. Pre-service teaching college students from UIW, Texas A&M-San Antonio, University of Texas-Austin, University of Texas-San Antonio, University of Texas at Brownsville, Our Lady of the Lake University, and Texas State University attended.
The conference was jointly sponsored by Joe and Betty Frost, the Frost Play Research Collection, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), GameTime, PlayCore, Lakeshore Learning, UIW's Dreeben School of Education and the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library of UIW, as well as the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and Women's Global Connection. Supporting sponsors included: Alliance for Childhood, the National Institute for Play, the US Play Coalition, the Texas Children in Nature Network, the Texas Wildlife Association, The Witte Museum, the Children's Museum of San Antonio, and The San Antonio Zoo as well as the Alamo Chapter of the US Play Coalition.
Dr. Joe L. Frost, Parker Centennial Professor Emeritus and the namesake and benefactor of the nine-year-old play research collection at UIW, was the first keynote addressing the conference. Dr. Frost addressed the theme of the conference, play across the lifespan, focusing on outdoor play for all. Dr. Frost's address included the many benefits of play for all from children to adults. He cited the growing need for play among American children and the over emphasis on standardized testing, poor nutrition, lack of safe play places, parent work schedules, and shortened recesses or no recess at all as causing this perfect storm of play deprivation for today's children and tomorrow's adult population.
A surprise keynote from Dr. Stuart Brown, noted psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play, continued the conference theme by presenting how play benefits not only the body but the brain. Dr. Brown began his talk by honoring Dr. Frost and suggesting that "Dr. Frost is a genius much like the 16 Nobel Laureates" he has interviewed during his career. Numerous slides of Dr. Brown's research on animal play illustrated that all healthy mammals play due to a biological need to do so. National Geographic photographs of Dr. Brown's work beautifully showcased animal play and movements that enlightened and pleased the audience. Dr. Brown shared his personal journey as a new psychiatrist and faculty member at Baylor Medical School in Houston when a life-changing event on August 1, 1966 occurred that would propel him into a research project on the University of Texas Tower Massacre on that same day. Dr. Brown concluded that deprivation of play has serious and lasting effects.
Mr. Tom Norquist, Vice President of GameTime, a PlayCore Company, shared the design process for outdoor environments stressing the importance of research on play equipment. From all around our country, Mr. Norquist shared slides of numerous beautiful thematic playgrounds with accessibility for all. Well-designed equipment, research on form, and function go hand in hand according to Mr. Norquist, a founding member and past president of the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association.
Dr. John Sutterby of the University of Texas at Brownsville presented the last keynote of the day sharing his fifteen years of play research with Dr. Frost. Dr. Sutterby’s research included work at the Redeemer Lutheran School playground in Austin, the site of perhaps the longest research project on outdoor play in America. For more than thirty-five years, Dr. Frost and his students have conducted play research on play activities and play equipment at the Redeemer site.
Breakout sessions offered participants the opportunity to learn more about play research, play venues, play and the brain, playful cities, wellness, community trails, and ecological and neurological approaches to play. Tours of the Frost Play Research Collection showcased the many and varied holdings of the collection. San Antonio's Children Museum, the Witte Museum, and the San Antonio Zoo's Nature Spot presented how each offers play opportunities that support wellness and learning for all. Cardio hip hop and amazing foot races taught the importance of activity and exercise for adults. The play of farm workers, play and mental health recovery, music and movement, play and reading, discovery learning though play, community play days, and traditional bilingual games completed still more opportunities for participants to learn about the benefits of play across the lifespan. A poster session provided participants with additional information on health, fitness, play safety, play days and global play opportunities from Zambia to Tanzania.
Another key figure at the play conference Friday was Danielle Marshall of KaBOOM!. She shared best practices from three Playful City USA communities. Dr. David Campos and Dr. Mary Ruth Moore ended the first day of the conference with a challenge to participants to advocate for play wherever they are.
The conference was directed by Dr. Mary Ruth Moore and Dr. Stephanie Grote-Garcia of UIW. Dr. Noah Kasraie, Dr. David Campos, Ms. Mary Jinks, Mr. Michael Peters, and Mrs. Melissa Chavez composed the other members of the program committee. Deans coordinating the work of the conference were Dean Denise Staudt of the Dreeben School of Education and Dean Cheryl Anderson of the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library of UIW.
The second day of the conference included a Play Day called "Get Out and Play" at the San Antonio Zoo's Kronkosky Nature Spot. Some forty plus students from the Dreeben School of Education and invited students from Texas A & M-San Antonio provided simple, replicable play activities for children and their parents as they visited the zoo that day. Dr. Mary Ruth Moore and Dr. Stephanie Grote-Garcia helped sponsor the college students’ play day activities. Perhaps the biggest favorites of all were a huge box tunnel, an open air veterinary clinic, bubbles, and play dough. This was the Zoo's first annual play day and was a huge success according to Melody Wood, the director of the day.
All in all, the play conference and the play day added to the many conferences and play events sponsored by UIW and the Frost Play Research Collection since 1997.1