CLEMSON — The US Play Coalition’s 2014 Conference on the Value of Play will begin Sunday, Feb. 16, at Clemson University’s Madren Conference Center.

More than 200 play researchers and advocates from across the nation and world will gather through Wednesday for lectures and panel discussions about the benefits of play, according to Carly Summers, executive director of the US Play Coalition.

In conjunction with the conference, Clemson President James P. Clements proclaimed Tuesday, Feb. 18, as a campus-wide Play Day to encourage the university community to join conference participants for group play activity from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Madren Center, or to participate in at least 60 minutes of play every day.

“All interested students, faculty, staff, residents and community members are encouraged to incorporate play into their lives, and encourage others to do the same,” the proclamation stated.

Conference on the Value of Play participants — including the Clemson Tiger &mdash take part in a game of musical chairs at the 2013 conference.

Conference on the Value of Play participants — including the Clemson Tiger — take part in a game of musical chairs at the 2013 conference.
Image Credit: Christopher Phillips

With the theme “Collaboration and Creativity,” the conference will showcase the latest research and practices in the field of play. Attendees and speakers will come from such fields as education, landscape architecture, parks and recreation, health science, business, arts, animal behavior and medicine.

“This conference is unique because it brings individuals and organizations from a diversity of disciplines to talk together about the importance of play to healthy, happy living,” said former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, who co-chairs the US Play Coalition and is a visiting scholar in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department.

“The modern play movement is about helping people realize that play is critical to a happy, healthy life,” Mainella said. “Play movement leaders, like those who attend our conference, are changing the perception of play by sharing the science and creating more opportunities for their communities to play.”

Conference keynote speakers will include:

  • Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, speaking on “Nature Says, PLAY! Reimagining Your Life Throughout Your Lifetime” (8-9:15 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17); and
  • Juan Martinez, director of the Leadership Development and Natural Leaders Network, Children & Nature Network, speaking on “Nature Play: Transforming Lives, Fostering Partnerships, and Celebrating Diversity” (8-9:15 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18).

Other featured speakers will include:

  • Diana Allen, chief of the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative, National Park Service;
  • Vanessa Torres, youth program analyst, Office of Youth, Partnerships and Service, U.S. Department of the Interior;
  • Gary Machlis, science adviser to the director of the National Park Service and professor of environmental sustainability at Clemson University;
  • Danielle Marshall, director of community engagement programs at KaBOOM!, a national play access and advocacy nonprofit organization;
  • Robert Johnson, lead facilitator, Blumenthal Leadership Institute for Change; faculty member, Duke University Corporate Education; and faculty member, CEO Space International; and
  • Dorothy Sluss, president of the International Play Association/USA.

Another highlight of the conference will be a playful musical presentation by the percussion ensemble of Lemira Elementary School in Sumter, S.C. The performance — which will feature boomwhackers, pipes, buckets, trash cans and PVC pipes — will take place at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17.

The 2014 conference is held in partnership with the U.S. affiliate of the International Play Association, a worldwide organization that protects and promotes a child’s right to play. This year, the conference also welcome its first-ever healthcare sponsors/partners: Geisinger Health System and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

Other supporters include Landscape Structures, PlayCore, Vortex, Playworld, John & Bobbie Nau, Allied Tube & Conduit, PlayPower, Greenfields Outdoor Fitness, BCI Burke, IPEMA, KaBOOM!, CIRA Ontario, Missouri State University, Minnesota State University-Mankato and the city of Rock Hill (S.C.) Parks, Recreation & Tourism department.

The US Play Coalition is a global partnership of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. Housed at Clemson University in the College of Health, Education and Human Development, the coalition hosts conferences, encourages and conducts research and provides avenues of communication about the value of play worldwide.

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Registration is $299 for US Play Coalition members and $349 for non-members. Single day rates are $190 for members and $215 for non-members. US Play Coalition membership is free and can be completed by visiting usplaycoalition.clemson.edu and clicking the “Get Involved & Join” link.