By Hope Katz Gibbs
“Play is serious business,” says Steve Gross, the chief Playmaker at The Life is good Kids Foundation, whose mission is to help kids overcome life-threatening challenges.
“Millions of our nation’s youngest children have experienced profound trauma in its many forms, including domestic violence, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, and severe poverty,” explains Gross (pictured below on the left, playing). “It’s a silent epidemic. Life can hurt—but play can heal.”
Why is play so mission-critical?
Studies show that when children don’t play, their brains and bodies don’t develop properly. As they grow up, they are at much greater risk for long-term mental and physical diseases, including anxiety and depression, obesity, heart disease, and cancer; and too often they end up having trouble being happy, productive members of society.
Institute of Play founder Stuart Brown, MD, asks: “What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives.”
And in the article, Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning, researchers Gina Kemp, MA, Melinda Smith, Bernie DeKoven, and Jeanne Segal explain that play isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.
“Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising,” they write. “Play teaches us how to manage and transform our ‘negative’ emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.”
Here’s how the Life is good Playmakers are ensuring that play happens.
This summer, Gross and his band of Playmakers jumped into their lime-green cars and traveled 1,200 miles in 30 days to spread the power of joy and optimism to thousands of children.
In cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Tuscaloosa, Ala., and New Orleans, they provided certification training and brought play equipment to 350 childcare workers, preschool teachers, and health care professionals.
Then, throughout 2012, they will again be traveling around the country to provide additional expert training, play kits, and individual consultation on integrating healing play into their everyday teaching and caregiving.
“We’ll be going into inner-city preschools, daycare centers, foster homes, and children’s hospitals all across the country, with the sole goal of keeping kids laughing and playing,” Gross says, noting that his group will train more than 1,800 new Playmakers across the country.
In turn, these child-care professionals will strengthen the lives of more than 36,000 children.
“By supporting these front-line heroes, Life is good Playmakers are helping our most vulnerable children reach their full, joyful potential,” Gross knows. That’s why the Playmakers training retreats are so effective.
The proof is in the pudding.
In the past three years, the Playmakers have provided training, resources, and support to more than 2,500 caregivers, who in turn have helped to heal and strengthen more than 130,000 children.
Here’s some feedback Playmakers have received:
“Your weekend training retreat was wonderful—truly the best I’ve attended,” says preschool teacher Kathy Runey. “After 26 years of teaching, it’s nice to once again be inspired.”
“Its emphasis on joyful play has been truly transformative, not only for the hundreds of kids we have served, but also for our staff organizations that have embraced it,” believes Jose Hidalgo, MD, medical director of the Latin American Health Institute.
“Playmakers has created something truly revolutionary in our field, and we are honored to be a part of it,” shares Nick Hoffman, director of Development for Family and Children’s Aid.
Gross calls it “The Playmaker Effect.”
“We’re not the smartest people on the ‘play’ block, since some brilliant educators and academics have spent their lives studying the topic,” Gross realizes. “What we’re trying to bring to the party is a way to get to the heart and soul of what play and playfulness is all about.”
And he believes from the top of his favorite fedora to the tips of his flip flops that play isn’t what you do—it’s how you do it.
“Some kids are playing when they are mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or taking out the trash,” he says. “The key is to find the joy in whatever you do—and not just think that play means getting a group of kids together for an organized soccer or kickball game.”
In fact, Gross suggests that the Playmakers movement isn’t about play at all. The core of his organization, he insists, focuses on how children are treated in our society.
“When you treat kids in a joyful, empowering, inspiring way, you give them guidelines for how to be joyful, empowered, and inspiring themselves,” he shares. “So our ultimate goal is to help the people who care for the kids who are in the most life-threatening positions find ways to create sacred spaces to let the joy seep out.”
“Aristotle said, ‘Life should be lived as play.’ And I couldn’t agree more.”
How can you help?
- Make a donation to the Life is good Kids Foundation, www3.lifeisgood.com.
- Attend the September 24-25, 2011, Life is good Festival, where 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Life is good Kids Foundation. Buy tickets here.
- Become a fundraiser and set up your own donations page. Click here to set up your Life is good Fundraising page.
For more information, or if you have questions, send an email to email@example.com.