Play in American Life

Play in American Life: Essays in Honor of Joe L. Frost

Play in American Life is a compilation of essays written in honor of Dr. Joe L. Frost, best known for his work in the area of play and play environments. Edited by Mary Ruth Moore and Constance Sabo-Risley, the book was published by Archway Publishing in 2017. The production and printing of the book was sponsored by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association.

The fourteen essays examine play in America from historical, psychological, economic, and other perspectives and honor the thoughts and ideology of Dr. Frost with some referring to his actual research and others to his play concepts. Some of his many accomplishments are described in “The Life and Work of Joe L. Frost: An Introduction” written by Mary Ruth Moore. “The Frost Play Research Collection” written by Constance Sabo-Risley describes the special collection of articles, books, artifacts, and research materials he had amassed over the years that he donated to the University of the Incarnate Word.

Joan Almon’s essay, “Restoring Play – The March Goes On,” examines some of the barriers to play while identifying a number of initiatives that are being developed to overcome the problems and restore play for all children. The disappearance of play, the heightened perception of stranger danger, the fear of risk and injury in play, the misguided view that play does not stimulate learning, the over use of screen time over recreation and socialization, and the lack of safe places to play all contribute to the play deprivation felt by today’s children. Her essay offers some insights into the efforts to counteract the lack of free play with programs and initiatives to encourage play.

“A Place for Play in the Liberal Arts: Developing an Undergraduate Course on Play to Meet General Education Requirements” was written by Michael J. Bell. The author reports on a play seminar that was held as part of general education studies for undergraduate students from a wide range of academic majors incorporating play theory into their fields of study. He makes several recommendations to aid in developing and obtaining approval for the study of play as a general education elective.

Stuart Brown’s essay, “Play Deprivation,” focuses on the consequences of the lack of play in today’s society. For fifty years, Dr. Brown has conducted or reviewed approximately six thousand individually conducted detailed play histories that led to his study of play deprivation and its effects in humans finding those who experience play deprivation often have serious socialization deficits. He concludes that the importance of play cannot be underestimated for developing well-adjusted social beings.

“The Lasting Effects of the UT Austin Tower Massacre” was written by David Campos and Mary Ruth Moore. This essay details the events of the campus shooting in 1966 that left 14 dead and 32 wounded and the resulting impact and study into the relationship between play and mental health. Dr. Stuart Brown was part of a committee of specialists tasked by Texas governor John Connally to determine what contributed to the shooter’s actions. This led to Dr. Brown’s lifelong study of the value of play and the effects of play deprivation.

Vivien Geneser discusses the validity of a play-based early childhood curriculum in her essay, “Caretakers of Wonder.” She advocates that children are sensory beings who learn through the exploration of their surroundings. Their ability to imagine leads to pretend play, which can be also seen in their rough and tumble play, superpower play, and chase games. Innovative educators can enhance children’s sense of wonder and implement a play-based curriculum determined by the children’s interests.

In “Stormy Passages: Searching for ‘A Straight, True Light,’” Elizabeth Goodenough looks at the connections among play, place, and personal stories. To illustrate her discoveries she explores many stories that have been written about lighthouses and the challenges of growing up as children in them.

The essay, “Social Media as a 21st Century Playground,” was written by Stephanie Grote-Garcia, Tammy Francis Donaldson, Olive Kajoina, and Norman St. Clair. They compare the behaviors found in Jean Piaget’s stages of games to the behaviors used when engaging with social media as well as comparing Parten’s six categories of social play.

“Important Then, Important Now: Arnold Gesell and the Gesell Institute of Child Development” was written by Marcy Guddemi and Blair E. Starnes to explore why Gesell’s original research was so important and why it is still important today. His theory of ages and stages of child development continues to be relevant.

Darell Hammond and Shawn Lin of KaBOOM! and Piyush Tantia and Sarah Welch of ideas42 contributed the essay, “Using Behavioral Economics to Create Playable Cities.” Since 1996, KaBOOM! has been building and improving playgrounds using volunteers with the goal of building great places to play. Realizing that they wanted to make a larger impact than what they could do one playground at a time, they partnered with ideas42, a behavioral design lab and consulting firm that uses behavioral science to help solve difficult social problems, to focus on encouraging cities to become kid-friendly, family-friendly cities filled with play opportunities. This essay describes the use of behavioral economics to achieve their goal.

“Bicycle Dreams” written by Barry Klein describes his lifelong enjoyment of riding a bicycle recouning tales of learning to ride his first bicycle in the 1950s, outdistancing himself from bullying gangs with his racing bike in the ‘60s, and taking up riding once again as an adult in his forties. He now rides with a group called “The Bad Boy Bikers,” which also includes women and numbers about 300 members who enjoy weekly rides together.

“History of the US Play Coalition With a Special Focus on the Critical Role Joe Frost Played in its Development” was written by Fran P. Mainella, Emma Pappas, Stephanie Garst, Ken Kutska, Dr. Brett Wright, Tom Norquist, and Tom Kalousek. This essay describes the founding of the US Play Coalition and their development as an organization that advocates for play for all.

“Urban Children in the Wild: A Collaborative Success Story,” written by Mary Ruth Moore and Constance Sabo-Risley, describes the accessible, urban play and learning space for children 5 and under at the San Antonio Zoo called the Tiny Tot Nature Spot. It provides learning through experience, play, and activities in the nation’s first “zoo within a zoo” devoted to young children. Dr. Frost was on the panel of experts that gave guidance to the project.

Tom Norquist contributed “The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds Research Creates Numerous Industry Equipment Improvements.” He focuses on the many benefits of swinging that include the development of the body’s sensory systems of vestibular coordination and proprioception. The writings of Dr. Frost and Dr. Stuart Brown about attunement play led to the development of the expression swing that allows two swingers to face each other while swinging.

“From the Park to the Playground: Building for Democracy” was written by John A. Sutterby. The author suggests that for certain periods of history, people have worked together to create parks and playgrounds for the purpose of creating democratic open spaces for all people. From the Boston Common, set aside in 1830, to the landscape design of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in Central Park in 1858, the movement to build parks across the United States continues. The playground movement closely followed the development of parks as a child-saving movement in response to the growing density of cities that were being populated by new immigrants from all over Europe around the turn of the 19th century. Henry Curtis, Luther Gulick, and others championed the playground movement. He also explores the adventure playground and questions where will the next movement come from.1

  • 1. Moore, Mary Ruth and Constance Sabo-Risley, editors. Play in American Life: Essays in Honor of Joe L. Frost. Bloomington, IN: Archway Publishing. 2017.