Kathleen Burriss

Dr Kathleen Burriss

Kathleen Burriss, an authority on early childhood development and play, founded the annual Play Symposium held at the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.1 She is a professor at MTSU as well as a prolific writer and speaker on the subjects of early childhood learning, outdoor learning, and play. She believes that children's learning is “best facilitated by playful approaches that draw upon individual interests and the creative, adaptive, and problem-solving functions of the brain.”2

Dr. Burriss began her career with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the State University of New York College at Fredonia in 1972. She became a Kindergarten teacher at Akron Central in Akron, New York and taught there for fifteen years. During this time she continued her education and earned her Master’s of Science degree in Elementary Education from the nearby State University of New York College at Buffalo in 1976.

In 1988, Dr. Burriss moved to Phoenix, Arizona where she taught kindergarten in the Roosevelt Central School District. The following year, in 1990, she began teaching undergraduate courses at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, while she was earning her Doctor of Education degree.

After graduating in 1992, Dr. Burriss began teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses in the Department of Elementary and Special Education at MTSU. Within five years, she became an associate professor, within ten years a full professor, and by 2008, she was awarded doctoral faculty status.3

Soon after joining the MTSU faculty, Dr. Burriss began promoting play in learning. In 1993, she gave a local presentation, “Come Plearn with me: Learning through Play,” by 2000, she had produced the video “Plearning: Learning Through Play,” and in 2001, she conducted a teleconference by the same name.

The following year she presented a three part inservice for the Hobgood Elementary School in Murfreesboro, entitled “Contributions of Play for Children's Learning and Development.” Dr. Burris maintains that physical play enhances a student's memory, concentration, mood, and learning which are significant for their academic performance.4 In 2003, she presented “Let's Get Serious about Play” at the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) conference in Jackson, Tennessee.

As Dr. Burriss taught on the importance of play, she began to also focus on the importance of outdoor play. In 2002, she developed the graduate course “Outdoor Learning and Play” and four years later she developed an online graduate course entitled simply “Play.” Some of these graduate courses include Play and Literacy, Play and Social Emotional Learning, and Play and the Curriculum.

Following numerous presentations on outdoor learning for local, state, and national conferences, in 2005, Dr. Burriss co-edited Outdoor Learning and Play: Ages 8-12 and authored the chapter therein, “Out of Doors and Development: A Good Match.”5 She continued to speak concerning outdoor learning believing that, “Outdoor play contributes to children's intellectual, social, emotional, and physical learning in ways not possible through direct instruction.”6 This philosophy was reflected in her chapter entitled “To play or not to play: Is it really a question?” which she contributed to the book Outdoor Play, written by C.J. Ferguson and E. Dettore and published in 2007.

Also in 2007, Dr. Burriss and Dr. Larry Burriss presented “Outdoor Learning & Play: A Changing National Perspective” at the International Council for Children's Play World Play Conference held in Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. The following year she spoke at the ACEI World Conference in Moscow, Russia.

Dr. Kathleen Burriss, working with a grant from the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Youth, organized the first Play Symposium in 2008. Held at MTSU, this first symposium was entitled “Play: A Link to School Success.”7 Every year since, there has been a Play Symposium that has explored such topics as safe physical activity, the outdoor classroom, recess, diversity in play, and play and technology.

During this time Dr. Burriss and Dr. Larry Burriss collaborated further as presenters and co-authors concerning outdoor play and public policies. In 2012, they presented “Fearful People: The Outdoors and Impressions for the Future” at the US Play Coalition Conference held at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.

At this same conference, Dr. Kathleen Burriss joined other leading play advocates in the presentation “Words on Play: Making play a priority in communities.” In her Words on Play essay entitled “Learning: Intimately engaging young minds,” she declares, “Educational practices for the new age must reflect a 'play, development, and learning' model. Play is an important vehicle for children's social, emotional, and cognitive development, as well as a reflection of their development.”8

  • 1. “Play Symposium.” Middle Tennessee State University. < http://mtweb.mtsu.edu/play/kathleen_burriss.htm > 9 March 2012.
  • 2. Burriss, Kathleen. “Learning : Intimately engaging young minds.” Words on Play – A treatise on its value by leading play scholars. Playcore, 2011. Print.
  • 3. "Kathleen Glascott Burriss.” Personal correspondence to Playground Professionals. 1 May 2012.
  • 4. Op.cit., Burriss.
  • 5. Book reference: Burriss, K.G. and Foulks, Boyd B. (Eds.), Outdoor Learning and Play: Ages 8-12. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2005.
  • 6. Op.cit., Burriss.
  • 7. Op.cit., “Kathleen Glascott Burriss.”
  • 8. Op.cit., Burriss.