Prioritizing Play Conference gathers international experts in child-directed play and welcomes local settings to learn essentials of play and Playwork practice 

Urbana-Champaign, IL – Non-profit group KOOP Adventure Play has been delivering public events and summer camp programs since 2015, and are launching a new Conference with the theme of ‘Prioritizing Play’.  The three-day event will focus on translating best practices in creating and staffing play environments for professionals across education, librarianship and public service.  This comes less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines for recess provision in schools, and amidst rising concerns about Illinois children’s rates of obesity and poor mental health which are both significantly higher than the national average.

Prioritizing Play Conference in Urbana-Champaign

“We believe play is a priority for children’s well-being so we are adamant about creating a reality where children get to truly indulge and experience their childhood, allowing them to play freely, discover and explore,” says Naomi Sukenik, co-founder of KOOP.

Studies conducted from within education, public health and psychology have repeatedly demonstrated that opportunities to play help students pay attention in class, reduce bullying and improve social and emotional well-being. This Conference is the first of its kind to be held in Illinois, where recess is not yet mandated at the elementary school level.

“The time children today have dedicated to self-directed play is far less than any previous generation due to increased academic pressure at early ages, cutting recess times, more screen time and more extracurricular activities. Play must be prioritized right now for this generation suffering from a play deficit” says Kelsey Langley, co-founder & executive director of KOOP.

A Keynote address will be given by Dr. Peter Gray, best-selling author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.  His work focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so.  A second Keynote is provided by Morgan Leichter-Saxby, author of The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities across the USA are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood.  She is also co-founder of Pop-Up Adventure Play, a not-for-profit that provides training and support to play advocates around the world.

“We’re so happy to be a part of this event,” Morgan Leichter-Saxby said.  “The workshops are all about helping participants rethink assumptions about children’s abilities and improve provision.”  Topics covered during the conference include: Loose parts and play environments, risk-benefit assessments, rough and tumble play, building strong relationships with parents, and advocacy work.  Conference organizers are also promising a ‘hands-on’ approach.  “Everyone needs more chances to play,” said Morgan.  “That includes parents, professionals, and conference delegates!  It’s a great way to help us reconnect with those childhood instincts, and improve the environments and opportunities we offer children today.”

The Prioritizing Play Conference will be held in the Illini Union on 3rd-5th May.  Participants are particularly welcomed from early years and elementary education, as well as after-school care, parks and recreation, museums and early intervention programs. Financial aid is available.


Kelsey Langley

A full press release PDF is also available by clicking here.