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Play Around the World

The International Play Association (IPA) held its tri-annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey from May 20-23, 2014. The conference brought together 355 participants from 40 countries. I was thrilled to be among the participants which included college professors, play practitioners, non-government (or nonprofit) organization representatives, and government officials.IPA Conference

The theme of the conference, Children’s Access to Play in Times of Crisis, was timely as the news from the recent mine catastrophe in Soma, Turkey, went from bad to worse while I was there.

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Adventure Playground In Halabja, Iraq

There were two particularly powerful keynote presentations on play in time of crisis. A UNICEF representative spoke about how the lack of play led to the isolation, depression and victimization of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The Mayor of Halabja, a Kurdish city in Iraq that was decimated by chemical warfare in 1988, spoke about how a new Adventure Playground brought hope to children and adults in his community. Both reinforced how important play was to the health development of children, as well as the development of communities.

There were also thought-provoking keynote presentations on the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Title 31 (which states that children have the right to play and to pursue cultural activities), ground-breaking play policies in Wales, play and technology, and the importance of play in education. In addition to the keynote addresses, I attended workshops on playground development, play in education, and play in recreational environments. I was proud to be among the workshop presenters and to share the things Fairytale Town has been doing to promote play in our community. All of us – from the Czech Republic to Australia and the Netherlands to Beirut – noted that the entire community benefited from building playgrounds and developing play programs.

Representatives from the Ankara Toy Library

Representatives from the Ankara Toy Library

A random sampling of playful happenings in other places include:

  • Ankara, Turkey has a Toy Library where families can check out toys and games for two-week periods.
  • Well Played is a public awareness campaign in Holland to raise awareness that play in open spaces is productive time for children and not a nuisance. (Recent research shows that many adults think that children playing in open spaces are irritants.)
  • Sand pools and mud pools are regular features in playgrounds across the globe. Many adventure playgrounds hold regular mud play days. In fact, international mud play day is June 29.
  • Wales is on the cutting edge of play policy and implementation. They have a national play policy and each community has to conduct a play sufficiency assessment and improve delivery of play if warranted.
  • Many play providers are facilitating play in open spaces such as parks, sports fields, public squares, streets and sidewalks, etc.
  • Many playgrounds are using natural elements and loose parts for playgrounds so children can change the play environment regularly. Some are including children in design discussions on specific playgrounds.
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View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower

It is always inspiring to go away from home and hear about the wonderful things people are doing from far-flung places. It’s also rewarding to come home – with the recognition the playful opportunities we offer at Fairytale Town are important to the development of children, families and our community.


Meet the Queen of the Fairies

MellisaBefore the fairy fun at A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy on June 28, we wanted to introduce you to this year’s Honorary Queen of the Fairies, Mellisa Paul! Mellisa needs no introduction as the hostess of Sacramento & Company. She is also the Community Liaison Director for News10, coordinating all station events and many other community projects. We’re thrilled that Mellisa will be taking on the role of Titania, Shakespeare’s Queen of the Fairies, presiding over the festivities and greeting guests in her magical fairy bower. Read on to learn more about Mellisa’s history with Fairytale Town as well as a few of her favorite things!

Tell us about your history and experience with Fairytale Town.

I first started going to Fairytale Town as a parent of my eldest daughter Abbi. We went as a family a handful of times for play dates and then had her third birthday party in King Arthur’s Castle. She loved it! We have been avid fans since.

What are you most looking forward to at A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy?

I am a big fan of Shakespeare. I actually have a certification in Shakespearean performance from the Oxford School of Drama in England. My favorite dessert is ice cream. So A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy is a marriage of two things that I love! So…what am I looking forward to the most??? ALL of it!

We have to ask: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?!

Tough question…hmmmmm…. I like berries a lot…and chocolate. So anything with berries and chocolate is a win for me.

And your favorite Shakespeare play?  Why?

Oddly enough… A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I’ve played numerous characters in the play over a series of years. One great experience was when we used the stylings of the ‘commedia dell’arte’ in one interpretation of the play…but my favorite was when I played Hermia in college. I was opposite my husband who played Demetrius. We weren’t dating at the time…but the whole experience led to us falling in love!

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be?  Why?

Rapunzel…because I’d LOVE to have super long, gorgeous thick hair!!!


Meet Brad Peters, Honorary Chair of Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes

Brad Peters of Hock Farm Craft & ProvisionsWe are fortunate to have Brad Peters of Hock Farm Craft & Provisions serve as the Honorary Chair of Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes on May 8!

With over 13 years of experience in the hospitality industry, seven of those behind the bar, it’s Brad’s enthusiastic and genuine approach to mixing drinks and guest service that have earned him recognition as one of Sacramento’s most respected bartenders. Brad emphasizes ingredient-driven classic cocktails, often re-imagined with local produce and locally produced goods. Brad has received recognition for his recipes and perspectives in local, regional, and national media outlets.

We wanted to introduce Brad and ask him about a few of his favorite things and what he’ll be making for the party.

What’s your favorite: Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, or both? Why?

I am a Sherlock Holmes guy. I love crime dramas, mystery and suspense. However, I guess when you look at it that way Alice in Wonderland is a lot of the same and I love the undertones of Alice. I’ll still stand by Sherlock.

If you could be any character from Alice in Wonderland or Sherlock Holmes, who would you be? Why?

Watson. He’s the trustworthy sidekick to the eccentric Holmes. All the excitement but none of the hassles of fame.

Have you been to Fairytale Town? If so, what is your favorite feature?

I have, multiple times. I love the venue for adult fundraising fun. I’ve been for concerts. I have a 7 month old boy now, and I’m sure I will be hanging around Fairytale Town a bunch soon.

What will you be showcasing at the Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes event on May 8?

We will be sampling Hock Farm’s sangria and demonstrating how to make a traditional punch. We will also be showcasing some fun methods to improve your at-home punch making experience!!!


Fifteen Minutes a Day

Read Aloud Fifteen Minutes a DayMarch is Read Aloud Month. To help celebrate, Fairytale Town has become a partner with the national Read Aloud 15 Minutes campaign. The 15 minute movement is bringing together a passionate group of partners united behind the idea that 15 minutes of daily reading aloud to children ages 0 to 8 can improve the education of children.

The tenets of the movement are simple and direct:

  • Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to improve a child’s readiness to read and learn.
  • By making 15 minutes of daily reading aloud the new standard for parents, we can change the face of education in the country.

The need for this initiative is great. More than one in three children enter kindergarten without the necessary skills for lifetime learning. Less than 48 percent of children are read to every day, and over 15 percent of young children are read to by family members less than three times a week.

Improving these statistics can be easy – as easy as reading aloud for 15 minutes every day. Research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing adults can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning. It improves a child’s language development, builds literacy skills, enhances brain development, and, most importantly, establishes a strong bond between the reader and child.

Reading aloud can be made playful – not a chore. Let your child pick out the books to read. Substitute wrong words to test their comprehension. Insert the occasional fart joke. Make up nonsense words. Act out the story with funny voices.

Reading aloud for 15 minutes every day can be part of a new routine to play every day as well. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time for either play or reading… but by committing to it you can have a tremendous impact to the children in your life.


Playful Readings

I’ve been able to catch up on some reading lately, and I am happy to recommend the following books and articles to you.

Play by Dr. Stuart BrownPlay by Stuart Brown, MD. Dr. Brown is the leading expert on play behavior in the US and the founder of the National Institute for Play. His book draws from thousands of ‘play histories’ of people from serial killers to Nobel prize winners as well as his clinical research and observations of animals and humans at play. I had the chance to hear Dr. Brown speak recently at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. His book and research drives home that play is anything but trivial, and is, in fact, hard-wired into all of us.

Adventure: The value of risk in children’s play by Joan Almon. This short publication was recently released by The Alliance for Childhood, a research and advocacy organization that promotes policies and practices that support children’s healthy development. Almon explores what children gain through risky play and provides helpful information on the differences between risks and hazards.

The Value of Play by Perry Else explores the purpose of play and demonstrates why it is important to our bodies and minds, as well as to our cultures and communities. Else gives examples of how play can be supported at home and in children’s settings.

Recent articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post were also interesting, and underscore how important play is for child development. The “Language Gap” article demonstrates how essential play is for very young children to learn language. The “Ridiculous Test” article demonstrates how a young child’s natural curiosity and playfulness can be stifled in a high-stakes testing environment.

I hope you also get some down time to enjoy some playful reading!


We need your help to renovate Farmer Brown’s Barn!

Farmer Brown’s Barn. Photo by Karen Iddings.

Fairytale Town’s family of animals has grown since we opened in 1959. Plans have been made to renovate Farmer Brown’s Barn so that the animals will have more space to eat, stretch their legs, play, sleep and dream. The plan includes a new wall for a honey bee display complete with remote entry/exit for safe and easy access, adding new stall gates, expanding and redesigning of the storage area to maximize space, reinforcing and adding polymax to the siding to minimize dry rot, and – most importantly – increasing the size of Eeyore’s stall.

The family of animals that live here play important roles at Fairytale Town – as well as in the stories they represent. Animals help children to understand the books they read and help educate children through summer FunCamps and workshops throughout the year.

Donations of all levels are needed now to make this project a reality. The cost of the project is approximately $35,000. The work will begin during the winter months and will be completed by the beginning of summer – our peak season. We hope you will join us in making these improvements a reality.

To make a contribution to the barn renovation project, click here to make a donation online today or please contact Kathy Fleming at (916) 808-7060.


Happy Halloween!

Peter Rabbit HalloweenEverything about Halloween screams PLAY! Decorating, costuming, running through the streets at night… no wonder Halloween is a favorite holiday for children. It’s not just the free candy. It’s the playfulness of the holiday that delights children and adults alike. There is something about putting on a costume and assuming a different persona that frees us from our day-to-day cares and gives us a new outlook… and that something is play!

Fairytale Town holds the proof. Our Halloween event last weekend attracted more than 5,500 people. Nearly everyone came in costume. They all enjoyed the incredibly good weather as they played games, made crafts, showed off their costumes – and went trick-or-treating, of course.

BagginsMailBoxOur incredibly talented staff had fun preparing the park for the extravaganza. Each year we choose a theme for the event and this year’s was ‘The Hobbit.’ Planning began in early summer, and from Labor Day on, everyone pitched in to make papier-mâché figures, paint scenery or carve pumpkins. A couple of us even admitted it was a favorite time of year. And this was before the candy was delivered!

So, it all comes down to play. Tap into your playfulness when you go out trick-or-treating. The candy is sure to taste better – and may even have fewer calories if you do!


A Month of Play and Learning

September was a busy month at Fairytale Town, kicking off with the first ever Sacramento Play Summit, and concluding with our annual Children’s Book Festival.  We were thrilled to partner with ScholarShare College Savings Plan and the Sacramento Public Library on both programs.

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Sacramento Play Summit

In my last post I wrote about the Play Summit. I am happy to report it was a success! More than 120 attendees enjoyed three keynote speakers and seven different breakout sessions. Survey feedback on the Summit was extremely positive with 100 percent of respondents saying they would attend again. Attendees told us they found the information they received both inspiring and useful, and 20 individuals also indicated interest in forming a Sacramento Play Coalition. Sacramento has joined the international play movement!

Sherri Duskey Rinker and sign language interpreterFalling on the heels of our inaugural Summit was the 13th Annual ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival on September 28 and 29. The autumn weather was perfect for our outdoor reading extravaganza! More than 8,000 people participated in the program.  They were able to see and hear 10 author/illustrator presentations and participate in hands-on literacy activities offered by 17 community organizations.  On Saturday, sign language interpreters translated the presentations which added a new element to the Festival. The highlight of the Festival was featured author Sherri Duskey Rinker. A New York Times Bestselling author, Rinker delighted the audience with her story Steam Train, Dream Train – especially as she led the children in the group on a train ride together!  Again, feedback from our audience, authors and community partners was very positive. Authors and community partners were impressed with the large number of attendees and the organization of the event, and the audience was delighted with the quality of the presentations and all there was to see and do while they were here. Fairytale Town continues to be a dynamic resource for families in our region!

Sherri leading the Steam Train!It is rewarding to know that ScholarShare College Savings Plan and the Sacramento Public Library – organizations dedicated to higher learning and education – recognize how critical play is to learning and reading.  Fairytale Town and Sacramento are better places for their involvement.

Now that September is over it is tempting to take a breather.  But Halloween is just around the corner. This year, our Halloween program is themed on The Hobbit. Already I see signs of playful work to transform Fairytale Town into Middle Earth. More on that next time!


Meet Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker saw her first picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, rise from the infamous “slush pile” to the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, where it has stayed for more than 100 weeks. She’s inspired by her two energetic, inquisitive sons, one fascinated by bugs and magic, and the other by trucks and trains. Formerly the owner of a graphic design agency, she now devotes herself full time to writing books and visiting schools. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.

Sherri will visit Fairytale Town for this year’s ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival the weekend of September 28 and 29, where she’ll present her latest #1 bestseller, Steam Train, Dream Train, and sign copies of her books.

Both of your books are “goodnight” stories. When you started working on your books, did you set out to write bedtime stories?
My fondest memories of reading as a child were at bedtime, cuddled up with my grandmother. When I became a mom, bedtime was the time for settling in and cuddling up with my own kids and reading, so I think that writing books specifically for that time was a pretty natural fit for me. And, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site was inspired specifically because my youngest son had a tireless (literally!) love of trucks, and I felt the need to give him a bedtime story that spoke to his truck passions and, yet, was soothing.

What was your favorite book to read as a child?
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. I still love that story and, interestingly, I feel like it’s evolved into an analogy for my own life: I was always lured by excitement and city life as I was growing up and as a young adult, and now I’m content to enjoy the peaceful pace of a quieter life—and I’m more appreciative of the simpler things.

What’s your earliest reading memory?
My grandmother had a big stack of books by the bed at her house, and I’d pick which one(s) we’d read together. I sentimentally still remember the smell of those books, the smell and feel of the soft sheets and blankets, the smell of my grandmother’s Camay soap, the cozy feeling of being cuddled up and having all of her attention, the sound of the ticking alarm clock in the background and titles like Be Nice To Spiders and Harry The Dirty Dog.

As a mother of two, do you have any words of wisdom for fellow parents who want to inspire and encourage their children to read?
Read to your kids—and read everything: picture books when they are smaller, chapter books as they grow older. Grab a cup of coffee at night after dinner so that you’re awake and present to enjoy this really special time with them.

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be? Why?
This is such an interesting question. I guess I’ll say this: Anyone who gets to live “happily ever after!” That’s a copout, right? Ok, if you make me pick, I guess I’ll have to go with Cinderella: I really like shoes!


A First for Play in Our Region

The first-ever Sacramento Play Summit will take place on September 7.  Not only is this the first time a conference of this nature will be held in Sacramento, it is also the first time we have held such a program off-campus, the first time we have partnered with the Sacramento Public Library on a stand-alone event, and – after 54 years of planning playful and educational programs for children – the first time we have planned a full-day program for adults.  shutterstock_play image

I was motivated to develop a play conference by my sabbatical two years ago.  The play professionals I met abroad were incredibly inspiring, and the research I saw and seminars I attended were extremely compelling and powerful.

I was delighted to find allies for play in the Sacramento Public Library and ScholarShare College Savings Plan.  A public library and a college savings plan are not the most natural partners for promoting play, but Rivkah Sass and Zeny Agullana, the leaders of these organizations respectively, recognize how important play is to healthy child development, raising readers, and, as a result, to future success.

IMG_1356_croppedWe brainstormed about a conference last year, and our first formal meeting about the conference was held on February 14 – an auspicious date for a new partnership!  We identified our goals and set out to design a meaningful conference for our community.  And, nearly one year after our initial conversation and many months of planning we are ready to roll!

The conference features three keynote speakers. Our morning keynote, Dr. Melissa Arca, will discuss play and health. Our noontime speaker, author Barney Saltzberg will talk about the importance of play to the creative process. Our closing presenter, Myla Marks of Playworks, will address the need for meaningful play in schools and community settings.  In between the keynotes there are nine workshops focused on four different tracks: play and literacy, play and the arts, play in parks and recreation, and adventure play. The workshop presenters include university professors, elementary teachers, parks and recreation professionals and literacy experts.

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Keynote Speaker author Barney Saltzberg

There will be more than ‘talk’ about play, though! We will share morning coffee, lunch and afternoon snacks; take time to play in-between sessions; and, perhaps, end the day by setting up a coalition of people who want to promote play in our community.  Play is as important to community development as it is to child development.  In fact, play is the foundation for all learning and development – something that will be driven home when you attend the first-ever Sacramento Play Summit on September 7.

I hope to see you there!