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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Conference Promotes Benefits of Play Time

Minnesota State University, Mankato hosts Midwest Play Conference.

Brian Arola, Mankato Free Press, 6-26-3016

MANKATO — Play was the topic of the day at a first-time conference held at Minnesota State University Saturday.

The Midwest Play Conference drew people interested in early childhood development from Minnesota and neighboring states for a day focused entirely on the merits of play.

With dozens of breakout sessions and more than 100 in attendance, organizer Heather Von Bank said the conference is meant to give adults the tools to promote play as a crucial learning experience.

She said adults too often stamp down on a child’s desire to play.

“It’s a professionalization of parenting where we set up and structure kids’ lives so much that we’re actually doing more harm than good for them in the long run,” she said.

Part of why play isn’t always promoted is because adults in charge feel like it’s taking away from more important things. Basically, many adults worry that a child won’t learn the alphabet by climbing a tree or running around.

Playing and learning, however, don’t have to be thought of as incompatible, said keynote speaker Lisa Murphy, an early childhood specialist.

“Too many people think you have to choose between a playful experience and learning experience,” she said. “In the industry we call that a false dichotomy. You don’t have to pick one or another.”

Murphy promotes the idea of playful learning at speaking engagements across the country as the founder and CEO of Ooey Gooey Inc., an organization working to form early childhood education.

Von Bank said the concept of play has a range of benefits.

“Play provides opportunities for problem solving and social development and social/emotional development,” she said. “All of those things that help us become the people we’re meant to be.”

Minnesota State Mankato has its own playbased child care learning center called the Children’s House. Two preschool teachers from there, Melissa Allen and Stephani Kenward, attended breakout sessions at the conference.

They said they planned to take what they learned Saturday back to their jobs. One helpful part was learning how to emphasize to parents the importance of play in a young one’s life.

“They want them to know their ABCs and 123s to be ready for the next step in kindergarten,” Kenward said. “They want to be sure they’re getting that, but they’re unsure they can get it through play.”

Technology plays a part in stifling play as well, said Kim Tindal, another in attendance with a background in early education.

She sees this problem with her own kids when they’d rather stare at a screen than play outside.

“There’s so much technology nowadays that kids don’t just play with toys and run around and play,” she said, adding that she hopes to take some concepts learned Saturday to her classrooms in the future.

Von Bank said she hopes those in attendance take what they learned Saturday and put it into practice.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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