“Too many streets are silent”: technology, violence and poverty limit play

Technology, poverty and violence are major factors in reducing the amount of playtime young children experience, according to Dr. Dorothy Sluss, professor of elementary and early childhood education at James Madison University and president of the International Play Association/USA. This creates a serious inequity, according to Sluss, because, contrary to some popular opinion: “Play actually grows the brain.” Sluss discussed her own and colleagues’ work on the Education Town Hall.

Dr. Dorothy Sluss, on the Education Town Hall November 21, 2013

“Play is a way that children learn,” Sluss explains. “Abstract thinking is developed through pretending….Play is how we transmit culture.” In addition, recess and play periods are rare opportunities for children to choose their own companions and activities.

Across much of the nation, children are more accustomed to video and electronic games than imaginative and physical play. In too many areas, moreover, lack of green space and play equipment, coupled with fear of crime and violence, limits outdoor play. A reduction in playtime affects students around the country, Sluss reports, but some areas are hit worse than others.

Dr. Olga Jarrett, professor in the College of Education at Georgia State, studies recess and recess deprivation. She was unable to join the Education Town Hall, but Dr. Sluss shared some of her findings: Low-income urban students receive far less recess than students in wealthier and more spacious areas; inner city schools today frequently have no outdoor areas for play or organized games.

Advocacy and Research Resources

IPA/USA publishes Play Rights magazine.
IPA/USA publishes Play Rights magazine.
Along with colleagues, Sluss and Jarrett presented research and advocacy tools at the National Association for Education of Young Children conference, being held in the nation’s capital, November 20-23. NAEYC (say “Nae-See”) is an important source for information on research, best practices, and public policy regarding children ages birth-8 in school, Head Start, child care and other settings. Its conference drew 10,000 educators and advocates.

Dr. Sluss notes that, while this conference covers a wide range of topics, it offers an a great opportunity to “spread the word to NAEYC affiliates in each state who can take the information to the schools.” In addition, the Education Town Hall hopes to work with other advocates to impact policy and practice in support of play.

To learn more about the importance of play and how to advocate for children’s rights in this area, contact the IPA/USA, The Association for the Study of Play, and/or Alliance for the Child (link coming). IPA/USA publishes Play Rights (pictured here); visit the website for details.

Olga Jarrett (invited): Bio from Georgia State’s website
Dr. Jarrett teaches science methods in the Early Childhood Education’s
Urban Alternative Preparation Program. She is a University Fellow in the Urban Atlanta Coalition Compact, an Annenberg funded project whose purpose is excellence in education for African American students. She also serves as a project coordinator of Project DOVE (Drop-out, Violence Elimination), a systematic prevention/intervention program which includes mentoring and a curriculum on empathy, impulse control, and bully prevention. Dr. Jarrett’s research has focused on recess and playground behavior, bully prevention, effective teaching in urban schools, and effective methods of teaching science (pre-k to fifth grade). Her most recent research was published in School Science and Mathematics, and The Journal of Educational Research.


Dorothy Sluss: Bio from James Madison University website
Dr. Dorothy Sluss spent fourteen years teaching young children in the public schools of Virginia. After completing her graduate studies at Virginia Tech, she spent the next decade providing professional development for pre-service and in-service teachers in a variety of roles and settings. She has authored numerous articles and published three books including, Supporting Play: Birth to Age Eight, and Investigating Play in the Twenty-First Century, and Supporting Play: Curriculum, Environments, and Assessment. She is Past President of The Association for the Study of Play, and recipient of the Brian Sutton Smith Award for Lifetime Achievements in play research. She serves as a board member of the International Play Association, and is President of the Association of Teacher Educators in Virginia. When she is not teaching, she enjoys sewing, reading, music, and her family.


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