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A gigantic thank you from UBP to our sponsors (especially our Champions of Play – Goddard School & Sprout), exhibitors (more than 30 of them, plus fabulous performers, musicians, drummers and storytellers!), the Baltimore City Public Schools, our Play Doctors, volunteers, and the countless other ‘big people’ that helped to make the first ever Ultimate Block Party in Baltimore, Md., a terrific success. But most of all, THANK YOU to the families that came to Rash Field despite the chilly weather to play and learn together. From the moment you walked into our ‘playground,’ you embraced play with your children—and your involvement contributes to our excitement. We hope you carried away happy memories and some new ideas about how play, in childhood, connects to learning. We saw so many smiles, laughter, and shouts of excitement that it made all of the hard-work done by so many people over the last 18 months completely worth it.

Special guests U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his family, and Baltimore City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Andres Alonso added to our excitement. Many thanks from the UBP family for the support of the wider educational community, and interest in playing and learning with the families of Baltimore.  Also, over 6,000 winter coats were distributed to Baltimore families thanks to Operation Warm.

If you missed today’s event, check out our PlayBook for more information about how you can incorporate play in the everyday lives of your families in new ways.

Here are some pictures in case you missed today’s celebrations of the arts and sciences of play:


If you aren’t already following us on twitter, you can find us @UBPlay and we also suggest you follow our sister organization L_rn on facebook and on twitter @L_rn. L-rn is a new web portal for today’s families to have open dialogue with scientists and child development professionals to help improve the lives of ALL of our children. Stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for more updates, blog postings, and announcements about future events.

Thank you to everyone, especially the children whose play makes the future brighter.

Written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh of Penn State University, Brandywine Campus  on behalf of Ultimate Block Party.

Do you remember that magical feeling of curling up in the lap of a loved one and ‘reading’ a brightly colored and beautifully illustrated picture book when you were a child?  You always knew that there was something special in that experience – from the time you got to spend with the people you love to the creativity and imagination you relied on to help tell an amazing story.  But research is telling us two key things.  First, picture books help kids to develop key skills that lead to becoming successful readers and thinkers.  And second, picture books are starting to disappear!

Mariska Hargitay & her family reading together at the Ultimate Block Party.

Emergent literacy skills are the ‘building blocks’ children need to learn how to read in the future. For a child to be able to read, he must know which way to hold a book (upside down or right-side up!), which way to turn the pages, that we start reading the page on the left rather than the one on the right, that those squiggly things on the pages are different from pictures  (even if they can’t read the words!), and that the last page means that the book is over are all skills that help children to become successful readers in the future. So, how do children learn these skills? One simple way is to surround your child with books and to engage them in story-time!

This sounds like common sense, but according to this article in the New York Times, picture books are starting to disappear from today’s bookstores, libraries, and homes!  The article highlights the power of picture books and the perspectives of today’s parents.  But we also recommend that you check out the Letters to the Editor about this topic – we think that they show how today’s parents, researchers, and educators truly feel about picture books and how important they are to our children.

But there is great news!  There are still AMAZING picture books that you can buy for your family.  Check out The Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010 list published last week by the New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly “Best Children’s Books 2010 for some great recommendations.  Picture books and story time are exactly what your child needs to build the skills – from emergent literacy skills, to creativity, curiosity, imagination, social skills, content knowledge, and communication – which are the real building blocks of 21st century success!  It’s time to read!

Interested in Learning More?

Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2003). Einstein never used flash cards: How our children really learn and why they need to play more and memorize less. Emmaus, PA:  Rodale Books. (Translated into Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indonesian).

Jalongo, M. R., Dragich, D., Conrad, N. K., & Zhang, A. (2002). Using wordless picture books to support emergent literacy. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(3), 167-177.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2009). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Jessup, Maryland: National Institute for Literacy.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine.

What is the capital of Pennsylvania?  Who is the President of the United States?  What are mitochondria? Where are the everglades? These are all questions that our children face every day when they go into the classroom or talk with adults.  And it makes sense – we want our children to have knowledge about the facts of the world.  But does memorizing facts lead to children becoming doctors, engineers, or scientists?  The answer to this question may

Where goeth creative thinking?

surprise you!

“The Creativity Crisis” appeared in Newsweek over the summer and makes a strong case for emphasizing play and creativity over facts and IQ scores.  The authors of the article highlight the fact that children’s scores on tests of creativity have FALLEN over the past two decades even though they had been rising steadily for decades.  And these creativity scores do a much better job of predicting lifetime creative accomplishment than childhood IQ scores.  Our children are becoming less creative and less flexible – certainly a worry for today’s parents and for tomorrow’s future!

But don’t despair – creativity is not something that today’s kids just don’t have.  Instead, we can help foster creativity, ingenuity, flexibility, and a love of learning in children through play!  For instance, at the Ultimate Block Party, we will give your children the opportunity o problem-solve and work with new friends to create a new skyscraper or a block tower.  They will be able to create their own art and use everyday materials to create new structures.  They can practice how to express their feelings and emotions while pretending they are chefs or learning how to ‘clown around.’  The opportunities for your child to learn how to be creative are endless and the Ultimate Block Party aims to show you just a few ways that we can reverse this “Creativity Crisis.”  We look forward to seeing you soon!

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine.

No Time for Play?

How many children report having no time for play?  How many schools have NO recess?  In the last 20 years, how many HOURS of play per week have children lost?

The surprising (and disheartening!) answers to these questions are highlighted in this video on the Ultimate Block Party’s YouTube channel.  But don’t despair!  Not only will you and your child have a chance to play on October 3 in Central Park and explore the wonders and benefits of play with other families, friends, and experts, but the Ultimate Block Party is just the first step in a national and international movement to bring play back to childhood.  Take a look at our video to learn some surprising facts but also comment on this blog and answer the question our experts will be answering at the event – How did YOU play when you were young?  How did it shape who you became?

We are  pleased to announce that mother of 3 and esteemed actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, has agreed to be a special spokesperson for the Ultimate Block Party!


We have been roaming the streets asking moms and dads, celebrities and politicians, lawyers and musicians how they played when they were kids and how this shaped who they became. Here is what Sarah Jessica Parker had to say….

“I am one of 8 children. I grew up in a home filled with chaos. How could it be otherwise?  And I think early on we were both encouraged and taught to use our imaginations. And our legs. Our imaginations were used for story telling, making games up, playing with dolls and creating lives for them, listening to records of comedians and broadway shows, roller skating in the house during long, cold midwestern winters and deeply enjoying some of the finer board games such as masterpiece, milles bourne, monopoly and the game of life. On days where weather cooperated we spent hours and hours outdoors making massive piles of leaves, playing kick the can, climbing trees, rolling down hills, riding tricycles then bikes and simply roaming around the neighborhood in packs of children from 6 years to the “big kid” age of 12 and 13 years old.

We learned to compete, lose, argue, solve conflicts, create teams and never grow bored. We barely remembered we were hungry. We learned to win like the older kids and how to take care of the younger ones. We schemed, got hurt, laughed, cried and eventually when the street lights went on, reluctantly said goodbye and made our way home.

Upon reflection, I’m not surprised I ended up choosing my work. And all I learned the easy and hard way has been enormously helpful in pursuing my adult work. Being creative, collaborative, resourceful, responsible, accountable and excited. I realize those are adjectives that describe how I learned to play, during the most important and influential years of my life.”

Sarah Jessica Parker, Actress and Mother

Talent, Interests, Knowledge, and Skills—Begin with Child’s Play

Did you ever wonder where all of Sarah Jessica Parker’s talent came from?  How she helps us to imagine worlds that don’t actually exist and get caught up in story play that lasts for years?  This amazing mother and actress credits play!  As you can see from her quote, she learned firsthand how play (and not flashcards, forced lessons, or guilt-tripped tutoring!) helped her practice the skills that have allowed her to succeed.  In a house full of children and chaos, she “played her way” to becoming the mother and actress that she is today!

But how does play shape us? As children play, there’s a lot of learning going on underneath. Research shows that when children engage in imaginative play, like pretending to be a fairy princess in a far-away land, they learn how to develop a storyline, role-play, cooperate with others, regulate their attention, and work their creative juices! And what about when they get those board games out? They practice counting, logic, and cooperation! When we peer beneath the surface of play, we see the foundations of the future!

How Did Play Shape YOU?

All adults, celebrities or not, used to be kids! Think about it and feel free to add your answers on our Ultimate Block Party facebook page!  Once you give yourself the time and space to answer, you will probably see the power of play in an entirely different light!

“Play for Tomorrow” at the Ultimate Block Party!

By participating in the Ultimate Block Party and taking the lessons you learned home with you, you will be helping to give your child the tools to become the world’s next best actress, actor, mother, father, scientist, teacher, doctor, lawyer, engineer, therapist, nurse, politician, manager, or even president!

Interested in Learning More?

You can visit the play = learning website.

Or, check out some published findings!

Christie, J., & Roskos, K. (2009).Play’s potential in early literacy development. Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development.

Ginsburg, H., Lee, J.S., Boyd, J. (2008). Mathematics education for young children: What it is and how to promote it. SRCD  Social Policy Report: Giving Child and Youth Development Knowledge Away, XXII.

Ramani, G, & Siegler, R. (2008). Promoting broad and stable improvements in low-income children’s numerical knowledge through playing number board games. Child Development, 79, 375 – 394.

Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.) (2008). Play = learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and spcio-emotional growth.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Singer, D., & Singer, J. (1992). The house of make believe: Children’s play and the developing imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine, and Dr. Kelly Fisher, Postdoctoral Fellow at Temple University.

Raffi - Renowned Children's Entertainer

Naturally curious, imaginative and creative, children learn by pretending and imitating and messing up, by trying and failing and succeeding, daring and surrendering—in other words, by playing.

During three decades engaged in musical play with children, I have been advocating on their behalf with the maxim, “Play is the work of the young child.” Through creative play children make sense of the world and their place in it. I applaud the Ultimate Block Party for their efforts to create a unique play experience for children, along with an opportunity for adults to understand that children’s learning is founded in play.

Raffi Cavoukian, Singer, songwriter, author, and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring

The Power of Musical Play
Those of us that are already part of The Ultimate Block Party believe that play is key to learning – and Raffi agrees!
There is not a name more synonymous with children’s music than Raffi. “Baby Beluga” and “Down by the Bay” may have just started to run through your mind just because you read his name. This is the amazing power of musical play! You didn’t need to study these songs or use flashcards, but you remember the fun lyrics and catchy tunes for decades without trying. The power of music is so great that research suggests that playing an instrument in childhood may improve kids’ abilities to hear differences in sounds, increases their fine motor skills and is even associated with better vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills! And state-of-the art brain research suggests that these changes are reflected in the structure of the brain! See? Music play isn’t just fun and engaging, but it is a great learning tool that helps kids to develop and learn.

Come Sing, Dance, and Create Music at the Ultimate Block Party!
At the Ultimate Block Party event in Central Park on October 3, you and your child will get the chance to flex your musical muscle by participating in a huge drumming circle full of new friends, dance your cares away with familiar faces from The Electric Company, and even join a pots-and-pans band! But these aren’t the only fun events we will have at the Ultimate Block Party – we will have over 20 additional activities that let you and your child be naturally curious, imagine new worlds, create new works of art, pretend to be someone else, imitate those around them, and even mess up newly built creations. The Ultimate Block Party is going to be a one-day extravaganza that will allow you and your child to play your way to new learning, knowledge, and happy memories. See you there!

Interested in learning more?

You can check out the website of an expert in arts and child development, Dr. Ellen Winner, at Boston College:

Or, check out the published findings:
Hyde, K., Lerch, J., Norton, A.C., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A., & Schlaug (2009). Music training shapes structural brain development. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(10):3019-3025.

Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Norton, A.C., & Schlaug, G. (2008). Practicing a musical instrument in childhood is associated with enhanced verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. PLoS ONE , 3(10):e3566.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine

Listen to Let’s play – By Raffi Cavoukian

Check out the Ultimate Block Party Flyer, hot off the press!

You can’t miss it!

October 3, Central Park, New York City

Come experience with us the arts and sciences of play

UBP Flyer

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  • Amanda Gambill: Playworks is so happy to have the Ultimate Block party here in Baltimore! The event is going to be amazing! We are also looked forward to being the mo
  • Shaping Youth » AHA & Nintendo: Tag-Teaming Innovation To Get Kids Moving (Pt2): [...] “fun and games” started taking on an electronic, screen-based focus and child’s play shifted from the ramp-n-rev of the recess bell to bra
  • Beth Kimberly: Absolutely! Recess is an invaluable part of the school day. I love that, as you point out, "there were NO negative impacts of recess." I find it awful
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