Pushing Play in the Community

A 16-year-old describes her community’s play day

Posted Dec 26, 2015

*From Pat Rumbaugh, the Play Lady

For Play Day inspiration, here is a paper written by Claire Koenig when she was in 10th grade. Claire and a handful of other teens helped with our 1st Play Day.

The Takoma Park Play Committee reminds the community of the importance of pressing the ‘play’ button for the new generation

An Indian princess, a fairy queen and a southern belle step out on the town together – dressed in their finest. They stroll along with bright smiles shining as they chat together about grown-up things like taxes and dictionaries. Up the road the next Michael Jordan shoots baskets with his coach, and up-and-coming challengers of the Williams sisters take on a potential Roger Federer in a friendly tennis match. Aspiring master architects and city planners design skyscrapers to touch the clouds just inside the door to a small white cabin. A young entertainer discovers a knack for juggling while an artist showcases her work in the medium of chalk drawings on the asphalt next to a sign that reads “Welcome to the 2009 Takoma Park Play Day.”

Amid the fantasies of the children that have gathered in a playground in Takoma Park stands Pat Rumbaugh – founder and director of the Takoma Park Play Committee and leader of a hearty crew of “Playful People." Rumbaugh describes herself as an “advocate of play” with a mission to make Takoma Park a more playful city for everyone in the area. “I love talking to people about play. I just feel like our backgrounds, ages and interests don’t matter; we all just seem to have so much fun.”

As a child, Pat Rumbaugh developed a passion for sport and play that has grown throughout her entire life. She grew up playing with her childhood friend Robin on the quiet streets of a small town in western Pennsylvania. “Kickball, tag, catch, bike riding, exploring the woods…we played all the time, that’s just what we did.” In the winter they played inside a local gym, or they played broom hockey on a frozen lake. When she reached high school she played on the basketball, volleyball and track teams and tried out for boy’s sports when there wasn’t a girl’s team available. “It’s amazing to think how much I did active-wise,” she says.

Now an adult, Rumbaugh works as a Physical Education teacher for middle and high school students at the Washington International School, and her love of play still defines her. “I feel like I’m broadening, just wanting to promote play.” She teamed with a photographer to write a children’s book about play called “Let’s Play in the Playground.” During a promotional reading at the Takoma Park library in February, she began to seek support for her new idea. “So I’m thinking of starting this play committee . . .”

Those words kick-started a new adventure for Rumbaugh and her crew of play advocates. She sought help in the most unlikely of places – the senior’s home in Takoma Park, the Old Takoma Business Association and eventually the Mayor's Office. Parents, grandparents, teachers and a host of others who are passionate about play signed up to encourage fun for all shapes and sizes. After a few weeks of planning and anticipation, the new committee members had gathered on the second floor of the SunTrust Bank building in Old Town Takoma Park for their first meeting.

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A small hand reaches towards the sky in wonder as a stream of bubbles twinkle joyfully into the sunlight. They drift down from the hot-pink plastic wand in lazy waves before gently popping on curious fingers. A giggle escapes the little girl as she runs off in pursuit of the bubbles, but once they’ve said their goodbyes and kept on flying, she turns back to the creator of these fascinating little creatures expectantly. A man wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a large smile dips his wand back into the tub of soap and takes a deep breath.

Phil Shapiro has been an advocate for unstructured, imaginative play since his childhood. He had a friend who would create his own games - scrabble with ten pieces instead of seven or Frisbee soccer. “He convinced me that even though we were kids, we could still play scrabble. That we had the same ability as the adults.” He stresses the importance of kids learning how to play in order to ignite creativity and improvisation, “Play is connected with imagination,” he says. “Play is full of surprises. It’s fun, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Shapiro first heard about the committee from the children’s librarian at the Takoma Park Library where Rumbaugh did her book talk. He quickly adopted her cause, and eagerly looked for ways to help. “In the old days, play was something you did naturally,” he says. “In the modern world, it’s different. If you don’t teach play they won’t know what it is.”

Advocates of the powers of imagination and creativity confirm the findings and share the concerns of the Play Committee in Takoma Park. Einstein High School junior Molly Graham Hickman works as a drama teacher and director for children ages seven to eleven at Silver Spring’s Lumina Studio Theater. She teaches her students to draw on their imagination and natural creativity. “The kind of play that I facilitate at Lumina accelerates the rate at which shy children come out of their shells, something video games could not do,” she explains.

Although younger than Shapiro and Rumbaugh, Hickman still remembers a time when she would play ninjas or catch outside with her brothers, or dress-up with her sister. “My mom was a big believer in good old fashioned, roll-in-the-sandbox, wooden toys, getting plenty of fresh air, all that.” She also fully supports the efforts of the Play Committee to keep play the way that it was when she was younger. “The Takoma Park Play Committee’s work has definitely paid off,” she says, “we need more places like Takoma Park all around our screen-infested country!”

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Three cardboard boxes filled with purple “play” shirts sit behind a carefully arranged fold out table, half dedicated to a face painting and tattooing station where a small girl shows her mother the orange “KaBoom!” sticker that stands out loud and proud on the back of her hand. The other half of the table holds a white and orange striped beach ball which a volunteer eagerly encourages passing people to sign. The ball with its signatures and messages of support for play will be sent to congress to showcase the love of play displayed in Takoma Park.

The volunteer is Mary Hanisco, who became one of the core members of the Play Committee while relaxing in her front yard just after moving into her house in Takoma Park. Rumbaugh came by to introduce herself, and she convinced Hanisco to join the committee. “She was a godsend,” explains Rumbaugh, “Organized, dedicated, and good on the computer.” Hanisco was the driving force behind raising the money for a “Play Day” banner and the purple t-shirts.

As a child Hanisco remembers playing with her younger brother at their grandmothers house in Kentucky during the holidays. “We would make up newscasts and pretend to be reporters, traveling through town to get stories and then we would put on a news broadcast.” She supports imaginative play especially, and says that it helps kids to become independent people, “Unstructured play helps [kids] use their imagination, while toys tell them how to play.”

Another crucial member of the Play Committee is Roz Grigsby, a member of the local Old Takoma Business Association. She works with Rumbaugh and the other members of the committee on approaching the city council and city staff with new ideas. Grigsby represents the businesses in Takoma Park, saying, “There is a natural connection between local businesses, which do so much to encourage play, and the work of the committee. In addition to selling toys, games, play equipment, musical instruments and imaginative items, merchants are also big supporters of the local soccer league, baseball teams and so on.”

Grigsby grew up on a farm with lots of space and time. She would meet her friend from a neighboring farm at the cottonwood tree between their houses to play and enjoyed many imaginary games outside. She says that it is through unstructured play that children learn to try on different temperaments, and to find new responses to situations they encounter in their games
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Weathered fingers lock themselves around a pair of smaller, unwrinkled hands and guide them in a sweeping motion. Young arms move back and forth with old and youthful muscles draw some expertise from experienced limbs. The child watches his arms move for several passes, then turns to smile over his shoulder at the kind eyes of his teacher. Then she steps back, and looks on as he draws the tennis racket back by himself to hit his first ball.

Colleen Dipaul is 82 and has been playing tennis her whole life. “I never had any tennis coaches per se; I didn’t play on tennis teams. I was very fortunate to learn to play tennis on a court.” Dipaul grew up in a small city in North Carolina with friends in a close-knit neighborhood. “I was so fortunate to be in a community where it was encouraged for children to go out and play. There was a seventh grade school teacher across the street that we all had at one time or another; she was our adult supervision.” 

Dipaul became friends with Rumbaugh through tennis, and joined the Play Committee as soon as it began. “I was in it from the first time Pat started to think about it.” Since then she has been a frequent presence at committee events, helping in any way she can. Dipaul believes in play not only as an outlet for creativity, but as a way for children to learn. “It’s through play that vocabulary is found, and new words. And how to get along with one another.”

Dipaul describes the way that the people of Takoma Park work together to make sure it’s a safe place for children to play. Parents and nannies wait at the bus stops for their kids to be picked up. Organizations like the Play Committee arrange time for kids to play together. Everyone works together to ensure that the children can play and grow safely. “It’s a marvelous way for a child to grow up.”

The Play Lady says: Lets change the world for the better by bringing back play. Go play!


1 The Play Lady Tells Us How to Become Play-ers

2 How to Start a Play Committee in Your Community

3 How to Plan a Play Day in Your Community

4 Pushing Play in the Community

5 Why Close a Street to Play?

6 Join an Already Planned Community Event and Promote Play

7 Inter-generational Games Night

8 Community Service: Teens Make Great Play Advocates

9 Start a Play Club in Your School

10 The Benefits of Play Events in Your Community


Watch one of the two TEDxTalks Pat gave on play.

Pat is the Co-founder of the nonprofit Let’s Play America.  Like us on Facebook Let’s Play America.

Invite The Play Lady to your community.