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Purposeful play

Meg Duff ’11 might be one of the few people who can trace her career to games played at college. She remembers teaching international games in the parking lot of the Richmond Boys and Girls Club as a Bonner Scholar. And she also recalls how some scraps of paper saved from a game of Telephone Pictionary – players redraw an image and see how things look at the end compared to the original – turned into language lessons on her Earlham Mexico semester program.

With a knack for making what’s fun, informative, and what’s informative, fun, it’s no surprise, perhaps, that Duff wound up at Playworks, an organization that works on elementary playgrounds to ensure safe, healthy play.

 “Playworks uses play to transform school culture and bring out the best in every student,” Duff says. “The big takeaway is that if you can bring out the best in kids through play, you can bring about thoughtful leaders, caring neighbors, and engaged citizens. The skills these require are things you learn on the playground.”

One of the challenges is that kids have fewer opportunities for outside play.

“You would be surprised at the number of kids that don’t know traditional kids games like foursquare or wallball, so we teach kids games,” she says. “Because kids have fewer and fewer opportunities to play outside, skills that used to be learned in the sandlot are not being learned. We are bringing that back by teaching basic games and teaching kids to play in ways that are inclusive.”

To resolve playground conflicts, Playworks encourages students to play rock-paper-scissors, which reduces the number of complaints teachers receive from students after recess.

Playworks’ goal is for 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools to experience safe, healthy, inclusive play by 2020, she says. That’s about 10 percent of the elementary schools in the U.S.

Duff says that although she came to Earlham with an enthusiasm for play and working with children, her classes taught her the skills she puts to use everyday as marketing manager for Playworks.

“HDSR classes like Moral Education, Persons and Systems, and Ethics and Social Justice gave me a foundation for understanding the broader context of our work, and the critical thinking skills I developed throughout my time at Earlham helped me add value in high-level strategic conversations,” she says. “I’m in marketing, so I have the privilege of telling the stories of our amazing school partners. The writing and ethnographic research I did for my HDSR major help me to do that effectively.

“I came to Earlham because I valued the college’s rootedness in Quaker practice, and I’ve continued to seek organizations that share my values. My time at Earlham helped me realize that I can work for justice in creative ways, and my work at Playworks is absolutely a way to do that.”

Meg Duff

Meg Duff 2011

Hometown: Oakland, Calif.

Major at Earlham: Human Development and Social Relations