On Saturday, March 11, 2023, the powerhouse team of Dr. Julie Jones (‘99) and Jed Dearybury ’03 held a daylong conference at the Citizens and Southern Event Center in Spartanburg.
The re:Imaging Play Conference explored the power and benefits of play in learning and life —for both children and adults. The full day of “meaningful, relevant, and fun learning” explored the psychological and educational benefits of playing. Attendees were reminded that play is a stress reliever, it can improve attention and cognitive function and enhances social skills. Participants came from all over the United States, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Dr. Jones said, “This event is bigger than us; play teaches cooperation with others. This conference wasn’t just about showing educators how to teach more playfully – it was about everyone, regardless of their professions, reincorporating play into their everyday life.”
Dr. Julie Jones has been a faculty member at Converse University since 2013. She is the Director of Student Teaching for the School of Education and Graduate Studies. Her research explores instructional technology and pedagogy with a mix of creativity and play.
Jed Dearybury ’03 graduated from Converse’s MAT program and has been featured in GQ Magazine as Male Leader of the Year. Dearybury met President Obama when he was the South Carolina honoree of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
Jones and Dearybury have collaborated on two books so far: The playful life: The power of play in our every day and The playful classroom: The power of play for all ages. They have been “partners in play” on this shared passion since 2015.
“Play benefits more than the individual,” Dearybury said. “The advantages will inevitably expand into the community as individuals begin to view the world as ‘we’ rather than’ us vs. them’.
This mindset is why the re:Imaging conference expanded beyond the doors of the event center into downtown Spartanburg. Local businesses, including Hub City Bookshop and PlayThings ‘A Plenty, offered discounts to participants and welcomed them to practice their play skills in “the real world.”
During an extended lunch break, participants took what they learned during the morning of the conference to downtown Spartanburg with scavenger hunts and interacting with strangers. Dr. Jones explains, “One of the aspects of our lives that changed so much during the pandemic is how we interact with others. The research in this area continues to grow– multiple studies demonstrate the health benefits of face-to-face social interactions. In this scavenger hunt experience, we challenged participants to engage with each other, to engage with the community, and make emotional memories. What a success!”
Dearybury said, “We wanted it to be connected to the downtown, so we asked local businesses to be involved.”
Conference participants could be found frolicking downtown, leapfrogging across Main Street and igniting their sense of smell at The Spice & Tea Exchange.
Event activities included discovering “play personalities, ” developing a playful bucket list and interactive lego experiences. Local businesses including Little River Roasting, Downtown Deli & Donuts, and Burg Apparel offered door prizes to attendees.
March 11th holds even more special meaning because the City of Spartanburg, SC validated and celebrated the importance of play by designating March 11 as A Day of Play with an official proclamation from the mayor, read by City Councilwoman Meghan Blanton Smith.
Dr. Jones said, “Play needs a rebranding. It’s often misunderstood as the opposite of work when in fact, play is the opposite of depression. Deep work is a form of play, and our work is to help the public understand it better. Play can bring wellness and growth to us all.”
Dearybury and Jones are already planning another event for 2024, though they said they “may be mixing things up a bit” for the next conference. “We don’t want any of our conferences ever to be the same,” Dearybury said. “One of my favorite parts of playful learning and living is to embrace wonder and spontaneity. It keeps our minds active and engaged.”
Until the next conference, you can get inspired with Dearybury and Jones’s podcast, We Are Playful, which recently hit 2,000 downloads.